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Assertive Discipline in the Classroom

Assertive Discipline in the Classroom

Assertive discipline is a structured, systematic approach to discipline  that is extremely effective to educators along with other tools of the trade in running an organized, teacher-in-charge classroom environment.  Often, it seems, teachers have a difficult time managing or unable to control undesirable behavior(s) from occurring in their classrooms.  Part of this can be attributed to a greater frequency of ill-mannered students lacking the basic concept of respecting other people and their property, but can also be attributed to teachers who are weak in areas of behavior management.  Assertive discipline has evolved over the years and is more or less a combination of an authoritarian discipline approach with a tendency toward more democratic and cooperative elements.

The underlying philosophy of assertive discipline is that a teacher deserves the right to teach her students without anyone preventing her from teaching or without anyone preventing another student from learning.  It encompasses a teacher’s right to decide what is best for the students within her classroom and to establish rules and guidelines to assist in attaining the goals and expectations that she’s established.  Through the effective implementation of assertive discipline including student compliance in creating and maintaining an efficient learning environment, teachers can attain the academic goals established by handling discipline problems and disruptions assertively instead of aggressively.

When using assertive discipline in the classroom, there are a few basic criteria in order to make its use effective.  For instance:

  • A few clearly stated classroom rules (posted & reviewed regularly).
  • A teacher’s ability to immediately and confidently react when a situation presents itself requiring behavior management.
  • Providing firm, clear and concise directions to students in need of redirection/focus.

Additionally, much the same with any effective behavior management plan, are effective techniques necessary for any level of compliance and success:

  • Reinforcement of appropriate behavior(s) by complying students.
  • Negative consequences imposed on students disobeying rules and directions.

When utilizing assertive discipline in the classroom, teachers must control their impulses to use abrasive, sarcastic or hostile comments.  Students are not a teacher adversary.  Additionally, teachers must avoid reacting in a passive, inconsistent, timid or non-directive manner.  Children are able to determine the strong vs. weak and will take advantage of and conquer those not capable of taking charge.

Just like children needing direction, rules and boundaries set by their parents in order for them to feel secure and learn to behave in both acceptable and appropriate ways; students arrive at school expecting the same of their teachers.  It is a teacher’s responsibility to establish the rules and boundaries that students must operate within and without a clear and concise plan, a teacher will be unsuccessful in managing her classroom.

Teachers implementing assertive discipline are more than just directors of their classrooms.  They must establish and build positive, trusting relationships with their students and are responsible for teaching appropriate classroom behaviors utilizing various methods in which to effectively communicate the expectations set in place.  For instance, simply telling a classroom full of students might reach 2 our of 24 students, but what about the remaining 22?  Teachers need to “teach” students appropriate classroom behaviors through not just direct instruction but through the following as well:

  1. Describing expectations.  Some children require a “painted picture” in their minds in order to clearly understand the information being shared.  Using examples and non-examples allows students to clearly envision what is expected of them.
  2. Modeling rules, routines and expectations.  Not only must you use words to describe the behaviors which you would like your children to adhere, modeling (role play) is another valuable tool to insure clear delivery.  Involving the students in modeling is a wonderful method for teaching children to internalize the information disseminated – especially utilizing students that have more difficulty adhering to the established rules and routines.
  3. Practicing & reviewing expectations.  Teachers should provide opportunities for students to simply practice the rules and lessons taught as they relate to behavior management.  During the first week of school, I provided many opportunities teaching and re-teaching my students what was expected of them.  I found that allowing the extra time in the beginning stages of the school year my students were able to internalize my established routines and behaviors making each and every week thereafter more rewarding for all of us.  By occasionally reviewing the rules & expectations, I was able to “nip” inappropriate behaviors before they got out of control.
  4. Encouraging words vs. condescending words.  In all of the years in the classroom and raising my children, I’ve found that “honey” is sweeter than “vinegar” when it roles off the tongue.  Students respond to your requests, rules and demands 9 times out of 10 when encouraged in a positive manner.  This practice came into play this week when I returned to the classroom.  One student in particular had earned a reputation for being a little unruly and difficult to manage.  I paid careful attention to his interactions my first day with my classroom assistance who’d been in the classroom since his first day in attendance and found that he didn’t respond well to negatives.  Sure, he’d eventually stop the misbehavior, however typically not until after making a scene, disrupting others and often becoming so upset that he was unable to regain focus.  The second day, knowing his triggers and what areas he found particularly difficult in which to conform, I offered him affection, kindness, a “hug” and a peck on the cheek as well as a “class responsibility” as line leader encouraging him to set a good example for his classmates by following the rules of the classroom.  Almost immediately his attitude changed.  We had a pleasant, positive day in which he earned, for the first time the entire year, a small treat for excellent behavior(s) and attitude.
  5. Rewarding efforts and attitudes.  People of all ages enjoy the rewards of following established rules and guidelines and for putting forth the effort needed to do so.  Children especially enjoy rewards for their efforts to follow rules, live within the boundaries established and for demonstrating a positive attitude.  Children, like adults, will make mistakes.  However, they also will do things that are exceptional and recognizable through words of praise, encouragement and even a simple reward at times.  It might be something as little as earning an M & M for walking down the hall quietly; perhaps five extra minutes of recess or free-time; or even a big shiny star on the behavior chart. Whatever the reward, children will be grateful and elated to have been recognized for their efforts.  After all, everything tastes better with sugar!

Assertive discipline works most effectively if you adhere to the following techniques:

  • Never fall victim to the belief that there is any acceptable reason for misbehavior (unless biologically based misbehavior)
  • Establish four to five rules that you’ll implement within your classroom.  Post them in a clearly visible location.
  • Determine negative consequences for failure to follow the rules.  You’ll want to choose three to six negative consequences in order to have a “discipline hierarchy” in order to effectively manage and correct repeated misbehavior.  Remember, you’ll enforce consequences EVERY time a student misbehaves.  (NOTE:   The first course of action when teaching appropriate and inappropriate behaviors is to “talk” to the student.  Often times, simply conversing with the student about his/her behavior and your expected behaviors will correct the behavior without the need for extreme penalty.
  • Create positive consequences for appropriate behaviors.  There are many types of positive(s) that a teacher should use daily in the classroom including verbal praise, stickers, special “leadership” roles i.e. line leader, caboose, lunchroom monitor, etc..  The sky is the limit and an area that most teachers have very little difficulty in creating.  Including “Group Rewards” is also a wonderful method for encouraging the desired behaviors you expect within your classroom.  This not only encourages individual students but reinforces positive behaviors amongst your students as they encourage one another to behave appropriately.  Group rewards might include a special Friday snack, recess at an out-of-the ordinary time or even a movie.
  • Class meetings are an effective method for teaching your rules, expectations, routines, boundaries, rewards and consequences.  Children need to be aware of “how” the program is going to work in order for it to work and be successful.
  • Include your students in 1) establishing the rules; 2) recording them (age appropriate) and taking them home to be signed by their parents.  Parents should also be aware of your disciplinary style and classroom management program in order for it to be effective.
  • Begin your program immediately.  Never allow a day to pass without rules, rewards and consequences being in place.
  • Practice assertive discipline daily and techniques that lead to its success:

Express your displeasure with the student’s behavior (not the student) and then explain what the child should have done instead.  Providing examples of correct behaviors are necessary to encourage the child to practice what you desire.

Immediate recognition of appropriate behaviors is necessary if you want them to continue.  By focusing only on the negatives at the expense of failing to note the positives, you’ll end up dealing with more negatives.  Keep in mind that some children may become embarrassed when praised or disciplined so remember to practice both verbal and non-verbal forms of both.

Repeat, repeat, repeat!  To be effective you’ll need to repeat your commands and/or rules repeatedly until they are internalized by your students and can be followed.  My husband tells me I sound like a broken record which is exactly what it is, “broken record” technique.  What he doesn’t realize is that he does the same thing at work with his employees who are all adults???  An example:

Teacher:  “Sara, you need to complete your math.  Please return to your seat.
Student:  “But I want to see the bird on the fence.”

Teacher:  “I understand but you need to complete your math now.”

Student:   “Just one minute, OK?”

Teacher:  “No Sara, I want you to return to your seat now and finish your math.”

Student:  “Augggh!, Okay!.”

  • Learn “positive repetitions” technique.  When using this technique you are repeatingyour rules in an effort to reinforce them to all students.  This is accomplished by using positive statements to students that are demonstrating the desired behavior(s) e.g. “Ben raised his hand to answer the question.”  “Thank you for raising your hand so that I could call upon you for a turn.”
  • Proximity praise is another technique of assertive discipline.  This is used instead of always focusing on the misbehaving child(ren) and is quite effective at redirecting the misbehaving child.  For instance, “Thank you Maddy, Sean and Jacob for cleaning up your center areas so that we can go outside for recess.”
  • Another technique is proximity control which includes moving toward the misbehaving students.  Typically a misbehaving child will notice your impending presence and will refocus and/or redirect his attention to what it is supposed to be upon.  Note: For older students, an invitation into the hallway to talk privately will often prevent embarrassment in front of peers and will allow for you to successfully deal with the disruption or misbehavior.
  • Teach, Practice, Repeat!  Teachers must teach their students the desired classroom behaviors if they still don’t have them after repeated attempts of redirecting, rewards and consequences.

Effective classroom management is up to the teacher.  In order for it to be successful it must be consistently implemented without variation.  Students must be taught the rules and boundaries within which they are expected to function.  A well-administered discipline plan with incentives in the form of rewards and positive reinforcements save time so that the purpose of being within the classroom can be effective.  If a teacher is “too busy” to teach rules and enforce them every time he/she will be forever out of time.

All Rights Reserved.  Use of any part of this article without prior written consent of the author, Randa Lee Roberts is an infringement of the copyright law.  Permission to print or republish must be granted by the author in writing.


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