Positive Discipline in the Classroom: Techniques & Overview

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.

Positive discipline in the classroom refers to utilizing a positive emphasis in regard to correcting and guiding student behavior. This lesson provides techniques and an overview of the process.

What is Meant by ''Positive Discipline in the Classroom''?

You're at your wit's end. Tommy--probably your least favorite student--now represents a serious behavioral problem, bordering on a danger to his fellow students. The administration has directed you, as Tommy's teacher, to resolve the issue quickly, but nothing you do seems to work. Punishments only seem to make him more determined to cause trouble, yet ignoring him is dangerous for everyone. If he's in 'time out' he finds ways to distract the entire class. If he goes to the office, he comes back even more on fire to cause trouble. If he's by himself, he is destructive to himself and everything around him. There seems to be no way to get through to him.

Positive discipline in the classroom is a set of principles, processes, and techniques that focus on creating a positive environment in the classroom, where the students actually want to behave and perform as they're required. It is designed to create within the students, the perception that they are capable, valued, and in control.


Looking back at Tommy, we can begin to explore the techniques that might make a difference for him. Positive behavior in the classroom is a holistic methodology--it looks at the big picture for the classroom. Tommy's antisocial and rebellious behaviors imply many possible problems, but one thing is certain--he does not feel like he's ''part of the team.'' How can we give that back to him?

Fundamental Principles of Positive Discipline in the Classroom Include:

  • Establishing an atmosphere of dignity and respect for the students, helping them to feel accepted and encouraged to achieve.
  • Giving the students the reins, helping them to see themselves as capable, significant, and in control.
  • Giving the students good reasons to learn self-discipline.
  • Leaving no doubt that the teacher cares deeply for the students, is interested in them as individuals, and is willing to remove any barriers that are preventing teacher-student relationships.
  • Instituting effective student government, where the students can learn to corporately manage themselves.

Tommy needs all of these elements. The disciplinary actions taken against him so far may have left him with the feeling that he doesn't matter. No one cares. He probably does not feel respected. His behavior shows that he's struggling to feel like he's in control.

An overarching technique for establishing the positive discipline environment is the class meeting, and this is where we can start with Tommy's class. Gathering Tommy and the other students together, shoving the desks back and sitting in a circle on the floor will help everyone to feel like his or her voice is important. The teacher also sits in the circle to be seen as a participant in the class meeting. Everyone has the right to be heard and everyone will help make decisions for establishing an environment in which everyone can learn and no one feels left out.


Tommy needs positive reinforcement--he's had plenty of negatives. You can begin class meetings with compliments, and you might begin by complimenting Tommy. Find something that is genuinely valuable about Tommy, and bring it to light. Then go around the circle, and have everyone compliment someone else in the group. Compliments help people establish a positive 'feeling' for the meetings, and will begin to build up Tommy as a valued individual.


Tommy's problems are probably not the only thing that needs addressing. Every meeting needs to have an agenda--a list of topics to be discussed--and the agenda needs to be student-driven. By having the students keep track of issues they would like to see discussed, you can ensure that topics of concern--and only those topics--are what the meetings are about. Make sure that all of your agenda items are directing toward solutions, not placing blame.

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