Make font smaller  Make font larger

Autumn 2006

The big picture - in education

Component driven discipline

Establishing and maintaining effective discipline is an issue that affects all teachers. Christine and Mark Boynton provide a summary of a discipline model that works to build positive learning environments in classrooms and schools.

One of the most important factors related to both student learning and job satisfaction for educators is a strong, positive discipline system. Schools where student behaviour is positive are schools parents want their children to attend, where teachers want to work and where students feel safe and are ready to learn.

We have developed a model of classroom and building-wide discipline that has four components which, when effectively applied, can produce classrooms and schools with safe, positive learning environments. We call this model Component Driven Discipline. It consists of positive student relations, clearly defined parameters of acceptable student behaviour, monitoring techniques and consequences. Educators can apply each of these components to their classrooms and schools and achieve immediate positive outcomes for students.

The chart below illustrates what we believe is the ideal relationship between these components for a classroom and for a school.


Positive student relations

Relationships are the most significant component in our model. When students know that their teacher values and cares for them as individuals, they are more likely to comply with the teacher’s directives. It takes time, effort and skill to develop relationships with all students but it is time well spent. Although some teachers naturally create positive relationships with all students, there are specific strategies that can be learnt to intentionally develop positive relations.

Some of these key strategies are: communicating positive expectations, correcting students in a positive way, developing positive classroom pride, and demonstrating that you care about students.

Communicating positive expectations for all students, about not only their academic ability and performance but also their behaviours, can be extremely powerful. When a teacher lets a student know that a behaviour can be improved and then expresses faith in the student’s ability to do better, it plants the seeds of positive presuppositions. Building on past successes is part of this strategy. Telling Tamara that you know she can behave appropriately at recess because she had such a positive experience the day before helps build future success on past success.

Students will behave badly at times, and when they do it is part of positive relationship building to correct them in positive ways. In this process, the educator should review what happened, accept the student’s feelings, review what they could have done instead, state what school policy they violated, invoke an immediate and meaningful consequence, and communicate the belief that they will do better in the future.

For example, if Tamara hits another student at recess, let her express her anger and tell her that you understand her feelings. As she calms down, state that instead of hitting, she could have talked through her anger or left the situation. Then explain she broke the school rule that states no hitting is allowed. Let her know what the consequences are: the consequence for hitting is after school detention or suspension. As you do this, however, state that you have confidence that she will learn from her mistake and won’t exhibit this type of behaviour in the future.

After the consequence has been served, check back with Tamara to see how she’s doing and assure her you’re glad she’s back with the class. This reinforces that you care about her and expect her to do better in the future. It also helps build positive relationships.

Establishing clearly defined parameters

The second component of our model is to establish clearly defined parameters of acceptable student behaviour. Research shows that there are fewer disruptions in classrooms where rules and procedures are effectively implemented than in classrooms where this is not the case.

We recommend that teachers formally teach and enforce both their discipline plan and their rules of conduct. What is the difference?

The discipline plan, according to Canter and Canter (1997) is the umbrella policy that specifies rules that apply to all students, in all locations, and at all times. They describe rules of conduct as policies and rules that apply to specific locations and situations. These encompass such things as assembly behaviour, how to participate in classroom discussions, expectations for seatwork activities, or how to seek the teacher’s assistance.

When teaching the discipline plan and rules of conduct, we recommend that educators begin with a set, explain the logic and rationale for each rule, model the behaviour that is expected, allow for questions and answers, have students demonstrate their understanding, and re-teach the rules when necessary.

For example, Karl is a first year teacher who wants to teach his students how to walk quietly in the hall as they transition between activities. He begins with his set rule, telling students that as part of the larger school community it is important that they are respectful of other students when walking through the building. The logic is that when they are quiet, other students can continue with their studies.

Karl shows them what he means by walking around the classroom with three students to whom he has pre-taught his expectations. These include walking on the right side, keeping hands by their sides, no talking and eyes forward. After allowing time for questions, he takes the class with him on a practice walk through the building. When Karl gets a new student or after lengthy vacation breaks, he re-teaches his expectations.

A final way to be certain that students know the rules is to give them a test. The test should require students to specifically indicate what the rules are regarding different situations. Such questions as, ‘What are the two times you are allowed to go to your locker?’ check for understanding by all students.

Monitoring skills

Effectively monitoring student behaviours is one of the most powerful discipline tools available. Monitoring communicates two things: that the adult is aware of what all students are doing at all times, and that the adult is concerned about what the students are doing.

There are four monitoring skills that every teacher should master— using proximity, invoking silence, providing response opportunities, and using the ‘teacher’s look’. Used alone, each of these skills is very powerful. When all are used together, they are especially effective. Let’s take a look at how they may be used.

You notice that Hugo is fidgeting and drifting off-task during a class discussion. So, you call his name, ask him a question related to the class discussion and wait. If he continues to be off-task, you use proximity and slowly walk up to him, using ‘the look’ as you move towards him. This is so powerful that it’s usually adequate to use just one of these strategies. The important point is to proactively monitor all students in your classroom as a preventive discipline measure.


Although using consequences should be the least often used component of a discipline system, it’s important to have immediate, meaningful consequences to back the parameters when the other components aren’t enough.

Individual teachers can have their own consequences, such as making parent contact; keeping students in their classrooms during recess, lunch or after school; or using individual contracts.

The most effective consequences are those that require building-wide support systems, including school-wide processing, lunch detention, after school detention and effective office referrals. This requires a building-wide plan with all staff working together.

Classroom and building-wide discipline are the foundations for learning.

For more ideas and information visit:


Canter, L & Canter, M (1997). Lee Canter’s Assertive Discipline: Positive behavior management for today’s classroom, Lee Canter and Associates, Santa Monica, California.

Marzano, R (2003). Classroom Management that Works: Research based strategies for every teacher, ASCD, Alexandria, Virginia.

Zehm, S & Kottler, J (1993). On Being a Teacher: The human dimension, Corwin Press, Newbury Park, California.

author picture Christine and Mark Boynton are retired public school principals. They present discipline workshops for schools throughout the USA.