Using Positive Discipline in the Classroom

Instructor: Derek Hughes
Using positivity to manage classroom behavior is a far more effective tool than reacting to negative situations as they come up. This lesson will detail several ways you can set up a positive discipline system in your classroom.

Rethink Discipline

Think back to when you were in school. You probably remember having to follow a set of rules, some of which made sense, while others didn't. Every day, you had to think about what you couldn't do- don't talk while the teacher is talking, don't leave your seat without asking, don't answer unless called on. Every time you broke one of these rules, you might get a stern look, a talking to, or a referral to the principal's office. What if I told you that classroom management doesn't have to be like this?

Discipline, in its simplest form, is training someone to follow rules using punishment when those rules are broken. However, positive discipline is something entirely different. Using positive discipline means that you create a classroom environment where students are taught to act responsibly using positive methods and are rewarded accordingly. It might seem complex, but this lesson will detail several ways you can incorporate this system in your classroom.

Rewrite the Rules

The first thing that needs to change is the concept of rules. These are usually guidelines that dictate how students are to act, phrased in ways that tell them things they can't or shouldn't do, such as 'Don't talk while others are talking.' In order to implement positive discipline, you need to rewrite the rules, throwing out the idea of rules altogether.

Instead, replace rules with responsibilities. These are things that students are expected to do, worded in positive language. Below is a list of responsibilities you might use in the classroom.

  • Treat others with respect and kindness
  • Listen while others are speaking
  • Raise your hand when you have something to say
  • Clean up after yourself
  • Walk quietly through the halls

You might notice a common thread through all of those responsibilities. They are all written with positive language. There are no negative words such as 'no' or 'never'. Everything listed is something the child should do, not something the child can't do. Using these kinds of responsibilities instead of rules sets a positive, nurturing tone for the students in your classroom. Instead of being told NO, they are being told YES.

Positive Reinforcement

Nothing feels better than being told you've done a good job. This might come in the form of verbal praise, a bonus in your paycheck, or a small victory celebration. Those same feelings affect children, too. When you are celebrated for doing a good job, it makes you want to keep doing a good job because the praise you receive feels good.

Those same principles should apply in your classroom if you wish to create a positive management program. As students meet the responsibilities of the classroom, you should be quick with genuine, specific praise. When starting, consistent, frequent praise is useful for helping your students remember their responsibilities. After you feel every child has mastered your expectations, praise can switch from frequent to only in those times students go above and beyond.

Positive reinforcement can come in many forms, aside from verbal praise. You may want to implement a token system, where students are rewarded with a sticker or ticket when they are caught doing good. These stickers or tickets can then be turned in for a prize, such as a treat or a homework pass. You can also use a whole-class token system, where the class as a whole earns tokens to work towards a classroom party or other privileges.

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