When it comes to a building discipline plan, there are generally two different approaches you will find on a building-wide (or even district-wide) basis:
- Those that encompass a guiding philosophy for student interaction, such as Love and Logic.
- Those that prescribe a specific response in all situations, such as Make Your Day.
I'm somewhat oversimplifying both, but my assessment is based upon my own experience.
My opinion? Either approach can be effective (or ineffective, depending on upon the building's commitment) for classroom management and discipline. However, guiding philosophy approaches can have more staying power over the course of years.
They may not have as much immediate impact, but their flexibility and generalized guidance allow for some ebb and flow of implementation and staff turnover without losing the overall effectiveness.
Specific response approaches require whole-staff buy-in and implementation and can have an immediate impact on a situation that is out of control.
But as inevitable staff turnover occurs and memories of training fade (if training is not repeated), chinks begin to appear in the wall of implementation, so to speak, and the kids sense that the system is breaking down. Classroom behavior challenges begin to rise until the building is out of control (again) and must start over.
If the building experiences turnover in the administration and specific implementation steps do not occur when kids arrive in the office, then the entire system becomes a jumble and loses most of its effectiveness.
Video tips: Working with a building discipline plan
The reality of building discipline plans
It is probably most common for a building to have a hybrid discipline structure, where teachers are free to manage their classroom discipline based on their personal style for everyday infractions, and the remedies become more structured as behaviors escalate or children become repeat offenders.
On the other hand, it is not exactly uncommon for a building to have no plan at all, or for the administration to implement discipline above the classroom level inconsistently. This is probably the most frustrating situation for a teacher to deal with, because the students figure out what is (or isn't) going on pretty quickly.
Nothing upsets a human, whether a child or an adult, more than a perception of an unlevel playing field.
We can accept almost any level of hardship if we feel the conditions are at least fair – or equally unfair.
If the consequence of “going to the office” ends up being hit or miss as to whether it is a consequence at all, the classroom teacher will find himself shouldering more of the discipline burden in order to maintain proper classroom behavior management.
This means that a dedicated teacher may have to step a little ways into the principal's shoes on some occasions.
When to involve the office, parents or other resources
Classroom discipline often must extend beyond the classroom and involve the building administration. Here's they key: you decide when a classroom behavior management situation needs escalation. Many situations on this defiance page can guide you.
The philosophy of escalation
There comes a time when a student's behavior simply needs to be dealt with outside of the classroom. You are only one person and must meet the needs of all 20+ kids in your classroom. When a discipline situation with one child is consuming too much valuable instructional time, you need to call in the next level.
They all need your attention
This does not just include a student's steadfast refusal to follow your guidance, it can include situations where the parents must get involved, or where suspension is indicated, and these scenarios require additional assistance.
But escalation should never become a crutch.
Behavior management and classroom discipline are primarily a teacher's responsibility. Don't fall into the habit of sending kids to the office just because they are not being perfect angels. Use the escalation option judiciously.
Here are the four main areas where escalation to either the administration and/or the parents is called for:
1 – Violation of other students' safety
This is grounds for immediate escalation and can include:
- Verbal threats to other kids
- Sexual harassment
- Weapons of any sort
- Significant contraband
That's quite a list, isn't it? Let me explain a few of those.
Weapons include anything intended to cause harm; this means that the sharpened ruler or the straightened paper clip sticking out of an eraser counts.
Contraband is anything that the student is simply not supposed to have in her possession, such as electronic devices, cell phones or toys. (Your building will most likely spell them out in its policy.) Note, I said significant contraband – you can handle chewing gum on your own.
2 – Violation of personal safety or health
- Physical harm to self
- Extreme hygiene issues
- Self-stimulation (I've observed this in students as young as 8)
These issues require classroom interventions and escalation, but not necessarily to the office for discipline. However, if the situation is significant enough right now and the child really shouldn't be in the classroom, then removal is called for and the office is the first stop.
You'll find yourself working with the school counselor or district psychologist on these issues.
Harm to self is not as common as harm to others, but just as serious – a student is getting hurt. Examples I have experienced run the spectrum from kids who pick at their skin until bleeding to an attempted self-strangulation with a jump rope at recess.
The student is not in trouble for this behavior, but you need help in addressing it and therefore it must be escalated.
Self-stimulation is also not common, but can occur. Look for manual rubbing, or pressing against hard surfaces (desk edges) in both boys and girls.
Hygiene issues can become a strong impetus for other students to make fun and must be dealt with discreetly, keeping in mind that the child may not have easy access to hygiene facilities at home due to family size or living situation (such as a homeless shelter).
3 – Violation of teacher safety
- Any verbal or physical threat to the teacher
No teacher is required to work in an unsafe environment; classroom discipline suffers if the teacher is suffering, but this bears further discussion.
It is one thing to be threatened by a six-foot-tall high school sophomore, quite another thing to be threatened by a four-foot-tall third-grader. But the intent of the threat is the same, and if it goes unaddressed, the third-grader will eventually become a sophomore who feels that he can get away with threatening teachers.
I have had a fourth-grade student threaten to kill me. I had some level of concern since he came from a home environment that was involved in the gang culture. I treated the threat as real, if not exactly realistic, and escalated the issue appropriately to my administration (which unfortunately didn't want the event to carry any real disciplinary consequences… but that's another story).
4 – Significant disruption of the learning process
- Chronic intentional disruptions to teaching and learning (blurting out, interrupting, etc.)
- Can't stop talking to others, no matter how their classroom seating is arranged
- Volcano tempers, erupting without provocation
Any kid can have a day when she becomes a storm cloud of some sort. Sometimes every classroom management strategy you try doesn't get the behavior under control and every other kid in the class begins to suffer – either from outright distraction or from lack of attention from the teacher.
Sometimes the teacher just needs a respite, even if the classroom behavior is not severe. But here is where some teachers cross the line and begin to use the office as a crutch for management.
If you think you might need to make a distinct impression on a student for being disruptive, talk to your principal in advance to let her know that you need some “shock and awe” to make a real classroom discipline point. Let the principal know that you are talking about a specific case and not just anyone who tires you out.