77 Tips on Discipline in the classroom

Effective teachers choose discipline techniques that will encourage positive behaviour, and motivate students to feel good about themselves and the decisions that they make.

It’s About Relationships

What if the two or three (or more) difficult students in your classroom admired you? What if they looked up to you, respected you, trusted you, and liked being in your company? What if they embraced whatever you had to say to them?

Your success in helping them change their behaviour would go through the roof, and you’d have peace in your classroom. The fact is, everything hinges on your ability to build relationships with your students. Your classroom management plan merely nudges them in the right direction. Done correctly, it gets students to look inward, to self-evaluate, and to feel the weight of their transgressions. But by itself, it can only do so much. It’s your relationship with your students that makes the greatest difference.

Don’t question

It’s normal for teachers to force explanations from difficult students as a form of accountability. But asking why and demanding a response from them almost always ends in resentment. And angry students who dislike their teacher never improve their classroom behaviour.

Don’t argue

When you argue with difficult students, it puts them on equal footing with you, creating a “your word against theirs” situation. This negates the effects of accountability. It also opens the floodgates: everybody will be arguing with you.

Don’t boss, scold, or shout

Lecturing, scolding, and yelling will cause all students to dislike you, but when you direct your diatribe toward one particular student, it can be especially damaging. Creating friction between you and your most challenging students virtually guarantees that their behaviour will worsen.

Don’t give false praise

Teachers often shower difficult students with praise for doing what is minimally expected. But because these students can look around at their fellow classmates and know that it’s a sham, false praise doesn’t work. Instead, give only meaningful, heartfelt praise based on true accomplishment.

Don’t hold a grudge

“Every day is a new day” should be your mantra with difficult students. They need to know that they have a clean slate to start each day–and so do you. To that end, say hello, smile, and let them know you’re happy to see them first thing every morning.

Don’t lose your cool

When you let students get under your skin and you lose emotional control, even if it’s just a sigh and an eye roll, you become less effective. Your likeability drops. Classroom tension rises. And when difficult students discover they can push your buttons, they’ll try as often as they can.

Don’t ignore misbehaviour

Given that there is an audience of other students, ignoring misbehaviour will not make it go away. It will only make it worse. Instead, follow your classroom management plan as it’s written. If a difficult student breaks a rule, no matter how trivial, enforce it immediately.

Take a deep breath and try to remain calm

It’s natural to be overcome with frustration, resentment, and anger. But when you are, you become less rational, and your agitation becomes contagious.

Try to set a positive tone and model an appropriate response

Even if it means you must take a few moments to compose yourself. Acknowledge that you need time to think, time to respond. “This is upsetting me, too, but I need a few minutes to think before we talk about it.”

Make sure students understand that it’s their misbehaviour you dislike not them

“I like you, Jason. Right now, your behaviour is unacceptable.”

Give the misbehaving student a chance to respond positively by explaining not only what he or she is doing wrong, but also what he or she can do to correct it.

Never resort to blame or ridicule.

Avoid win-lose conflicts

Emphasize problem-solving instead of punishment.

Insist that students accept responsibility for their behaviour

Try to remain courteous in the face of hostility or anger

Showing students that you care about them and their problems will help you earn their respect and establish rapport.

Treat all students respectfully and politely

Be consistent in what you let them say and do. Be careful not to favor certain students.

Be an attentive listener

Encourage students to talk out feelings and concerns and help them clarify their comments by restating them.

Model the behaviour you expect from your students

Are you as considerate of your students’ feelings as you want them to be of others? Are you as organized and on-task as you tell them to be? Are your classroom rules clear and easy for students to follow?

Specifically describe misbehaviour and help students understand the consequences of misbehaviour

Very young children may even need your explanations modelled or acted out.

Be aware of cultural differences

For example, a student who stares at the floor while you speak to him or her would be viewed as defiant in some cultures and respectful in others.

Discourage cliques and other antisocial behaviour

Offer cooperative activities to encourage group identity.

Teach students personal and social skills

— communicating, listening, helping, and sharing, for example.

Try to understand where the behaviour is coming from

Is the student distressed by a death, divorce, new baby, learning disability, or some other overwhelming experience? Speaking to the student’s parents or guardian may shed light on underlying causes and help you develop sympathy through understanding.

Use positive strategies when dealing with the child

One such strategy is addressing specific behaviours with precise language that describes what needs to be done. In addition, try to seat the student near to you or a helpful student, praise the student liberally but sincerely, give the student choices to promote self-worth and feelings of control, be firm and consistent about your rules, and express displeasure with the student’s behaviour without criticizing the student.

Set a goal

If the situation between you and the child has not improved after two or three months of your best effort, it may be time to recommend professional/psychological/educational testing. Some problems are very complex and beyond your control.

Teach students academic survival skills

Such as paying attention, following directions, asking for help when they really need it, and volunteering to answer.

Avoid labeling students as “good” or “bad.”

Instead describe their behaviour as “positive,” “acceptable,” “disruptive,” or “unacceptable.”

Focus on recognizing and rewarding acceptable behaviour more than punishing misbehaviour

Ignore or minimize minor problems instead of disrupting the class

A glance, a directed question, or your proximity may be enough to stop misbehaviour.

Where reprimands are necessary, state them quickly and without disrupting the class

When it’s necessary to speak to a student about his or her behaviour…

try to speak in private; this is especially true of adolescents who must “perform” for their peers. Public reprimands or classes often trigger exaggerated, face-saving performances.

Use proximity to limit negative actions

When at all possible, place the student nearest you (hard when you are immersed in PBL) or stay within close proximity to him.

Have defined student expectations

Use the same steps to get the student on task and behaving EVERY TIME…i.e., ‘this behaviour ALWAYS equals this consequence.”

Choose the best time to discipline

You can’t win when you try to call out a student in front of his or her friends. Back off until you talk in private.

Try to empathize with the student

I know it’s hard, because the kid is RUDE, but try to find out what is really going on. Can you get someone to talk to the student? The student might need to take a safe seat to re-group.

Build on common ground

Reflect on your relationship to see if there is any way you can relate to the student. Does the student play sports? In the Band? Have a sibling? Build on that and see what happens.

Utilize your teaching colleagues

Talk to your colleagues; has anyone been able to reach this student? If so, set up a meeting with the student and the teacher.

Make class work a non-issue

This is HARD, but take the class work out of the equation for a short time and work on the relationship…work the “work” back in later.

Try the peer tutor technique

Ask yourself- Is the difficult student good in one subject? Can he tutor a fellow student? Can he help someone else succeed? It works BOTH ways.

Never give up

No matter the behaviour, don’t give up on trying to reach that student…the negativity may be a defence for something deeper. Keep up the good fight!

Take a deep breath and try to remain calm

It’s natural to be overcome with frustration, resentment, and anger. But when you are, you become less rational, and your agitation becomes contagious.

Try to set a positive tone and model an appropriate response

Even if it means you must take a few moments to compose yourself. Acknowledge that you need time to think, time to respond. “This is upsetting me, too, but I need a few minutes to think before we talk about it.”

Make sure students understand that it’s their misbehaviour you dislike, not them

“I like you, Jason. Right now, your behaviour is unacceptable.”

Give the misbehaving student a chance to respond positively

By explaining not only what he or she is doing wrong, but also what he or she can do to correct it.

Never resort to blame or ridicule

Avoid win-lose conflicts

Emphasize problem-solving instead of punishment.

Insist that students accept responsibility for their behaviour.

Try to remain courteous in the face of hostility or anger

Showing students that you care about them and their problems will help you earn their respect and establish rapport.

Treat all students respectfully and politely

Be consistent in what you let them say and do. Be careful not to favour certain students.

Be an attentive listener

Encourage students to talk out feelings and concerns and help them clarify their comments by restating them.

Model the behaviour you expect from your students

Are you as considerate of your students’ feelings as you want them to be of others? Are you as organized and on-task as you tell them to be? Are your classroom rules clear and easy for students to follow?

Specifically describe misbehaviour and help students understand the consequences of misbehaviour

Very young children may even need your explanations modelled or acted out.

Be aware of cultural differences

For example, a student who stares at the floor while you speak to him or her would be viewed as defiant in some cultures and respectful in others.

Discourage cliques and other antisocial behaviour

Offer cooperative activities to encourage group identity.

Teach students personal and social skills — communicating, listening, helping, and sharing, for example

Teach students academic survival skills

Such as paying attention, following directions, asking for help when they really need it, and volunteering to answer.

Avoid labeling students

as “good” or “bad.” Instead describe their behaviour as “positive,” “acceptable,” “disruptive,” or “unacceptable.”

Focus on recognizing and rewarding acceptable behaviour more than punishing misbehaviour

Ignore or minimize minor problems instead of disrupting the class

A glance, a directed question, or your proximity may be enough to stop misbehaviour.

Where reprimands are necessary, state them quickly and without disrupting the class

When it’s necessary to speak to a student about his or her behaviour, try to speak in private;

this is especially true of adolescents who must “perform” for their peers. Public reprimands or lectures often trigger exaggerated, face-saving performances.

Effective Discipline Is Not about Punishment

Discipline comes from the Latin word ” disciplinar,” which means, “to teach.” Discipline that actually works is never about punishment. Discipline is simply a way to guide and manage a child’s behaviour. The key is to ensure that these relationships are respectful, responsive and reciprocal.

Give Specific Positive Reinforcement

You’ve probably heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: positive reinforcement is key. It can come in many flavors: smiling, sharing a high five and giving effective praise. But you shouldn’t just spout insincere praise without thought. In the classroom, I’ve noticed that effective praise is selective, specific, encouraging and positive. It avoids comparisons and competition. It compares a child’s progress with his/her past performance rather than with other children and it’s delivered in a caring, natural tone of voice. Believe me, children know when you’re just blowing smoke. The most effective of all techniques though is to catch children being good or in an act of kindness. The reward and acknowledgement will be more genuine than if your child runs up to you and exclaims he cleaned his room or shared his cookie with his baby sister.

Model the Right behaviour

In addition to offering positive reinforcement, modelling appropriate behaviour is equally important. Be mindful of what you say and how you say it—not just when you are talking to your child, but when dealing with others as well.

Provide Direct Guidance and Explain Your Reasoning

When you guide your students, always be direct. Give reasons and explanations for rules (keep it simple for young children). And always, make sure your directions and requests state what to do, as opposed to what not to do. For instance, in my classroom, I focus on reminding children to “walk their feet” and explain how walking keeps them from getting hurt, instead of saying “don’t run.” It can help to drive the notion home if you retell a story of when your child was running and got hurt.

Prevent Bad behaviour Before It Happens and Seek Out Support

This kind of “discipline” in my opinion is what will preserve your sanity. Why would I tell my baby to stay off the stairs a million times a day when I can install a safety gate? Or make extra work for myself lifting children to the sink every time they need to wash their hands, whereas placing a stool at the sink will allow them to access the soap, water and paper towels themselves. Prevention not only is a great form of discipline, but also supports self-help skills and builds self-esteem.

When All Else Fails, Use “Time-ins”

“Time-ins” are helpful for children school aged and younger. Time-ins are similar to a “time out” in the sense they both remove the child from a situation thats causing them distress or harm. However, instead of sitting students down at an empty table alone, feeling bad about themselves, I created several spaces in my classroom where a child could go when feelings became so overwhelming they were interfering with the problem-solving process. These areas were private, cozy spaces in the nooks and crannies of my classroom that included soft, over-sized pillows, a class photo album, a small selection of books and quiet objects such as sensory or calming jars, Magna-doodle-esque boards, and boxes sorted by themes of quiet, calming activities like magna-tiles or puppets. Same as a time-out, a time-in should only last one minute per year of life (unless the child chooses to stay longer). When the time is up I ask the child if he knows why he had to be separated from the group, then I help him think of better ways he could have solved the problem instead. At home I have a similar space in my living room. Taking the time to be alone and participate in a quiet activity allows the children to calm down without feeling guilty or punished. It de-escalates the situation.

Define Expectations

Specifically define your expectations and help students understand their are consequences for unwanted behaviour. When students break the rules they need to be ready for the consequences. Clearly write out and define each expectation you have, and post them in a visible spot in the classroom.

Common Student Expectations for the Classroom:
Stay seated during classroom activities and events
Raise your hand before speaking
Show respect for school property and students
Wait to be dismissed
Be prepared for class
Be considerate and respectful

Model Expected behaviour

Set a positive tone by modelling expected and appropriate behaviour. When you are dealing with a difficult student, explain to them why you don’t like the behaviour they are displaying, and model for them the behaviour you would like to see.(Example: “I did not like that you yelled out in class without raising your hand.” “The appropriate way to talk in class, is to raise your hand and wait to be called upon.”) By modelling the expected behaviour, you are showing them exactly what you expect of them.
Children Learn From:
Seeing
Listening
Copying what they see
Actions
Attitudes

Reward Acceptable behaviour

Sometimes when the students that are not behaving, see the students that are behaving get rewarded for that behaviour, it sets a positive example. Setting up a hands-on behaviour management plan can help students physically see and track how they are behaving throughout the day. This in turn can make them re-think how they are behaving and get rewarded for acting appropriately.

Keep Calm, Cool and Collective

Naturally, when someone gets you upset it is common to react with frustration and anger. When this happens, it’s important to remain calm. Take a deep breath, or even walk away from the situation for a moment to clear your head. Remember, this child may not have learned the tools of how to properly communicate, and now it is your job to teach them. When you stay calm in a difficult situation, it will model for the student that this is the proper way to react. Sometimes overt behaviour can be contiguous and that only leads to a classroom of unwanted chaos.

Set Expectations Early

Set expectations early in the year. The old adage that a good teacher does not smile until after Christmas may or may not be true, but it is easier to lighten your leadership style as the year goes on rather than get stricter after being lenient. If it is too late to start the year off with a firm hand, you can always make a new start – with either a new calendar year or a new month or a new unit. Make sure your class knows that your are wiping the slate and that your expectations of them will no longer be compromised!

Make Rules Together

Let kids be involved in making the rules. Before dictating a set of classroom rules, ask your students how they would like their peers to behave. Have them discuss what kind of an environment they would like to have in class. By directing a class discussion, your students will define a set of rules that meet both their criteria and your own. Because they have set the expectations, they are more likely to follow the rules and to keep one another in check, freeing you to do things that are more important.

Contact Parents

Depending on where you teach and where your students come from, their parents may be an unexpected support when it comes to good behaviour in the classroom. Often American parents will side with the child when it comes to conflicts in school, but if you teach students from other cultures, and it is very likely that you do, your students’ parents will not automatically take their children’s side of things. In fact in many cultures, parents will automatically side with the teacher against their own child if there is a discipline issue. That is not to say that you should take advantage of either your students or their parents, just do not be afraid to approach your kids’ parents if the situation necessitates it. Be warned, though, you may not want the child to act as interpreter if one is necessary.

Why, Oh Why?

Think about the reason behind the rudeness. Is it possible that your ESL students may be acting up to make up for a self-perceived inadequacy in their language abilities? If there is even the slightest possibility that insecurity may be behind classroom misbehaviour, try to look past it and address the real issue. Does your student need confidence? Does she need a feeling of success? Does he need to feel equal to his peers? By addressing the issue rather than the symptoms, you will have a healthier and better-behaved set of students.

Quick Learner Detected

It is also possible that a misbehaving student is bored with class because he is a quick learner. Though it may seem counterintuitive, putting that child in a leadership role may give him the extra challenge he needs to engage in the classroom activities. He will not only not be bored; he will have some investment in making sure the other students in class behave.

Attention Span

Remembering the attention span of children can also help you keep your calm when kids act up in class. As a rule, estimate a child’s attention span to be one minute for every year of his age. That means a seven year old will max out on attention at seven minutes. Keep the pace moving in class without spending too much time sitting in one place. Let your kids move around, go outside or work independently to keep the (stir) crazy bugs from biting.

Respond, Not React

It is extremely important for teachers to remember to respond and not react. There is a big difference between the two. A person who reacts acts impulsively and out of emotion. The person who responds, on the other hand, takes more time before acting and separates his or her emotions from the decisions he makes. It is a good rule to follow in all areas of life, but it is especially important to remember when your class is just plain getting on your nerves. Do not let your emotions get the better of you but instead stay calm and make logical and intentional responses.

Discipline In Private

Still, moments will come and days will come when one or more of your students will misbehave. The best way to address the situation is quickly and with as little disruption as possible. Refrain from disciplining any child in front of the class. Choose instead to have those conversations in private. If you respect your students, they are more likely to respect you.