Student Discipline Best Practices

Share this post

Savannah, a current Possip reporter and former educator, shares several tips on student discipline!

As the month of June rolls around, the school year begins to wind down. This is often a time for teachers and students to reflect on their year, document growth, and prepare for final exams and end of the year activities. With this anticipation also comes an uptick in antsiness and unwanted student behavior. Simultaneously, teacher fatigue begins to set in as we all mentally begin to prepare for the reprieve of summer. This combination can understandably lead to frustration and irritation, and the need to delve into student discipline. 

In this situation, it’s easy to fall back on top of mind disciplinary measures, but this often too easily slides into a form of punishment, which can be harmful for students. This is not to say there aren’t consequences for actions. However, taking the time to first address a student’s underlying needs, meet them where they are, and provide guidance and redirection is key to supporting students.

Here are a few best practices related to discipline, that don’t incite punishment or harm the teacher and student relationship:

1. Revisit Norms

At the beginning of the year, many teachers spend time intentionally creating norms with their classes. Revisiting norms at the end of the year reminds ourselves and our students what we have mutually agreed upon. You may even consider inviting a conversation around rewriting or editing norms that have evolved. Perhaps you may even add new ones for the last few weeks of school.

2. Remind Students of the Why

Unwanted behavior often stems from students not understanding the why. As a former teacher, I often told my students, “If you don’t know why you’re doing something, ask your teacher to explain the significance.” As educators, our responses to this question need to be more than “because I said so,” or “it’s just part of the curriculum.” By helping students find a greater purpose and life connections to their learning, students are more likely to participate and self-motivate. This in turn, results in fewer unwanted behaviors from students. 

3. Remember to Meet and Hear Students

We often focus on the behavior rather than the motivation for the behavior in the first place. While this might sometimes be necessary in dangerous situations, it ultimately doesn’t address the root issue. Having honest conversations with students using prompting and exploratory questions disarms students, fosters the teacher-student relationship, and shows students that you see them. Sometimes, a simple why is extremely powerful. For more info on approaching student mental health, click here.

4. Hold Clear and Consistent Boundaries

Creating boundaries for ourselves, our space, and for how students should interact with one another is important for student development and relationship-building. We are simultaneously modeling for students how to create boundaries for themselves. Of course, these boundaries should be age and grade-level appropriate. Here are a couple examples of what this might sound like:

  • “I fully empathize with struggling to find motivation to complete something you don’t understand. In fact, I experienced this myself earlier this morning. And, it’s important that we don’t distract other students who are trying to complete this assignment. Do you want to talk about what components you need help understanding? Or, what would help you feel a bit more motivated?”
  • “I understand you’re angry and frustrated. That feeling is completely understandable. But I won’t let you treat another student that way. It’s ok to feel those feelings, but we still need to treat others with respect and care. Do you want to talk about you’re feeling? Who would you feel safe processing this with?”

Each school district and individual school has different expectations when it comes to student discipline. It’s important to first understand your school’s discipline model, and participate in conversations about whether or not that discipline model is supporting students. Ask the questions: 

  • Whose safety is being prioritized? 
  • Who is being supported? 
  • What is the student learning from this experience? 
  • Could this be potentially harmful to students?
  • Do we have clear boundaries and expectations in place? 
  • Who is at the center of this conversation?

Discipline is tough! So at the end of the year, when we are already feeling short on energy and resources, it’s even harder. Taking the time to slow down. Consider how we can best support ourselves and our students is important to ending the year on a positive note as we transition into summer.