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For educators, there’s almost a certain unattainable legend surrounding discipline. No matter what any educators do, there will inevitably be students that will not fit into the mold of a perfect classroom, interfering with the ability of others to learn. There’s a lot of discussion on the best ways to promote discipline in the classroom, but too often, this descends into rhetoric about punishment rather than ways to make students into effective learners. In truth, there is no straightforward solution to creating the ideal school or classroom, but this does not mean there are not steps educators can make to ensure that students are receiving the best possible experience.

The central tenet of creating discipline is to foster an environment in which students feel comfortable sharing, participating, and working to reach their potential. The best way to encourage this sort of behavior is to make school a place to learn more than just math, language, or history. Teaching “soft skills” while you impart the typical curriculum is a great way to better prepare students for the challenges that they may face in day to day life. While the responsibilities of adult living are far different than those of an elementary school student, things like learning to communicate well, negotiate, and connect with others are timeless. Lessons about this can be organically woven into any subject matter, and do not have to stop at kindergarten.

This can be done by striving to form personal bonds with students. There’s no need to become best friends with them, but by learning a little about them and their interests, you create a sense of familiarity that makes it easier for them to talk to you about their learning. This way, if a discipline issue arises, it becomes a lot easier to interact on an individual level. You’ll also be able to better acknowledge good behavior if you’re aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your students. Providing encouragement when a student is putting forth effort on a project or assignment that uses skills they’re lacking in can spur them to work to become better.

In fact, one of the largest issues with discipline is focusing on punishment rather than encouragement. Berating students for poor work or behavior can actually cause them to double down on that behavior or just give up on trying altogether. There’s a psychological name for this phenomenon: learned helplessness. Your objective should be to redirect behavior issues into progress rather than shaming students.

However, there are times when some behavior in the classroom is unacceptable and must be confronted directly. When this happens, teachers should enforce their rules swiftly and privately. Don’t be condescending to students, but explain why the rules are in place and try to discern why they broke them in the first place. Some behaviors can be a cry for help, and helping a student when nobody else will is one of the best and most rewarding things a teacher can accomplish. You as a teacher should also try to evaluate whether or not a behavior is worth sending a student to the principal or guidance counselor for further help. There is a noted difference between disruptive and self-destructive behavior (though overlap certainly exists), and being able to help a student is important either way.

The underlying factor of all of these measures is consistency. Consistently reinforce your rules, praise success, and acknowledge hard work. The struggle of being an educator is that, as an influencer of a child’s life, you should strive to always be a positive role model and a trusted advisor for students.

Education is, admittedly, not for everyone, and it can be tough to practice these ideals. However, to a determined individual looking to make a difference in students’ lives, reexamining the way discipline is handled can have a sizable impact on the classroom. Learn the best ways to positively interact with students and you can start to work toward better discipline.