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Manage the classroom. Don’t discipline the children.

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

The challenge of maintaining discipline in the classroom is not new to education. Teachers feel helpless because they feel they don’t have any power or authority to enforce classroom or school rules. Ask any teacher what their biggest obstacle is to providing quality lessons and the matter of ill-discipline will inevitably rank among their top 3. The emotional and physical toll of the ‘normal’ expectations placed on teachers leaves little energy to do crowd control. This is what many teachers’ classroom management has become – crowd control.

There's no quick, one-size-fits-all solution - and odds are there never will be. However, there are some general beliefs about discipline that need to be revised. Most of the tried and tested discipline techniques only address the symptoms of deeper-rooted causes. We need to address the cause if we're to rid the classroom of the symptoms.

Corporal punishment

What would a discussion about discipline be without addressing corporal punishment? Many advocates of the ‘carrot and stick’ strategy - who mostly whip out the stick without any thought of the carrot - proclaim corporal punishment to solve the matter of ill-discipline. After all, it 'worked for many generations' and it 'didn’t have that many serious negative effects on individuals'. However, research has shown that learners’ ability to retain information and learn concepts decrease when learning occurs in a state of fear. Using corporal punishment creates a fearful classroom. In a society where violence and abuse seem to be on the increase, we shouldn't contribute to the deterioration of the social fabric. Regardless of any personal view you might have of the efficacy of corporal punishment, it has been outlawed.

The case for control

Giving up control of your classroom - even if it's just a tiny bit - is scary. Sadly, teachers who run their classrooms like a dictatorship will quickly be confronted with one or two ‘anarchists’ who know that they can derail a lesson by stressing the teacher out.

By loosening your grip on the lesson and classroom atmosphere, you allow space for cooperation. Allow for freedom of expression within the clear boundaries you set.

Be consistent in your expectations, communicate these expectations clearly, and model the behaviour you wish for. When you do everything in your control to create an environment that is conducive to learning, you'll be able to hand over control of the lesson and experience creativity in action. There is freedom in accepting that you can only control three things in life:

1. Your thoughts

2. Your words

3. Your actions

Apart from these three factors, you’re not in control of anything. Therefore, ensure that your thoughts, words and actions are structured in such a way that learners want to model them.

Build relationships

Most humans have an innate desire to feel important. We are content when this need is fulfilled but will go out of our way to meet the need when we feel unimportant. This is also true for the learners in your class. All of them. When teachers take interest in the lives of those they teach, they start building a relationship of trust. Take the time to get to know the individual. What are their interests, hobbies, and extra-mural activities? Be genuine in your endeavour to build a relationship with the individual and you'll be rewarded with behaviour that respects your expectations. The further advantage is that you get insight into the psyche of the person whom you're teaching. This allows you to select appropriate examples when explaining concepts that would resonate with the individual.

Practical tip: Dedicate at least one break per week to building relationships. Instead of drinking tea in the staffroom, drink your tea on the playground; observe behaviour and have informal chats.

The relationship with the learner is only one piece of the puzzle. You would greatly improve the chances of winning a learner over when you also build a relationship with the learners’ parents. Start the academic year off by inviting parents to contact you, in person or digitally, and discuss the learner’s likes and dislikes and use this information in your teaching.

Blog Article by: Francois Naude, PhD

Website (only officially launching in October):

Instagram and Twitter: @super_teacher_f

LinkedIn: Francois Naude, PhD.

Be on the lookout for my podcast launching in October.

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