What you should know about school discipline in 2016

Parents of school-aged children know that their children’s classroom experience is very different from their own and that much has changed in education. Discipline is no exception. Schools now focus on reinforcing good choices and promoting good behavior rather than just spelling out the punitive measure kids face as the result of misbehaving.

Lisa Diones, assistant director of teaching and learning of Quest Academy in Palatine, actively uses positive discipline. “In contrast to the discipline that some parents or adults might have been exposed to growing up, when a child makes a poor choice they are not given a negative punishment or consequence,” she says. “Instead, we actively help our students learn how to recognize the root of the problem or behavior and then collaboratively work towards creating a plan that facilitates positive change and growth.”

Shalini Patel, co-founder and head of school of Inspire Girls Academy in Chicago, stresses that students have choices with natural and logical consequences. Inspire Girls Academy opens its doors this fall and is accepting admission applications now.

“The goal of positive discipline is about teaching our girls the ability to problem solve and work together to solve goals, as well as to guide the development of self-control and self-esteem so they can function securely,” she says.

The focus at St. James Lutheran School in Chicago is motivating students, particularly those in the early childhood program, to make good choices. “We want our students to recognize and value positive examples of excellence, goodness, kindness, perseverance, etc., when they see it and aspire to demonstrate it themselves,” says Principal Warren Gast.

Positive discipline is very much a part of the school’s efforts to instill a love of learning in its students.

“If the focus of discipline is on what not to do and what punishments to anticipate, students will neither enjoy learning nor take pride in what they do,” Gast says. “Instead, they will simply learn the rules painfully well and discover means to work around them.”

One benefit of positive discipline that Gast has seen is additional time for learning, because there is less of a need for time administering punitive action or curbing inappropriate behavior.

An increased connection and sense of community is another benefit of positive discipline that is particularly important to Patel.

“As an educator, I’ve seen the impact that negative discipline, like sitting alone in the hall or writing out an individual apology letter, has on a child in terms of feeling alienated,” she says. “When the community is involved, discussing why it happened, how to fix it, they address the behavior not just for one child but for all.”

Patel says that when students feel a strong sense of community and a connection to both teachers and peers, they are less likely to do something that hurts that connection.

Not all schools have adopted all aspects of positive discipline, but they still focus on good choices and Countryside Montessori School in Northbrook is a prime example.

“Our approach to discipline is remarkably simple. If students make good choices, they enjoy the benefits of those good choices. When they make bad choices, and everyone does sometimes, they are held accountable,” says Wendy Calise, head of school at Countryside Montessori School.

At Countryside Montessori, students making good choices are given more freedoms, including the ability to determine what they will work on, as well as when and with whom they will work. “If students don’t spend their time well or are disruptive, then their freedom is reduced and more structure is put in place for them,” Calise says.

“We see our elementary students wanting to be treated as mature young people,” she says, adding that their approach helps foster that maturity as well as teaches kids that the consequences to poor choices are far less desirable than those that accompany good choices.

Teachers getting the behavior they want by using natural positive consequences to reinforce good choices is a win-win approach.

Part of Making the Grade, a special advertising education guide.

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