Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Discipline Is Love. Say It Back.

I first heard of Ron Clark, Disney Teacher of the Year, more than a decade ago, when he was a guest on Oprah, presenting his newly published book, The Essential 55. Meaning, the essential 55 rules for the classroom! Gasp! Every social nicety from saying "excuse me"  to winning gracefully was delineated for his fifth-graders. He spoke, animatedly, about how much fun they had learning and monitoring their 55 rules.

My youngest daughter, then eight, watched with me. She followed every word and gesture Mr. Clark bestowed on Oprah and her audience. 

“I want to be in his class!” she breathed.

“What?” I exclaimed. “You want to follow 55 rules?”

 “Yes! Sometimes we don’t know what to do. And he makes it look fun!"

Now, there’s a great approach to school discipline:  Tell kids what’s expected in life’s varied circumstances. And make it fun.

I cannot claim that we make all of our school discipline fun. We have a strict yet benevolent system that sets clear limits for how students will behave and treat one another. Our behavior model requires a caring conversation with every offender. Because they feel safe and secure, our students can relax and have fun at school.

We have learned to issue consequences that are suitable for the offense, and to administer them without breaking relationship. In fact, it is common to hear my assistant issue office consequences for various hurtful or disruptive behaviors, and follow up with, “But I love you! Say it back.” Nearly every time, the student will laugh, or at least mumble, “Love you, too” as they exit her office.

We expect to correct kids, and most kids expect to be corrected. But we don’t have to default to anger, frustration or disgust when they need correction, even for truly ugly behavior. Our jobs don’t exist so that we can deliver academics to perfect robots. We teach so we can guide, protect, heal, and inspire youngsters, which means we have to embrace them as they are and work with them, with patience.

When the building-wide system is so predictable, fair, well-communicated, and consistent, no one has to resort to yelling, stomping, nagging, or shaming young people. We are less likely to need our negative emotional responses to our students, and if we are non-emotional, they can’t blame us for their actions. They have to own their own issues. We’re no longer the source of their excuses. We’re there to help them manage their own emotions.

And helping kids is fun. Discipline is fun.

Discipline is love. Say it back.


  1. When she says she loves them, it IS true and sincere. True relationships with students. Great post!

  2. Thanks, MRandle. Hope our friend is cool with me making her a blog post star :-)

  3. I like it, I think for so long we as educators have gotten stuck on "well they just need to do the right thing.." and wanting to "win" that some end up working harder than they need to.

  4. Thanks for commenting, Jules! I smile to see your face here. The student has to own his own issues and do the work to change. We adults have to keep them accountable without losing relationship. When I see teachers who are good at this, I am always moved and impressed. So many of the teachers in our building ARE good at this. Gotta love it!