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Theoretical approaches for discipline essay

The rules in a classroom set the framework for the expected behaviours of students. It is essential to implement successful classroom management within instruction to avoid discipline problems and create a successful learning environment. Teacher must explicitly define desired behaviours, clearly communicate the rules, limits and procedures in the classroom and enforce them consistently. The theoretical disciplinary perspectives for classroom management include the teacher-directed, teacher-student directed and student-directed approaches.

The setting of productive rules and the enforcing of acceptable behaviour are preventative strategies in education. In the teacher-directed approach to classroom management, the teacher is present as an authoritative figure, who assumes primary responsibility for the development of rules and conduct in their class. The key theorists of this approach include Lee and Marlene Canter’s Assertive discipline and Alberto and Troutman’s Applied behaviour analysis. Teachers determine and clarify boundaries in order to teach routines. The classroom environment is where teachers use the “clear communication of classroom rules and procedures, rewards and punishments and behaviour contracting” (Barnett, 2009, p.12) to enforce acceptable behaviour.

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This controlled environment is explored through Canter’s “Assertive Discipline” this model is based on the idea that students need teachers to provide them with behavioural expectations and limits. The model “highlights consistency, rewards and consequences, and positive relationship building” (Manning, 2003, p.55). The assertive teacher will give students limitations and implement consequences or rewards according to behaviour. Teachers will highlight consistency through reasonable consequences which are appropriate for the misbehaviour. Similarly, they will provide positive consequences or reinforcement for appropriate actions. The teacher needs to build positive student-teacher relationships through creating a foundation of trust, mutual respect and motivation (Edwards, 2008, p.65). Students will usually comply with clearly explained reasonable expectations and consequences and will accept the consequences. Students are aware of the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour through the explicit direction.

In a year nine classroom, the teacher has clearly and repeatedly stated that all students must be on time for class. A student, Julie, has wasted the teacher’s time by not being present on time on several occasions. The student must therefore accept the consequence of staying back the amount of time she was late and catching up on what she missed. Strategies are implemented to prevent misbehaviour, these are enforced through group discussion where a teacher explains one of their rules is to be on time to class, this rule is rehearsed and reinforced. If this demand is not met the teacher must follow through with the consequences for this misbehaviour, this may be achieved through a ‘discipline hierarchy’ (Manning, 2003, p.59) where corrective strategies are enforced.

In the first instance of a student being tardy to class they may enter the classroom and take a seat near the door to minimize the disruption, they may also be directed to the rules which are clearly posted on the front wall. In the second instance, the teacher writes the student’s initials on the whiteboard as a warning thus having little disruption to the instructional process, in the third instance the student had to stay back at recess the same amount of time they were late.

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It is essential a teacher use consequences to enforce limits on students. A teacher has to take appropriate action such as ‘time-out, the withdrawing of privileges, detention, being sent to the principal or contacting parents’ (Edwards, 2008, p.74). Effective punishment is necessary to eliminate inappropriate or disruptive behaviour. A teacher who follows through with consequences will gain respect and foster appropriate behaviour in the future. The good behaviour of students should be recognized and rewarded. It is essential to acknowledge students who follow the rules to establish acceptable behaviour. A student who acts appropriately could receive positive reinforcement such as ‘praise, positive phone calls and notes home to parents, special privileges, behaviour awards, tangible awards’ (Edwards, 2008, p.76).

According to the teacher-student or collaborative approach, the control of student behaviour is the joint responsibility of the student and teacher. Students become good decision-makers by internalizing the rules and guidelines for behaviour that are provided by the teacher. The key theorists of this approach include Rudolf Dreikurs’s Democratic discipline model, William Glaser’s Reality therapy, Choice theory and Quality school and Bill Roger’s Decisive discipline model. This collaborative approach is associated with social psychology whereby behaviour is learnt through social exchange, it is the result of the personal characteristics of the learner and the environment itself. Teachers may need to intervene to assist students in moving towards being able to learn appropriate behaviour.

The approach involves teachers and students developing a collaborative relationship whereby the rules, procedures and expectations are established through “class meetings” (Glasser, 1969, p.194). In these teachers and students discuss reasonable rules; these rules are enforced through possible exclusion from class with the opportunity to return once solutions for the unacceptable behaviour are established. These meetings allow students to become responsible in helping to make the decisions in the classroom. Students usually display respect for their teachers, peers and the classroom guidelines for the behaviour if they are involved in decision making. “The benefits of social-problem-solving class meetings is that it teaches students that they have a responsibility to the teacher. If a teacher attends class, the student also has a responsibility to attend class unless excused by the teacher” (Glasser, 1969, p.201)

There have been clear parameters set around the issues of being late to class. Therefore in accordance with the previous example of the student, Julie, who is late to class on several occasions, it is her responsibility to be respectful and be on time. This is especially important as she collaborated with her peers and teachers to form this rule. The teacher could develop logical consequences for the student by keeping them back the same amount of time they were late.

Glasser’s ‘Choice Theory’ allows students to suggest ways to make school more meaningful and to formulate appropriate rules for classroom use (Edwards, 2008, p. 183). Teachers use problem-solving as a classroom strategy to develop self-discipline. Contrary to the teacher-directed approach, the collaborative approach does not rely heavily on assertive behaviour. Instead, a democratic environment is established through consistency. Rather than imposing control over students, self-discipline is taught (Cope, 2007, p.125).

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The Assertive Discipline model emphasizes the teacher constructing rules and expectations, whereas Dreikur’s ‘Democratic Discipline Model students misbehave due to their needs not being met. In this model prevention strategies such as building meaningful relationships with students create a positive environment. Teachers need to ensure students’ needs for acceptance and recognition are met. Discipline problems can be prevented through class discussions and the application of logical consequences (Edwards, p.109).

In the student-directed approach, students are given the opportunity to develop the norms, rules and procedures of the class. The key theorists relating to this approach include Thomas Gordon’s Teacher effectiveness training and Alfie Kohn’s Beyond Discipline. In this collaborative approach, students have the responsibility to manage their behaviour through self-regulation. Teachers are the facilitators of that process and are present to assist students in learning appropriate behaviour.

The student-directed learning environment fosters students developing the ability to become self-directed, they are able to control and direct their own behaviour and are able to make choices in relation to rules. They are able to develop caring and positive relationships with teachers and their peers. Students collaborate through problem-solving to work through conflicts, make good choices and produce high-quality work. This environment may be developed through ‘student ownership’ where students are able to decorate the room and to be involved in class comities that address issues in the class (Barnett, 2009, p.4). This gives students autonomy in relation to things that affect them.

In the situation where Julie is repeatedly late, it might be best to discuss this with her individually by asking her the reason for being late. In accordance with Gordon’s teacher effectiveness training, the teacher will actively listen to what the student is experiencing and what they are doing about it. The student places ownership on the problem and makes a choice in relation to the problem. The conflict is hopefully resolved through natural consequences and future preventative strategies such as catching an earlier bus or finding a more direct bus to school. The consequence for being late on this occasion may be to stay back and catch up on the work which was missed. A further preventative strategy for late students is to set a task to be started as students arrive in class.

This activity must be completed in a pre-determined amount of time thus allowing students who arrive on time to have more time to complete the task. This task may not be assessable but give students points or merits based on this activity, thus enhancing students wanting to be on time. Gordon’s model contrasts that of Canter’s as it focuses less on the teacher is central to behaviour management. Instead, students have the ability to make appropriate choices in relation to discipline, if given the opportunity to do so. Contrary to this, Canter’s approach uses rules and discipline techniques, developed by the assertive teacher to managing the class.

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I feel it is the teacher’s duty to develop fair rules, procedures and conduct in their classroom. The management strategies need to be made clear and be positively enforced through consistency and reasonable consequences. To ensure the rules are effective, they need to be discussed with students to establish a positive relationship.

Teachers and students may need to collaborate on the rules and consequences to ensure they are fair and encourage student responsibility. The challenge for teachers is to help students develop the skill of responsible behaviour by creating a productive environment. This responsibility gives students the opportunity to self-discipline thus developing decision-making and problem-solving skills. It may also be helpful to have students sign an agreement to the rules thus ensuring they understand them and are accountable for their actions.

Effective support structures for classroom discipline include a system of fair consequences and rewards which are consistently carried out.

The three approaches place importance on the prevention of misbehaviour and each is placed along a continuum in terms of the amount of control the teacher or the student access in the classroom (Malmagrem, 2005, p.38). The setting of consistent and fair rules for the classroom and the use of logical or behavioural consequences, help students wear the consequences of their actions. Classroom meetings give the group the opportunity for students to discuss common concerns and achieve ‘ownership’ of classroom life.


Barnett, K. (3.03.09-1.04.09). Lecture Week 4, Theoretical models and approaches to behaviour management, EDST 4084, UNSW.

Canter, L., & Canter, M. (2001). Assertive Discipline: positive behaviour managemnet for today’s classroom. Los Angeles, CA : Canter & Associates.

Cope, B. (2007). How to plan for behaviour development and classroom management. Frenchs Forest, NSW: Pearson.

Edwards, C., & Watts, V. (2008). Classroom discipline management: An Australasian perspective. Milton, Qld: John Wiley & Sons.

Glasser, W. (1969). Schools Without Failure. New York: Harper and Row.

Malmgren, K., Trezek, B., & Paul, P. (2005), Models of Classroom Management as Applied to the Secondary Classroom. The Clearing House. 79(1), 36-39.

Manning, M., & Bucher, K. (2003) Classroom Management. New Jersey: Pearson Education.

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