Philosophy of Discipline in the Classroom

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Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

An effective philosophy of discipline for the classroom can make the difference between stunning success and disaster. In this lesson, we'll explore what it is and what elements make up an effective philosophy of discipline.

What Is the Philosophy of Discipline?

You almost missed it. Just as you turned away, Johnny sent a large paper airplane into the air. The aerodynamic toy launched elegantly toward the ceiling, turned a couple of loops, and then headed straight toward Marcia's face. The panicked little girl hid her face in her hands and shrieked, as the sharp-pointed paper dive-bomber missed her head by inches and slammed into the floor.

'Johnny,' you say, 'you know what the rules are. Go to the board, and write down our rule about throwing things in the classroom, including the punishment for breaking that rule.' Johnny's face reddens, and he begins to object. Then his expression darkens, his head droops, and he walks up to the chalkboard.

Your philosophy of discipline in the classroom is your general view regarding how effective discipline is to be maintained in your classroom. It provides guidelines for what is considered acceptable behavior. When your students know exactly what is expected of them, you have a foundation for ensuring discipline and effectiveness in your classroom.

Effective Elements of the Philosophy

An effective philosophy of discipline addresses certain keys:

  • Student engagement: the capturing of the students' attention and interest
  • Self-government: the practice of allowing the students to administer the effectiveness of the classroom
  • Efficiency management: the structure of the flow in the classroom to eliminate the waste of student time.

Let's first look at student engagement. When students are engaged in the learning process, they become part of the solution. Students stray from desired behaviors because their needs are not being met. When they are bored, ignored, or feeling uninvolved, they begin to generate attention-seeking behavior. On the other hand, if your learning experiences capture their imagination, cooperation, and emotional involvement, they will have no interest in distracting behavior. Your own commitment to instructional sensitivity and differentiation is the first step toward classroom discipline.

For example, a teacher might involve movement by gathering the kids in a circle around a table that has a science experiment set up. Using a few volunteers to help conduct the experiment, the teacher also asks many of the students for their predictions, suggestions, and conclusions, and assigns more tasks when possible.

Now let's look at self-government. When students agree to self-govern, they become invested in the process. If you allow the students to establish the way they believe the classroom should be run, then discipline problems in the classroom will tend to correct themselves. Students who may be comfortable with teacher disapproval will often find that the general disapproval of the student body is much harder to endure, and when disciplinary measures have been chosen by the students, each student knows beforehand what to expect and is invested in the process.

For example, a teacher might institute a courtroom like setting, allowing the students to pronounce: 'We the jury find the defendant guilty of classroom disruption, a crime punishable by loss of recess privilege, loss of points on the next assignment, and a 15-minute period of silence, to be enforced at the beginning of the next class session.'

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