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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Strict Discipline, Cooperation, or “Beyond” Discipline: Where Does Your Management Style Fall?

In last week’s post, I covered the four authority bases that teachers use to influence student behavior. This week, I will further the discussion by presenting three different models of classroom discipline. By learning and understanding these three very different models, you can examine your own practices, comparing them to see where they “fall” in relationship to the models, and possibly make adjustments or even adopt new philosophies. Before summarizing the models, I must preface by stating that these are simply “snapshots” of the models and in no way does this blog represent these works in their entirety since entire books, chapters, and journal articles have been required to adequately explain them (references have been provided below for those of you who want to engage in further reading). Let’s take a look at the main constructs of each model.

Assertive Discipline (also known as the Canter Model)

In this approach, the teacher has the right to expect students to behave and to have an optimal learning environment. Furthermore, students must be taught responsible and acceptable behavior, knowing that if they choose to break a rule, a corrective action will follow. In other words, students must have limits. This model can also entail the teacher giving rewards for positive behavior (positive notes home, privileges, homework passes, etc.). Under this model the teacher must establish clear, observable rules, reinforce those rules through supportive feedback, and define corrective actions that will be taken if students break those rules. The teacher’s assertiveness and clear expectations for all students might be viewed as strength, however, criticisms of the model include that it does not promote a sense of democracy, allowing students to take ownership of their own behavior and learning (e.g., students creating class rules together).

Cooperative Discipline (Albert)

Using Albert’s Cooperative Discipline Model, students are seen as choosing their own behavior. They need to feel part of a community, and if they misbehave, it is generally done to seek some form of attention. Teachers are viewed as being able to influence behavior but not control it. While other styles exist, a democratic style of teaching best promotes good discipline. Rather than designing the rules alone, the teacher works cooperatively with students to establish classroom rules and consequences; the rationale being that if students take part in this process, they are more likely to view the consequences as fair and reasonable. If conflicts do occur, the teacher using this model is advised to remain calm, business-like.

(Kohn’s) Beyond Discipline Model

In this model, the teacher replaces the notion of “doing things” to students with taking students more seriously by involving them in decisions and allowing them to explore topics important to them. This model requires reconsidering the impact of “compliance” in regards to the vision we have for our students as adults. Kohn also asserts that rewarding students for good behavior or doing work eliminates true commitment and motivation and only requires more rewards. Also, conflict, such as arguments between students, are viewed as opportunities for growth as students learn kindness, compassion and other valuable lessons when guided through these experiences. Classroom meetings are used to address questions or concerns and build a sense of community. Finally, engaging curriculum—one built on questioning and inquiry and designed around exploration—fosters cooperation and work ethic from students.

Now, that we have considered classroom management from three perspectives. Take a moment to reflect on which model(s) most resonate with you. Do you base discipline on a system of rewards and punishment? Do you run your class more like a democracy? Do you strive to make curriculum engaging and student-interest driven? It helps to ponder your philosophy, and I am not suggesting you have to strictly adhere to one model. You might practice concepts from various models.

Let’s look at how each model might approach the same scenario. Perhaps a student is being disruptive in the sense they are calling out and making comments to other students, interrupting their focus and learning. How would Canter, Albert, and Kohn suggest handling this situation?

  • Situated in Assertive Discipline thinking, the teacher would have already had established clear rules and consequences. The teacher might warn the student that they are required to raise their hand before speaking and that they must remain on task. If the student didn’t make a corrective action, in this case, then a consequence would be given. This might mean a note or phone call home, reduce recess time—it depends on what the teacher has decided.
  • A teacher using Cooperative Discipline might take the student aside and discuss with them the problem, reminding the child that the classroom is a community and they had helped decide upon the rules, including that students should not disrupt others. Assuming the student understood, they would be asked to return to their seat.
  • Under the Kohn model, the teacher would have planned to have students investigate topics relevant to them, increasing engagement, and therefore, trying to prevent this type of behavior from happening in the first place. However, if this situation occurred, it might be later addressed in a class meeting, where students had a chance to comment on it and perhaps take a vote for some action.

In my personal experience, classrooms I have worked in or visited are generally based in Assertive Discipline. Teachers often use reward/punishment systems such as having students move to different colors on a chart to signify compliance or the breaking of rules. Elements of Cooperative Discipline and Kohn’s model are sometimes witnessed in the form of class meetings held at the end of the week or the shared creation of rules at the start of the school year. During a recent discussion with pre-service teachers, they expressed concern that using certain models would not work with all students, who possess different social-emotional/academic needs. I think they have a point. There’s something to be said about being flexible and personalizing your classroom. As an educator, the task you have—if you have not already done so—is to think deeply about your philosophy of management, to remain open to various models put forth, and ultimately decide what you believe and put it into practice.