Search form


Dr. Fred Jones's
Tools for Teaching

Positive Discipline Part 1:
The School Discipline Code


What is your first association with the word "discipline?" Fill in the blank: When you discipline a child, you __________ them.

Indeed, common sense and common usage equate discipline with punishment. Disciplining a child means "punishing them for doing something wrong." That traditional definition of discipline shapes the discipline code at your school. The logic of all discipline codes is timeless: "The punishment fits the crime." The greater the crime, the greater the punishment. Look in your student handbook under the heading "Discipline Code" and you will find a "hierarchy of consequences," arranged from small to large. It begins with a verbal warning and ends with suspension and expulsion. It has not changed in my lifetime.

Read More!

Have you seen these Education World articles about Dr. Fred Jones?
* The King of Classroom Management! An Education World e-Interview with Classroom Management Expert Fred Jones
* Preferred Activity Time (PAT) Is Preferred by Kids and Teachers!
* Tips from Fred Jones's Tools for Teaching

Also, be sure to visit the Tools for Teaching archive to read more articles by Dr. Jones.


In order to get a fresh look at the school discipline code, imagine your first day of high school, sitting in the "Welcoming Assembly for Freshmen." This will not be a real assembly, of course. It will be a mock freshman assembly, to allow us a level of candor that is foreign to such events. Naturally, we never actually would speak to young people like this:

First, I want to say that this is one of the finest high schools in the region, and a high school is no better than its faculty. We value our faculty above all else. Consequently, I will not tolerate the abuse of that faculty for one moment.

Having said that, let me cite a statistic. At any school site, 95 percent of office referrals are produced by 5 percent of the student body! Let me give that 5 percent a name. Troublemakers! That's what you are, a bunch of troublemakers! Maybe I've been in education too long, but to me, once a troublemaker, always a troublemaker.

My message for today is simply this: We are not going to put up with it!

Of course, I know that some of you jokers are laughing up your sleeves right now thinking, 'Yeah, right. What are they going to do about it?' You might think you can use foul language or throw a punch or tell a teacher to do an unnatural act and get away with it. Well, I'm here today to tell you, you can't.

On the other hand, of course, we love children. We are not going to cut you off at the knees right away. So, here's how it works:
The first time you pull some stunt around here, we are going to give you a
verbal warning. Our sincere hope is that you repent right there on the spot. But, I know what most of you jokers are thinking. 'Big deal!' Well, it is a big deal.

The second time you pull some stunt, you will be sent to detention after school. This is a little honor system we operate around here. We take some troublemaker who caused a scene in class and ask him or her to report to the office at the end of the day. Believe it or not, we have been 'stiffed' with this system frequently over the years. The doggone kid didn't show up.

Quit laughing and pay attention!

Now, if you pull a third stunt around here, we will schedule a conference with your parents! Let me explain exactly what that means. We will spend hours of professional time in an attempt to collaborate with those members of the community who have already demonstrated their total incompetence by rearing you.

I know what you're thinking. 'Oh yeah, get my old man to show up. That will be the day! And if my mom comes, all she'll say is, 'I can't do anything with him at home, either. He's driving me crazy! Do you have any suggestions that might help?'

Hey, pipe down and pay attention! This is no joke! If you pull another stunt, I'll tell you what will happen. You will be sent to the office! Do you know what will happen to you down at the office? Well, you don't want to find out!

I said quit laughing! Now, listen up!

If you get in trouble again, you'll be sent to the office again. And, if you get in trouble yet another time, you'll be sent to the office another time.

You might be thinking, 'Is that it? All I get is a ticket out of class?' Oh no, it is not!

If you pull one more stunt at school, you will be suspended! Let me explain exactly what that means. For a period of 24 hours, you will be denied all of the following privileges:

And don't bother trying to check out books from the library to make up missed work. You have lost library privileges as well!

Of course, we don't have people on the payroll to supervise you once you've been suspended. So, we must put you under the supervision of your parents whose parenting skills produced you. By way of the grapevine, we have learned what goes on at home in the place of school. You

After 24 hours of total deprivation, I hope we have brought you up short! But, once a troublemaker, always a troublemaker! At least, that's the way it seems to me. You just keep pushing the rules. You never know when to quit. You think you're above the law. So let me tell you what will happen the next time. If you pull one more stunt around here, you will be suspended for three days! You will have the same loss of privileges as before, and the same supervision at home. At the end of three days of total deprivation, I hope you return to school with an entirely new attitude toward education. Do I make myself clear?"

    "Freshmen, welcome to high school. Now that we have taken care of that, let's get down to business. Our business today is the school discipline code. The discipline code spells out what goes and what doesn't go around here.
    • mathematics
    • social studies
    • English composition
    • science
    • foreign languages
    • gym class
    • sleep late
    • watch TV
    • play video games
    • shoot hoops
    • meet your friends
    • go to the mall


Does this sound as nuts to you as it does to me? Let me ask you another question. Am I making this up or is this pretty much the way the system has functioned since your parents were in school?

To put all this into perspective, I would like you to imagine a particular student. Let's call this student Larry.

Larry is the kid you have been hearing about for two years before he finally got to your grade level. Larry is the student you prayed would be home-schooled. Larry will age you three years in one. Larry is a royal well, let's just say that Larry is a difficult child.

Let me ask some deep and probing questions concerning Larry's psyche. Does Larry like school? Yeah, right! According to Larry, school _______. (Fill in the blank.) What is the one thing Larry wants more than anything else in regard to school? You got it. O. U. T! Would you believe that we have a management program whereby Larry can achieve his heart's desire? Larry can get out. But, there is one thing that Larry must do first. Larry must first abuse the faculty. Occasional abuse won't get the job done, however. It must be frequent abuse. In order to get out of school, Larry must be such a constant thorn in the side of education that he works himself all the way up the hierarchy of consequences in order to get the boot. Only then does Larry get some serious R&R.


Walt Kelly's cartoon character Pogo once uttered the famous words, "I have seen the enemy, and it is us." If our discipline management system isn't working, keep in mind that we are management. We design the system, and we implement it. Does it work? In fact, the management system that is designed to put the lid on when push comes to shove actually reinforces Larry for abusing us.

The problem is systemic. A typical high school of 1500 students has between 3500 and 5000 office referrals per year, and it has been that way for decades. Every year, we place our faith in a management system that has never turned things around, in the hope that this year it will finally work. This persistence reminds me of the Chinese proverb that defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

To be technical for a moment, a behavior requires a schedule of reinforcement for its occurrence to be maintained over time. Without this schedule of reinforcement, you have an extinction program. In high school, the same 5 percent of the student body produce 95 percent of the office referrals for eight straight semesters! Who do you think is providing the schedule of reinforcement that maintains the misbehavior?

Unfortunately, the more we learn about management, the more we realize that if it is not working, we need to look in the mirror to find the cause. It is our management system, and we are the managers.


One of the hardest realities to accept about social systems is the following: All social systems function exactly as they are designed. They produce what they are built to produce.

However, when a social system is not working properly, the first symptom is always the same - blaming: "If they would do their job right, I could do mine!"

At school, the teachers say, "I send a student down to the office, and what do they do? I wish I knew! The next day, the same kid is right back in my class acting the same way. I need some help, and I'm not getting it. All they have down at the office is the 'revolving door policy.'"

In response, administrators say, "What am I supposed to do? I have eight students on the bench outside my office waiting to be seen, and it is only second period. I can talk to them. I can call their parents. But I can't give them brain transplants."

Everybody blames everybody else. But, if a management system consistently fails to live up to expectations, there is a structural reason for that result. The only cure is a redesign of the entire discipline management system. Tools for Teaching represents that redesign both within the classroom and at the school site.

In previous segments, we have given many of the specifics of this new approach to discipline management. In the following segments, we will bring the pieces together so you can see the whole. Our new discipline management system will begin from a new perspective. Instead of "the punishment fits the crime," we will begin with "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

This article is condensed from Dr. Jones' award winning book Tools for Teaching. Illustrations by Brian Jones for Tools for Teaching.


[content block]