Positive Classroom Discipline
Chapter 18 - Discipline Management as an Integrated System
Positive Classroom Discipline has described in considerable
detail a series of management procedures for dealing with classroom
disruptions of almost any shape and size. These procedures have
been presented as an integrated management system: a technology
based on fundaments which are simple, powerful, and adaptable
to the wide range of management dilemmas that characterize a
typical day in the classroom. The present chapter attempts to
describe more fully the interrelationships between the parts
of positive classroom discipline, a careful organization of
fundamental skills and procedures rather than a "bag of
THE BAG OF TRICKS
The way teachers talk about solving discipline problems reveals
much about our traditional frame of reference for discipline
- What do you do when a student . . . ?
- That's a neat idea. I can add that to my bag of tricks!
- Just show me briefly how it's done.
These statements, so common to my ears after years of teacher
training, reveal with elegant simplicity the dominant notion
held by most educators about how classroom management techniques
- A discipline technique is a reaction to a problem situation.
- The management of discipline consists of the collection
of as many remedies for as many problem situations as possible.
You are better off the bigger your bag of tricks.
- Techniques are simple notions about what to do that can
be quickly and easily conveyed by a few words or a quick demonstration.
Such a simplistic view of discipline dooms teachers to be perpetually
overwhelmed by the complexity of the task. A roomful of students
will always have more tricks up their sleeves than you will
have in your bag of tricks. In a week in the classroom any teacher
will be faced with a thousand "what do you do if . . .
?" situations. Even if the prescriptions existed, who could
learn them all and keep them all straight?
As the years go by, I have developed an increasing aversion
to the term "bag of tricks." It characterizes the
management of discipline as a hodgepodge of home remedies-a
catch-as-catch-can collection of cures for the dilemmas of everyday
life in the classroom. When teachers refer to their bag of tricks,
they acknowledge that they are out there winging it with anything
that they have been able to beg, borrow, or steal over the years.
Unfortunately the term bag of tricks describes rather accurately
the lack of any systematic methodology for discipline management
in education. Bag of tricks represents to me the antithesis
of a modern profession with an empirically based technology
of professional practice. A professional, most simply, is a
person with highly specialized skills, skills taking years to
master which equip that person to do a difficult job that is
far beyond the capability of untrained lay people. For having
these much-needed and difficult-to-master skills, professionals
charge and receive a high price for their services. Teachers
refer to each other as professionals, but the general public
more frequently thinks of teaching as glorified baby-sitting.
Until teachers are masters of a repertoire of specialized, professional-level
management skills that clearly set their competencies apart
from those of the average parent, teachers will be neither regarded
highly nor paid highly by the general public.
Rather than being a bewildering array of home remedies, Positive
Classroom Discipline clarifies fundamental vectors of management
and defines high level yet basic professional skills and competencies.
From this organization of skills and competencies comes the
ability to choose between potent management options on the basis
of cost-effectiveness rather than perpetually running through
the bag of tricks for yet another quick cure or bail-out.
LEVELS OF MANAGEMENT
Most effective behavior management programs must deal with
pairs of behaviors. You must systematically strengthen
the behavior you want while systematically weakening the competing
behaviors that you do not want. A discipline program, for example,
should not only eliminate problem behavior, but it should also
systematically build the positive behaviors that you want to
replace the problems. If problem behaviors are simply eliminated,
whatever replaces them will be left to chance. It could be dawdling,
or it could be another discipline problem.
Discipline management, therefore, is more appropriately viewed
not as the simple suppression of problems but rather as the
differential reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, often in
conjunction with suppression of the problem. Since most problem
behaviors in the classroom are self-rewarding, some suppression
is usually needed to eliminate the reinforcement generated by
the problem itself, which then competes with the differential
reinforcement of appropriate behavior.
Each level of discipline management, therefore, should ideally
have both reward and penalty components. The more explicit the
reward component, the more predictably positive will be the
outcome of an intervention.
The Three-Tiered Management System
Positive Classroom Discipline is composed of three different
management methodologies which are integrated to form a three-tier
approach to discipline management.
- Incentive systems
- Back-up systems
Each of these three methodologies, however, can be properly
understood only within the context of the differential reinforcement
of appropriate behavior.
Limit-Setting Limit-setting is mild social punishment,
and as such it is incomplete. For limit-setting to be in balance,
there must be reward. The reward would, of course, be social
reward-the positive social interactions between teacher and
student that create an informal incentive system. The natural
counterpart of limit-setting, therefore, is relationship. Together,
limit-setting and relationship building form a
tier of the management system which we might best describe as
the interpersonal-interactive level of management.
In the interpersonal-interactive level all sanctions, both
positive and negative, are delivered as part of the fleeting
interpersonal interactions between teacher and student. The
teacher's success at the interpersonal- interactional level
depends on the social competence of the teacher - his
or her accurate assessment of interpersonal situations and spontaneous
and effective use of a broad range of social skills and emotions
with students of all kinds moment by moment throughout the day.
The effective juxtaposition of positive and negative sanctions
during the social exchanges of teacher and student requires
a much higher level of precision than we have any right to expect
from an untrained teacher. And they require the consistently
supportive and successful helping interactions to be described
in Positive Classroom Instruction.
Incentive Systems Incentive systems make the exchange
of positive and negative sanctions prearranged, explicit, concrete,
and public. It is the formalized counterpart of the interpersonal-interactive
level of management with positive and negative sanctions being
juxtaposed in an analogous fashion.
Incentive systems can be so formalized as to be written in
the form of a contract. "Contingency contracting"
is a type of individualized behavior modification program in
which the quid pro quo of the behavioral exchange is both negotiated
and set down in writing. Incentives in business and industry
are typically negotiated and written down in the form of a contract,
but in education the cost of the negotiation and the giving
of individualized reinforcement limits their use to special
settings in most cases.
With responsibility training the only thing that may need to
be written down is the tally of accumulated PAT. This simple
tally, however, is a kind of written contract that keeps the
system honest by making the 6ze of the reward accurate (fair)
and public. It is axiomatic in parent and teacher training that
the first person to break a contract between adult and child
is almost always the adult who fails to deliver the agreed-upon
reward. It is often innocent: for example, losing track of time
while teaching so that there is no time left for PAT. A public
record, however, will almost always ensure that PAT happens
on schedule. The class will see to that,
One might, therefore, consider incentive systems as the incentive-contractual
level of management. Training in the proper use of incentives
can be more "bookish" than training at the interpersonal-
interactive level. Yet a basic technical understanding of incentive
systems is indispensable for teachers, along with a thorough
familiarity with the mechanics of some of the more important
classroom management procedures. Social skills for implementing
responsibility training focus primarily on relaxation and the
issue of having fun - especially fun with learning.
Back-up Systems Back-up systems break the pattern of
differential reinforcement. Back-up responses are negative sanctions,
and the reinforcement of appropriate behavior is left to chance.
The smaller the back-up responses, the more likely it is that
differential reinforcement will take place. In the classroom
of a nurturant teacher, for example, the use of a small back-up
response might be juxtaposed and balanced with warmth and approval
for good behavior. Relationship therefore provides the balance
for small back-up responses just as it does for limit-setting.
The larger the negative sanction, however, the more difficult
it will be to offset penalty with reward. Thus the higher up
the back-up system you go, the more unbalanced the management
system will become. The more unbalanced the system, the more
likely you will be to generate resentment, resistance, and revenge.
Teachers frequently use threat of impending punition, such
as the loss of a privilege, to "control" their students.
"All right, class. If you don't settle down and take
your seats right now, we are going nowhere when the
recess bell rings! Do you understand?"
Almost any social exchange between people creates some kind
of incentive system. When threat and loss of privilege are used
by themselves, however, they typically signal a teacher who
is off-balance and struggling to regain control of a situation
that is unraveling. Such attempts at management are shortsighted,
and their results are short-lived. Without clear differential
reinforcement of appropriate behavior, there is no systematic
behavior building, and no answer to the question, "Why
should I?" that would produce lasting cooperation. Incentive
systems based on punition alone are incentive systems gone awry
- stripped of their incentive function. To avoid confusion we
will refer to such unbalanced contingency exchanges which focus
on penalty alone as "disincentive systems."
LEVELS OF DISCIPLINE MANAGEMENT
+ Informal incentive systems (relationship which includes
positive instructional interactions)
2. Incentive-contractual (formal incentive
A. Simple incentive systems
B. Complex incentive systems
3. Back-up and containment
Punishment, suppression (disincentive systems - penalty
- Negative sanctions
Back-up systems, especially those negative sanctions going
beyond the relatively innocuous exchanges of small back-up responses,
are exercises in disincentive management. The lack of differential
reinforcement dooms them to rarely self-eliminate if used repetitively
since there is no systematic mechanism to build cooperation
and thereby reduce the ongoing reliance on negative sanctions.
Medium back-up responses are an in-between zone in which a
nurturant teacher with an effective classroom incentive program
can still match penalty with reward to an acceptable degree.
A less nurturing teacher who has established little relationship
with his or her students will already be "in the hole."
By the time large back-up responses are being used with a student
on a regular basis, the management system will most likely have
The differential reinforcement for back-up responses will in
most cases have been borrowed or "bootlegged" from
level I or level 2 (see Table 18-1). To
the extent that you use your back-up system, therefore, you
are living on credit. We may only hope that you have plenty
of relationship "money in the bank" and that you draw
out no more than you have put in. The economics of cooperation,
therefore, dictate that you cannot live permanently within your
back-up system. You may only visit while you buy time to develop
a balanced, reward-based management system.
To a greater or lesser degree the decision to use negative
sanctions signals the boundary between generating cooperation
and achieving containment at any cost. The most appropriate
term for level 3 of discipline management might, therefore,
be backup and containment level of management.
The three levels of management might be characterized as shown
in Table 18-1.
DEALING WITH ESCALATION
Avoiding Negative Sanctions
In a sense positive classroom discipline can be divided
into only two parts:
- Everything you can possibly do to avoid the use of your
- Back-up systems
This division of positive classroom discipline accurately reflects
the ambivalence and therefore the caution that any educator
should have toward the use of negative sanctions in management.
The repeated use of negative sanctions in discipline management
places all teachers, who continually need the students' cooperation
in both behaving properly and learning, into double jeopardy.
One of the sad but predictable ironies of discipline management
is that the more teachers rely on their back-up system for managing
discipline, the less likely they are to effectively build relationship.
Not only does the repeated use of negative sanctions kill relationship,
but people who naturally favor punition also tend, obviously,
to value relationship less and to build and preserve it less.
Thus, as negative sanctions are used more often, balance becomes
less likely and student resentment overwhelms the will to cooperate.
Most people, however, assume that discipline means punishment
and that a bigger discipline problem deserves a bigger punishment.
Never mind that the vast majority of the severe discipline problems
at any school site are generated by that small minority of the
student body that has been the recipient of the largest negative
sanctions. Never mind that this pattern perpetuates itself year
after year. If something is not working, more of the same must
be the cure.
Saving the Loser
The progression in the management of discipline problems from
mild negative sanctions for common disruptions to a preference
for positive sanctions for extreme disruptions was as much a
product of the school of hard knocks as it was a result of theory
or values. Classrooms full of emotionally, behaviorally, and
learning-handicapped teenagers comprised the crucible in which
the ideas of Positive Classroom Discipline were formed.
With regular elementary and secondary students and with behaviorally
handicapped elementary students we learned about the incredible
power of limit-setting. With behaviorally handicapped secondary
students we learned that limit-setting was not enough, even
with both the back-up of negative sanctions and the aid of individualized
incentive programs. We learned that most alienated teenagers
have a life or death commitment to winning any battle for behavioral
control waged by adult authorities. In addition, they possess
the jaded cockiness of a seasoned veteran in matters of discipline
that produces a willingness to "high roll" in the
classroom discipline poker game until the stakes are driven
to dizzying heights. We learned that we would either come to
understand incentive systems well enough to generate cooperation
consistently among our alienated teenagers or we would burn
out teachers faster than we could matriculate our problems.
The Negative Deadlock What kind of home do you think
produces an angry, alienated child? The modal pattern is not
as mysterious as one might think. Aggression produces counter-aggression
- a continued reliance on management by negative sanctions in
conjunction with a shortage of nurturance produces anger and
To raise a truly angry child, parents must usually start early.
Slap the hands of a 9month-old for picking up forbidden objects.
Swear in exasperation when the baby spills or smears or drops
food on the floor. Admonish your 2-year-old through clenched
teeth to 11 act your age!" when he or she fusses and whines
in public. Threaten that things will get worse if the child
does not learn his or her lesson. Meet the child at his or her
emotional level so that you will be able to finally get
through to him or her.
The dialogue of force progresses over the years from the terrible
twos to the miserable threes to the abominable fours. It is
a home where discipline all too often means nagging, threatening,
yelling, spanking, criticizing, hitting, demeaning, and endlessly
- Get down off that counter top! How many times do I have
to tell you before you'll listen! If you don't get down this
instant, I'm going to warm your little bottom!
- Would you shut up when I'm on the phone! I said shut up!
Can't you see I'm trying to talk!
- You get up those stairs right now or I'll give you a reason
to move that you'll remember'.
- This damn kid of mine won't do a thing I ask.
When you grow up with negative sanctions, you grow immune to
them through repeated exposure. Your skin is thick, your feelings
are defiant, and you take pride in your capacity to absorb punishment
and prevail. Therapists often refer to this pattern as the "burned
child" syndrome. You learn to fight force with
counter force, and you learn to frustrate force with
noncompliance. You master the art of passive resistance. Cooperation
means capitulation, and you resist that humiliation as long
as possible out of resentment and pride.
When these children finally enter the public education system,
they will be seasoned veterans in the politics of power - their
"school of hard knocks." They have been trained to
regard adult authority as arbitrary, capricious, and unjust.
And now you, the teacher, are going to ask these children to
cooperate and go along with the demands for conformity with
the multiplicity of rules, structures, and routines required
for organized group activity. You will make more demands for
both work completion and rule compliance before lunch than the
parents would dare make in an entire day. And we are surprised
at the response of a predictable minority?
- You and your stupid rules!
- Gimme a break! You're always pickin' on me!
- This is unfair, I'm not going to do it!
- Get off my back!
How are we going to cope with their provocations and oppositionism?
We are obviously going to have to "use discipline."
Use discipline - our age-old stereotype of discipline sneaks
up on us again. We will have to get rid of these intolerable
behaviors - suppress them - put the lid on. See how easy it
is to reach our back-up system in one easy step? When pushed,
most teachers and parents instinctively turn to negative sanctions.
Can you ever make it with "burned children" while
relying primarily on negative sanctions? Can you ever reach
them or turn them around or shape them up using the same control
techniques that they grew to hate and learned to overpower?
To try to do so produces the same conflicts at school that characterize
the home, an endless exchange of force and counter force, a
war of attrition characterized by coercion.
And who are the casualties? Will you absorb the stress and
punishment endlessly, or will you at some point simply "bounce"?
"It's them or me, and it sure as hell isn't going to be
Oh yes it is. Our alienated, burned child has already extracted
his or her pound of flesh from you and from a succession of
your colleagues. As long as we meet negativism with negative
sanctions, force with counter force, we will pay the price of
our folly until either these children drop out or the public
education system spits them out.
A Philosophy of Punitive Parenting
"That damn kid won't do a thing I ask!" says the
distraught, angry parent at his first family therapy session.
"The only thing he understands is when I take off my belt!"
"Does it work?" I ask.
"It's the only damn thing that works!"
"It's the only thing that works!" I wonder how many
times I have heard that sentence from a parent while wondering
each time how they could say it out loud without hearing its
sad irony. Things that work solve problems. Things that do not
work perpetuate problems. "If it works so well, what do
you think has brought you to therapy?" I think to myself.
If I have found any one predictable feature about parents who
are deeply locked into a cycle of coercion and counter-coercion
with their child, it is a marked failure to appreciate the role
of reinforcement-either formal or informal-in generating behavior.
It is a lacuna-a blank space in their understanding, a circumscribed
ignorance that in many cases is nearly complete. In its more
extreme forms it is encased in a series of attributions and
rationalizations that form the punitive parent's philosophy
of child rearing.
"Hey, listen, I don't buy this reward stuff! You're
telling me I'm supposed to give them some kind of payoff or
bribe just to get them to do something? Listen, I expect
them to do things that I ask them to do because I
say so. They're living in my house, eating off my table,
and I'll be damned if I'll kiss their behinds to get them
just to agree to do a few things around the house! Nobody
ever offered me any rewards for doing what I was supposed
to do when I was growing up!"
Indeed, nobody probably ever did, nor are those parents offering
any now, nor in all likelihood will their children when they
become parents. It is hard to give what you never got. You must
be raised with nurturance, approval, and reward to understand
and appreciate them. If you were raised by the scruff of the
neck, the notion of reward does not compute, and the feelings
and spontaneous responses of nurturance are withered and small.
You are doomed to repeat the past to one degree or another because
it is you.
And some of these burned individuals become teachers and some
become principals. And some are more burned than others, and
we are all burned to some degree. If an angry, withholding child
meets a teacher cut from the same cloth, we will surely have
a "personality conflict." And if an angry, withholding
child meets a warm and nurturing teacher, he or she will frustrate
that teacher to death. The child will continue to play the "you
can't make me" game until the child's game extinguishes
or until the teacher's patience runs out or until we somehow
skillfully teach that child about nurturance and reward,
about giving and receiving.
Lesser Degrees of Oppositionism
"But these alienated students are the few, not the many.
They are the lower 5 percent. They are not typical. Most of
the discipline problem kids are not 'at war'."
True, not many students qualify as severe cases. But a great
many are mild to moderate cases. A few hate school from the
beginning and fight authority all the way, but many others will
be passive resisters who distinguish themselves by tuning out
most of the time with occasional outbursts of squirrelly behavior.
Some lose their education with a flourish, but most of the walking
wounded lose it by inches.
Yet the lessons learned in the crucible of secondary special
education apply to all. A class of alienated teenagers will
give you only two choices, learn how to generate cooperation
or struggle with enforcement until you burn out. Yet the choices
are the same in any classroom. Only the rate of burn-out is
different. You cannot write off the lower 5 percent without
blinding yourself to the needs of the middle 50 percent. You
cannot turn your back on the basic imperative of discipline
management to deal constructively with students' negativism.
Cooperation based on reward will always be the central issue
of discipline management, and limit-setting and penalties will
always serve only as a means of allowing appropriate rewards
Most of us want to give and need only a sophisticated technology
to set us free from the continual struggle for control. Some
of us only understand control and will struggle with the notion
of discipline based on reward. Most of our students want to
respond with cooperation based upon affirmation and reward.
Some of them respond only to threat and punishment.
For all the students we must learn the lessons of Positive
Classroom Discipline. But we must learn our lessons especially
well for the sake of the burned child. We must teach such children
about rewards and cooperation and nurturance from scratch. Patience
and sweetness are not enough - the negative transfer from home
is too strong. They will fight us and they will wear us down.
We must know our craft well enough to succeed at a price we
can afford in spite of their resistance. For these burned students
in particular but for all students to some degree we must either
master the skills of limit-setting and the technology of incentive
systems or be doomed to fight an eternal battle of containment
that no one can win.
Escalation and Reward-Based Discipline Management
Before proceeding to an examination of Positive Classroom Discipline
as a whole, it will be useful to examine the way in which limit-setting
and incentive systems as used in Positive Classroom Discipline
systematically fly in the face of the timeless notion that discipline
is punition and that bigger problems call for bigger negative
Limit-Setting In dealing with the typical classroom
disruption-the small, everyday disruption that accounts for
most of the teacher's stress and most of the students' time
off task - the most cost-effective way of responding will usually
be limit-setting. Limit-setting, as part of the teacher's normal
classroom demeanor, not only terminates disruptions effectively
in those few instances when part of the limit-setting sequence
is used, but it also trains the class that you mean business.
Once a teacher's capacity to respond effectively to disruptions
has been firmly established, his or her mere presence in the
classroom serves as a discriminative stimulus for the continual
presence of rule enforcement through limit-setting, which subsequently
acts to prevent most disruptions from occurring.
Limit-setting, however, is mild social punishment. When
given skillfully it is low key and gentle, and it minimizes
the likelihood of a power confrontation between teacher and
student. It saves the student from the consequences of his or
her own foolishness as in the case of back talk and is therefore
actively protective of the student. Nevertheless, from a scientific
standpoint limit-setting is a mild aversive social consequence
for an unacceptable behavior which suppresses the rate of that
behavior: punishment as defined in any learning textbook.
Responsibility Training As a teacher attempts to deal
with more difficult or off balance management situations in
the classroom-the repeat disruptions, dawdling, noise level,
coming to class without necessary materials, time wasters, and
chronic nuisance behaviors such as pencil sharpening and hall
passes-responsibility training becomes the most cost-effective
technique. Responsibility training, however, is a complex
incentive system with explicit reward and penalty components.
In responsibility training reward is built in rather than being
unstructured for the teacher to supply through relationship
as in limit-setting. And penalty is peer-based rather than residing
solely in the person of the teacher.
Omission Training Finally when we must deal with one
of the most difficult of our management situations - the angry,
alienated student who turns his or her back on both relationship
and formal rewards and locks him- or herself into a "you
can't make me" power struggle with the teacher - omission
training is the technique of choice. Omission training is an
entirely reward-oriented management system, a bonus clause pure
Counteracting Escalation Ironically, the more difficult
and negativistic the student's behavior becomes, the more reward-oriented
is the teacher's response. As the teacher progresses from
limit-setting (mild social punishment) to responsibility training
(reward plus bonus and penalty) to omission training (bonus
only), Positive Classroom Discipline progresses from mild social
punishment (suppression) to pure reward (reinforcement). The
tendency of Positive Classroom Discipline to become less punitive
under conditions of increasing provocation is graphically represented
here, in Figure 18-1.
FIGURE 18-1 The relationship
between an increasing level of provocation
and a reliance upon positive sanctions -the more provocative
the student, the more positive the response.
This progression from negative sanctions to positive sanctions
in coping with discipline problems of increasing magnitude flies
in the face of what most people would expect from a discipline
management system: that meeting a bigger provocation dictates
the use of a bigger negative sanction. This age-old stereotype
of discipline, which we have attempted to overcome with Positive
Classroom Discipline, is not only harsh but counterproductive
in the long run.
POSITIVE CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE AS AN INTEGRATED SYSTEM
The Discipline Decision Ladder
Informed Judgment vs. Rigid Prescription Positive Classroom
Discipline has evolved over the years into an orderly process
of problem solving. As teachers are forced to deal with discipline
problems of increasing severity, they can proceed from one management
strategy to the next in an ordered sequence that combines management
power and cost-effectiveness with gentleness and protection
of the student.
Yet each management technique has its strengths and limitations,
and each management situation has subtleties known only to the
teacher. Thus the decision-making process is ultimately a matter
of informed judgment rather than rigid prescription. Prescriptions
are doomed to failure in far too many cases because they lack
the flexibility to adapt to the specific situation. Only a well-trained
teacher with mastery of an adequate repertoire of responses
- an integrated system of successful skills and procedures -
can gamble well enough in the moment to consistently make the
problems go away.
Figure 18-2 represents the full range of CMTP discipline management
options as they would be considered chronologically in dealing
with a discipline problem of increasing severity. Management
options are arranged along two dimensions, (1) Reinforcement
(reward) and (2) Suppression (penalty). Ironically, the age-old
adage about the carrot and the stick accurately describes the
basic polarity underlying the response options available for
discipline management. Together reward for appropriate behavior
and minimal penalty for inappropriate behavior produce the most
efficient discrimination learning for the student. Response
options to be used early in discipline management are placed
at the bottom of the diagram.
FIGURE 18-2 Positive Classroom
Discipline as an integrated system.
To solve problems, go up the Decision Ladder.
Of course, this diagram represents an idealized management
progression for a hypothetical problem, and certain liberties
will be taken at the discretion of the teacher. The cardinal
error, however, is to jump rapidly from the bottom toward the
top in anything but a crisis situation. This pattern, which
we refer to as "leapfrogging," usually represents
a primary reliance on negative sanctions by the teacher
rather than a reliance on smaller, more subtle, more reward-based
sanctions toward the bottom of the decision ladder.
Judgments and Trade-Offs Relationship is the beginning
of management, the informal yet fundamental human incentive
system. Yet, relationship is not enough. The job of any student
is to test limits-to find out what is real and what is not.
With relationship students learn that you care. With limit-setting
they can encounter firm boundaries without getting bruised.
Relationship is built spontaneously as a caring, loving teacher
interacts with students on a moment-by-moment basis. Relationship
is also built systematically as a byproduct of effective limit-setting,
which is protective of the student, and as a by product of responsibility
training as well, which structures fun with learning into classroom
life as a means of getting necessary jobs done. Relationship
is also built as a byproduct of effective instructional technique
as the teacher learns to have more frequent and more positive
helping interactions with students. Thus, effective instructional
techniques are an integral part of the interpersonal - interactive
level of discipline management. We will learn much more about
relationship building in Positive Classroom Instruction,
the companion volume to this work, as we integrate discipline
and instruction into a cohesive approach to classroom management.
Formal incentives, the incentive-contractual level of management,
pick up where the interpersonal-interactive level of management
leaves off. Incentives give us a predictable and affirmative
way of answering the student's eternal "Why should I?"
Simple incentives bring us back to the reward side of our decision
ladder, but simple rewards are only occasionally useful for
discipline. They lack the power to suppress the disruptions
of the few so that the teacher will have the opportunity to
reward the many. To put teeth into group incentive
management we must cross over to the penalty side where responsibility
training, a complex incentive system, gives us the capacity
to suppress goofing off. With an extremely negativistic and
oppositional student, however, we may need to cross back to
the reward column as we use omission training.
Our back-up system picks up where the major portion of the
incentive-contractual level of management leaves off. However,
even in the lower half of the back-up containment level of management,
incentives and negative sanctions continue to be interspersed
as a means of juxtaposing peer sanctions with adult sanctions
and reward with penalty. Small back-up responses are followed
with group omission training before the transition to medium
back-up responses is made. Medium back-up responses are also
followed by a reward phase which may include omission training
or any imaginable type of custom-built incentive program.
With further progression up the decision ladder, however, comes
the obligation to stand back, to get help if necessary, and
to examine how you got this far. Only large and extra-large
back-up responses remain at the top of the decision ladder along
with an exhortation to reexamine what you are doing and seek
help. With repeated use of large and extra-large back-up responses
the management system becomes increasingly unbalanced, and the
likelihood of generating alienation and a cycle of coercion
As positive classroom discipline evolved over the years into
a tight system that could cope with the full range of discipline
problems that a teacher might face, a simple problem-solving
strategy emerged which is most graphically represented in
Figure 18-2: When rewards prove ineffective, go to penalty.
When penalty proves ineffective, go to reward.
Added to this strategy is a second strategy of equal simplicity:
Proceed up the management system one level at a time. Jump a
level only in the face of severe crisis.
Though simple enough as strategies go, both of these statements
fly in the face of conventional wisdom. Most people will respond
to the failure of a negative sanction by reaching for a larger
negative sanction. And most people will jump rapidly to their
back-up system on the basis of internal upset or inexperience
rather than proceeding on the basis of systematic problem solving.
Added to these two basic strategies is a third which defines
our long-range objective in discipline management. Our long-range
objective is to work our way down the management system.
Over time the use of the back-up system should self-eliminate
so that we are handling almost all discipline problems at the
incentive - contractual and interpersonal - interactive levels.
With the passage of more time the penalty component of responsibility
training should self-eliminate until only PAT is left.
Over time, therefore, the size of negative sanctions steadily
decreases while the reinforcement components of the system remain
constant or, as in the case of PAT, even grow. In the end almost
all management takes place at the interpersonal level with limit-setting
on the wing preventing even the use of the mild social punishment
inherent in the limit-setting sequence.
When effective discipline management in the classroom can take
place almost entirely at the interpersonal-interactive level
of management, discipline management has finally become extremely
cheap. easy, and positive. But this goal will elude us unless
specific, advanced instructional skills are employed
in conjunction with effective discipline management. Lessons
which produce confusion, boredom, or discouragement for certain
students will always produce enough goofing off and fooling
around to force us up the management system toward a stronger
reliance on punishment. The instructional skills so important
to completing the interpersonal-interactive level of classroom
management are described in Positive Classroom Instruction,
the other volume of this comprehensive treatment of behavioral
management in the classroom.
Can a teacher have good discipline without all this technology?
Haven't good teachers achieved good results in the past with
a far simpler approach?
Well. yes and no. I have known many excellent teachers who
had "no discipline problems to speak of" who reduced
their disruptions by 80 percent and doubled their time-on-task
as a result of systematic teacher training. And I have known
teachers whose methods served them well in the past who nevertheless
suffered painfully at the hands of a particularly difficult
class. I have also seen the best teachers use much of Positive
Classroom Discipline instinctively without realizing that they
were using any special technique at all. And I have seen rather
crude management techniques succeed beautifully with a fairly
nice kid who wasn't all that much of a problem to start with.
But more than anything I have observed that teachers who do
not labor hard at a high level of stress in a classroom full
of young people are few and far between.
A teacher can sometimes manage with clear rules, clear warnings,
and a handful of negative sanctions. But if they succeed with
little stress they must (1) have a nice group of youngsters,
(2) have a fairly young class in most cases, preferably fourth
grade or below, and (3) have superb skills of relationship building.
Yet even when these conditions pertain, effective teachers who
are adequately trained typically experience (1) a rapid reduction
of stress and exasperation, (2) a rapid increase in academic
learning time and time-on-task, and (3) an elevation of standards.
FIGURE 18-3 A comparison of
positive discipline and primitive discipline. (click
for larger image)
Positive discipline management can be nonadversarial if
you have the right tools (left)
Primitive discipline management goes sraight to the Back-up
The problem with simplistic discipline is that very few teachers
can get away with it for long, and almost no one can get away
with it forever. For the vast majority of teachers simplistic
discipline becomes primitive discipline under pressure.
Primitive discipline is discipline management that goes from
rules to reprimands to the back-up system. Primitive discipline
begins with a warning or reprimand and has names on the board
right away with the threat of worse to follow. It is the "three
strikes and you're out" school of management which creates
a semblance of order at the price of a high casualty rate. Most
of the casualties are children, especially the losers who could
have been saved, and the rest of the casualties are teachers.
Primitive discipline is the norm. It is the embodiment of our
folk wisdom concerning discipline. At a relatively high price
to the teacher it holds in check those students who are fairly
easily controlled. But for the burned child it holds out no
hope of learning to cooperate.
Positive classroom discipline, as it has grown over the past
decade and a half, has sought to discover a better way. From
observation, I have attempted to construct a management system
that provides as much management power and flexibility as a
teacher will ever need before the use of the back-up system.
If primitive discipline leaps to medium, large, and extra-large
back-up responses, positive classroom discipline does as much
as possible to keep from getting there.
The contrast between positive classroom discipline and primitive
discipline can be quickly seen by contrasting those procedures
which have been either developed or refined as parts of positive
classroom discipline over the years with those which are currently
the mainstay of discipline for most classrooms and school sites.
See Figure 18-3.
It was impossible for me to see classroom discipline as an
integrated system so neatly arranged until the pieces had been
developed. Only then was there a real sense of coherence-a sense
that the major questions had been addressed, the major needs
met, the major loopholes plugged. Only then was the full pattern
Discipline dilemmas in the classroom, however, do not always
lend themselves to the following of a management system in a
neat, step-by-step progression. Yet the steps of the Positive
Classroom Discipline decision ladder define the path and make
the next step more sure. When teachers have mastered their basic
discipline management skills, they are well equipped to make
the necessary trade-offs and fine adjustments.
Until a teacher has been adequately trained, however, he or
she has only a bag of tricks at best, and he or she must settle
for partial results and a relatively greater reliance on negative
sanctions. Since negative sanctions destroy relationship and
since relationship is the basis of cooperation, such a simplistic
system will rarely self-eliminate. In the final analysis the
only alternative to punition and stress is finesse. And the
only means of acquiring finesse is through careful and extensive