Positive Discipline in the High School Classroom


As a mother of a three year old and a high school teacher, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how positive discipline works in very similar ways in both contexts. We all know that discipline is key to effective learning environments, but sometimes we lose sight of the thin line between discipline and punishment. Now that most of us have settled into the summer, I thought it would be a good time to talk about some positive discipline concepts that work in high school. I’d love to hear your questions or technique suggestions in the comment section below!

1. Mutual respect is paramount. I doubt that many good teachers get into the profession for the power, but it is still easy for all of us to get swept away in the authority figure role.  The best way to truly command respect from a student it to give it back in spades.  Even in the most frustrating, immature situations, we have to maintain perspective to show students respect and dignity.  The route of public humiliation and not smiling until Christmas is a rough road to pave and will probably not lead you to real meaningful respect and teaching.

2. Behavior modification should focus on solutions rather than consequences. Instead of focusing on the write-up, detention, or other consequence, focus on the solution needed to change the behavior in the first place.  Because of personal strategies or school policies, we may still need to give out the consequence, but the rhetoric from us should be about solutions.  Instead of giving the chronically tardy student mindless detention after detention, let’s not forget to have a conversation about the issue and help brainstorm solutions.  It may be that there are home situations outside of the student’s control. It may also be that the student didn’t really care about the class, but after a conversation with us in which we express our concerns and really listen to student situations, we may change the heart of even the most apathetic of teenagers.

3. Keep calm and don’t take it personally. Classroom disruptions and other behavior issues are almost never personal to the teacher.  I know how hard it is to keep our cool when we’ve spent hours preparing a lecture and learning activity that is disrupted by an unruly student.  Staying calm and refusing to take it personally will help us focus on the solutions.

4. Have a sense of humor. Sometimes the class clown is actually funny.  Sometimes things go haywire in our plans.  We have to maintain a sense of humor for those times that laughing it off is the only sane option.

5.  Let go of total control. We’d love to believe that we are in total control of teenagers, but of course, we are not.  Trying to micromanage and completely control them is frustrating and futile.  We must always remind ourselves that our classrooms are created with mutual energy and mutual control.

What tips would you add to the list?  Any special situations you’d like to discuss with other educators?  Comment below!

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  1. Kimberly Sayles
    June 25, 2014 - 8:11 am

    I will definitely be trying these tips! Thank you for sharing!

  2. I start out the year by taking time to address this. To discuss the idea of what respect and showing it actually is, what are my pet peeves-sometimes kids will do anything but these since they are afraid I will morph into a giant monster! HA! I have them role play disruptive behavior and then how THEY can fix it-what they should be doing, how they can apologize without losing face or how to be aware of their behavior in the first place. I then role play positive and negative responses on my part AND what I am thinking as I respond. I talk my thoughts out loud-“Boy, I wish she would stop talking since I am sure she really doesn’t mean to disrupt everyone!” or “I will have to call his parent and discuss safety and why running and playing in my classroom is not allowed!” It seems to help but just when I think they get it I get hit on accident with a thrown pencil! Of course it does get the room quiet for a moment!

  3. I am actually going to high school this year after 28 years in elementary school. I was nearing burn out but can’t retire (yet) so I thought it would be an interesting challenge. I have three classes of 9th grade English and three classes of Remedial Reading. I have tons of experience in both areas ( I am a published author) and a bit concerned about what kind of behavior to expect in high school. What about cell phones? I know they shouldn’t have them, but realistically they do. What if they video me? What about kids that sleep in class? I’m excited to have real conversations and read literature. What about homework? Important to assign it? If they don’t do it? Then what?

  4. After I originlly lect a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify
    me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I get four emails with the exact same comment.

    Is there a means you are ablle to remove me from that service?
    Many thanks!

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