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Positive Classroom Management Series

Positive Classroom Discipline

Chapter 18 - Discipline Management as an Integrated System (page 2)

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 sanctions.


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 and simple.


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.



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 multiplies.


Basic Strategies

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, advancedinstructional 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.


Simplistic Discipline

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.

Positive discipline management can be nonadversarial if you have the right tools (left)

Primitive discipline management goes sraight to the Back-up System (right)


Primitive Discipline

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 clear.


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 training.



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