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Goodbye, Authoritarian Discipline: Gain Staff Buy-In

EducationWorld is pleased to present this professional development resource shared by Dr. Jane Bluestein, an expert in relationship-building, positive school climate and effective instruction.

For most of us, the word “discipline” conjures up thoughts of reactive and controlling measures for dealing with student misbehavior. However, the model of discipline proposed in 21st Century Discipline is an ongoing, proactive set of behaviors used to create a cooperative environment which minimizes the likelihood of negative, disruptive behavior. (This positive discipline process can occur in any group—a classroom, department, building or district.)

Consider yourself fortunate if you are working with teachers who are already committed to a win-win discipline approach, such as the one described in this book. They will make your job much easier. These are teachers who assume responsibility for handling misbehaviors that occur in their classrooms. They will see you as a resource, not a rescuer, and will be far less likely to request that you solve their discipline problems for them. In contrast, teachers who use typical win-lose strategies frequently find those techniques frustrating and ineffective for managing conflicts with students, parents or other teachers, and may frequently ask that you intervene.

The attitudes of win-win teachers are generally more positive than their authoritarian counterparts; they are also able to provide an atmosphere that encourages growth and learning without the stress and external control typical in a win-lose classroom. By focusing on the connections between choices and outcomes, these teachers help students take responsibility for their actions and behaviors.

As a result, their students are more likely to exhibit initiative, independence, self-management and an awareness of others’ needs than students in a win-lose classroom, who often do only what is required to get by or stay safe. Win-win teachers are also clear about their limits and boundaries, and secure enough to encourage empowerment among their students.

Yet, 21st-century discipline can be quite a challenge for any teacher unfamiliar with win-win management models. To generate their commitment, these teachers first need to learn how 21st Century Discipline can pay off for them. As often occurs in the life of an administrator, your job will involve selling these ideas to them, giving them good enough reasons to want to change what, in many instances, will be deeply ingrained habits and ideas.

If necessary, start with staff members who are most open to change, perhaps those who have already indicated a commitment to win-win objectives, if not the actual skill to reach them. Allow their successes to be the invitation and inspiration for others. These teachers will need information about effective adult behaviors for achieving a variety of interactive goals. Your support will encourage them to take risks and try new approaches and will help build confidence in developing new techniques. Keep in mind that implementing successful changes in the classroom takes time and effort. A win-win focus involves rethinking, relearning and retraining, and could take some teachers a number of years to fully implement.

Beware of the difficulties inherent in attempting to require across-the-board attitude changes or even implement any particular discipline program school- or district-wide. Be especially wary of programs that offer quick fixes or simple formulas for managing or reacting to children’s behavior, regardless of the amount of pressure you feel from your community or staff.

Relationship building—the key to minimizing discipline problems—is a process. Since so many of the changes necessary in making a transition from industrial-age beliefs and behaviors to those of an information-age model occur at a very personal level—and on a very individual basis—you probably won’t have much success attempting to mandate the change or trying to establish 21st-century discipline as a uniform discipline code. (Adults aren’t much different from kids when it comes to being told what to do, especially if such mandates include directives about how to feel or what to tolerate!)

Work with your core group and anyone who cares to join in and focus your energies on creating a school climate in which 21st-century, win-win interactions are likely to emerge. Empowered teachers, those who feel they have input in decisions that affect them, have a greater stake in—and are more likely to commit enthusiastically to—the success and welfare of the organization.

As an administrator, begin to think of new ways to motivate, empower, value, inspire and build commitment with your staff, perhaps by:

  • Giving them opportunities to suggest topics and resources for in-service and staff development programs
  • Presenting options for scheduling, room assignment or grade level
  • Trying to accommodate staff members’ needs for input and choice when making administrative decisions that concern them
  • Providing the most direct channels possible for access to supplies, resource personnel and yourself
  • Modeling the beliefs, behaviors, language patterns and attitudes you would like your teachers to adopt
  • Offering acceptance, feedback and support while encouraging teachers to solve their problems themselves
  • Resisting the habit to get in the middle of—and taking responsibility for—squabbles between kids and teachers, even if that’s always been your job
  • Refusing to punish students for infractions you did not witness
  • Helping teachers resolve conflicts with other staff members or parents without assuming responsibility for the solution of the problems
  • Encouraging the development or creation of a reward-oriented school environment; helping teacher find ways to increase the number of positive options they can offer to students
  • Providing resources or support necessary to help teachers develop success-oriented instruction and routines (make success possible for students at a variety of ability levels)
  • Being visible in non-conflict arenas; visiting every classroom, as often as possible, to offer feedback or just help out finding something positive to say about every member of your staff
  • Making time to regularly acknowledge the contributions your staff members make (including casual, informal verbal or written messages of recognition and appreciation)
  • Encouraging (not requiring) your staff to do the same for one another
  • Using motivators and rewards to show appreciation, recognize special achievements or just break up routines
  • Identifying and changing negative, reactive school policies
  • Maintaining regular and positive communication with the community
  • Taking care of yourself; learning to let go, delegate, set and maintain boundaries

As you model cooperative interactions with students, parents and staff, you will set the tone for the entire school. The payoffs for you and the other adults in your building are considerable. But in terms of learning, behavior and self-concept, the real winners are the students.

This article was excerpted from The Win-Win Classroom (2008), by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Publishing.

Related resources

Also from Dr. Bluestein:
Is Your School Emotionally Safe?
Accommodating Student Sensory Differences
Tips for Positive Teacher-Parent Interaction
The Art of Setting Boundaries
The Beauty of Losing Control, Part 1
The Beauty of Losing Control, Part 2
Stressful Student Experiences: What Not to Do

About Dr. Bluestein

Dr. Jane Bluestein is a speaker, trainer and specialist in programs and resources related to relationship building, effective instruction and personal development.

She is an award-winning author whose books include Creating Emotionally Safe Schools, High School’s Not Forever, 21st Century Discipline, The Win-Win Classroom and many others. In addition, she has appeared on CNN, National Public Radio and "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Dr. Bluestein, formerly a classroom teacher, crisis-intervention counselor and teacher training program coordinator, currently heads Instructional Support Services, Inc., a consulting and resource firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Visit her Web site to access free resources, order books, read her blog and more.


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