October 19, 2011

Proactive discipline management

                                                                             Children today are tyrants. 
They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers. 
Socrates (469 BC-399 BC)

As Socrates noticed in the quote above, our ways of involving children have not been effective for some time. Student indiscipline has been a major challenge as a great number of schools still struggle in their attempt to convince children to comply with their educational systems. I assume here that the indiscipline problem might stem in part from our focus on making students adapt to our teaching, instead of teachers adapting in ways that promote student learning.

Fortunately, new behavioral approaches have focused on using indiscipline prevention rather reaction to solve student misbehavior. These new approaches advocate for a substitution of the old ways of strict rules, authority and coercion by the new ways of awareness, sensitivity, and rapport.

Proactive discipline approaches manipulate the physical, social, and emotional aspects of the learning environment to avoid indiscipline from happening. Below I present the proactive discipline management approaches of antecedent strategies, ecologic factors, and behavioral rapport.

The antecedent strategies approach (Kern & Clemens, 2007) assumes that problems result from a mismatch between the individual’s strengths, skills or preferences and the environment. Misbehavior can be reduced or eliminated by redesigning the individual’s learning environment. This proactive redesign includes:

  • setting clear rules and expectations,
  • building predictability in the environment,
  • creating activities that include students’ interests,
  • having a brisk pace of instruction,
  • allowing opportunities for students to respond,
  •  increasing specific praise for appropriate behavior,
  • scheduling attention and support for some students,
  • anticipating or scaffolding difficult situations,
  •  intercalating easy and difficult tasks,
  • noticing and eliminating triggers that precede problematic behavior,
  • proactively investing in modifications guided to promote student engagement, 
  • allowing students to make choices on how they would like to learn.

The ecologic factors approach (Carter & Driscoll, 2007) assumes that internal physical and psychological states of students may be possible roots of misbehavior. Indiscipline can be seen here as a means of communicating unsatisfied and pressing needs. The proactive prevention includes addressing the ecological variables we can change and showing sensitivity to the ones we have no control. Below I list ecological factors that can be causes of misbehavior:

  •  nutrition: thirst, hunger, heavy meals, nutritional diet, irregular meals,
  • sleep hygiene: fatigue, sleep duration, sleep schedule, sleep disturbances,
  • physical comfort: pain (headache, toothache, earache, nausea), allergies, excessive noise, temperature, light,
  • emotional comfort: absence of friendship or support networks, conflict with peers (e.g., bullying), little access to choice or control, few success experiences,
  • familial concerns (family conflict, neglect, excessive or inconsistent discipline, unresponsive parenting, parental isolation or depression),
  • activity level - over- and under-stimulation, lack of meaningful or enjoyable school and after-school activities.

The behavioral rapport approach (Ducharme, 2005) assumes that indiscipline is caused by the quality of the relationship between students and teacher. The behavioral rapport approach supports developing an alliance with the students by building empathy, respect and trust, which are expected to decrease misbehavior. Behavioral rapport interventions include:

  • using physical proximity and touch,
  •  interacting with warmth, sensitivity and empathy,
  • validating them with kind looks,
  • talking about the child’s interests,
  • demonstrating interest in students’ comments and lives,
  • sharing facts about our lives,
  • praising good behavior,
  •  using humor and having  playful conversations,
  • acting as a partner rather than as an authority figure,
  • taking a few minutes, particularly with those experiencing difficulties.

Interestingly, the best moment to invest in the prevention of indiscipline through proactive strategies is when things are fine in the classroom. In a paradigm shift, discipline management ceases being an arm wrestle and becomes more of a chess game, in which teachers see students holistically and focus on the cognitive, social and emotional aspects of learning.

Share these proactive strategies with other teachers!
Together we can change the overall experience of teaching and learning!

A frog-hug,


Here are the references:

Carter, M. & Driscoll, C. (2007). A conceptual examination of setting events.   Education Psychology,   
       27 (5), 655-673.

Ducharme, J. M., & Harris, K. (2005). Errorless embedding for children with conduct difficulties:
       Rapport-based success-focused intervention in the classroom. Behavior Therapy, 36, 213-

Kern, L., & Clemens, N.H. (2007). Antecedents strategies to promote appropriate classroom behavior.   
      Psychology in the Schools, 44(1), 65-75.


  1. Great post, Juan.

    Isn't it wonderful that there is such a wealth of research available, and yet it's not always so easy to put it into practice. I think each teacher can reflect on the points you've provided and really reconsider their classroom environment.

    Best of luck with your masters... must say i'm somewhat jealous ;-)

    Cheers, Brad

  2. wow... seems I didn't follow you at that time Juan!! I really enjoyed reading this post!!!
    I truly believe that positive vibes and good humor can do all in one's classroom!!
    Smiles, Maria :)


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