Time to Redefine the Meaning of Discipline in Our School System

Thought of the Day: Time to Redefine the Meaning of Discipline In Our School System

Discipline-Control that is gained by requiring that rules or orders be obeyed and punishing bad behavior.
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

And it is in this definition of discipline that lies the challenge we face in our educational system.

It is safe to say that many of our schools deal with the academic and behavioral challenges of  youth through the implementation of a strong disciplinary system. Unfortunately, that “system” usually consists of a collage of punitive based measures including things such as detention, suspensions, expulsions, as well as having security or police officers within the school. The common argument for this approach is that a school with a strong disciplinary system is a school that has a strong learning environment. Unfortunately, this assessment is not correct.

When the core of any disciplinary strategy is rooted in punitive measures we end up missing the mark on creating a peaceful and engaging learning environment for our youth. Instead we create school culture based on control and reactionary measures that often results in higher suspensions, lower grades and increased dropout rates. The punitive environment also fosters a high level of tension between student and teacher to which the potential of constructive teamwork is replaced with a relationship that is adversarial in nature that sabotages any opportunity for positive engagement.  Even more damaging is that we instill in our schools a culture that consciously and unconsciously, intentionally and unintentionally creates a perception that we engage our youth from the standpoint of their potential to do the “worst” and not their potential to BE the “best.”

Am I arguing that schools do not need a disciplinary system? Of course not. My argument is that we need to redefine the meaning of school discipline from one that structured in punishment to one structured in achievement.  School systems, as consistently practiced by private institutions and college preparatory schools, that take this approach lose neither rigor nor control of their institution. Instead, the student goes into school  with a very clear understanding that their best is expected and demanded.  A discipline structure set on high expectations creates a culture of positive peer pressure that motivates the student to concentrate more on what they have to do to achieve success and not fear the consequences of failure.

Something I would always say to my students is this: “You are only as disciplined as the goals you set for yourself.” By redefining the lens in which we view discipline means we give ourselves an opportunity to make very clear to our youth that we care about who they are  as people and their goals. In addition, it provides school systems the ability to implement a structure that focuses on providing the resources, information and support necessary for each young person the maximize their skills and talents that lies within them. But lastly, and most importantly, we finally set up a learning environment that centers squarely around achievement rather than punishment.


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