A Closed System of Discipline – Know the Results You Are Going to Get Beforehand


Late August. First day of school approaching. There is some trepidation – how will my students be this year? Will I get a good bunch? Will I be able to handle them? Or will it be like last year, when they ran me ragged…

If you are asking yourself any of the above questions, you have what I have termed and ‘open’ system of discipline – the question of whether your students will behave or not is partly or wholly dependent on outside circumstances: the students’ personalities, whether or not your administration backs you up, and, oh, let’s throw in planetary alignment for good measure.

Whenever you are dependent on these outside forces for a good teaching environment, it makes for a shaky year and quite a bit of anxiety.

This is no way to live.

You know, in our society, teaching is often considered an undervalued profession – and I agree with this assessment. But we devalue the profession ourselves when we find acceptable what no other professional would. No, I’m not talking about the cafeteria food – I’m talking about tolerating a certain amount of disruption and disrespect in the classroom.

I see my classroom the way a doctor or lawyer or dentist would view their office – as a place where great things may take place for the edification of all but where it would be intolerable to come in and be disruptive or disrespectful. Were I a dentist, I would not ask my patients the best way to fill a cavity, or if they were jumping up and down in their seat try to convince them that getting this cavity filled is really worth their while. That might seem nice at the time, but really would be an abrogation of my responsibility to be the one in charge.

And in the classroom I do not check with the students whether they think my rules are okay or resign myself to the idea that a certain amount of rudeness goes with the job; that, to me, is to devalue the profession.

Rather, I arrange what I term a ‘closed’ system – a behavior system whereby at all times you will behave and show respect, or you will not remain in the environment.

How do I accomplish this so that I get the same results with every class every time? Here is the closed system:

1. A thorough and clear list of rules of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, positive and negative.
2. Consequences that matter for every unacceptable behavior.
3. Disallowance from further participation in the class if any consequence is not followed.
4. A thorough lesson to the students about how all of this works so that there is no question in their minds that it is not worth it to breach the rules.
5. Eliminating all manipulative conversations about the first four.
6. Follow through every time when tested.

Far from leading to students always then being removed from the environment, it leads to them showing appropriate behavior within that environment in order to stay. Why would they want to stay? What is their positive reward? To get an education, of course. Is that not enough of a reason? Actually, it is, unless as teachers and a society we act as if it is not.

Do not leave your classroom environment to chance – have a system whereby you know that students will behave every class, every period, every year.

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