Unit 1: Identify & Describe


ETAP 623 Spring 2015 by Dr. Zhang | About Cheryl DePra | Cheryl DePra's Design Portfolio | Return to Positive Discipline in the Classroom

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The Positive Approach

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The Basics: Kind and Firm

Positive Discipline (PD) is just that - a positive, empowering approach to both internal (student-directed) and external (teacher-directed) discipline in the classroom. Based on the philosophies and teachings of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs, PD developed during the period of psychological interest in social and collaborative elements during the early 20th century (Nelson, 2006). This still very progressive approach embraces the student as a whole, unique being with free agency in his/her learning within the context of a community of learners. Whereas traditional classroom management approaches view students as recipients of learning, PD embodies the emergent pedagogical philosophy of learner as participant - including participant in his/her behavioral choices within the classroom. Undergirding this philosophy is the notion that all human beings desire significance and belonging within a group (Nelson, 2006).

Respect is the foundational characteristic of PD. The teacher must endeavor in all situations in a kind and firm manner. Kindness conveys the message that the student is significant and belongs within the context of the classroom. This is crucial as these two qualities are the primary goals of all people, particularly children and young adults (Nelson, 2006). Firmness gives a clear message of supportive authority, one that will focus on solutions that offer choice within limits and will follow through without leniency. Firmness is follow through. Together, kindness and firmness develop trust.

A New Take on Misbehavior

What is misbehavior? Descriptions such as 'power struggle,' 'being bad,' and 'disruptive personality' may come to mind - however, this doesn't address the very core of what misbehavior in the classroom truly represents. If viewed more as a general lack of awareness, knowledge, and skills, within the context of general discouragement, we see that misbehavior is really just that: a misunderstanding of communication and belonging within a learning community (Nelson, 2006). Students are neither 'good' nor 'bad' but rather reacting to the environment they comprehend. Modeling the behaviors, attitudes, and socio-constructivist views we desire in our classrooms is crucial to supporting a calm, productive, and engaged classroom climate (Bielaczyc & Collins, 1999). The dynamic within the learning community, supported by Positive Discipline, is a vital component of successful classroom management.

The Value of Building Learning Communities

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Let us approach the learning community as one that supports students emotionally and socially in the classroom. This builds a powerful and productive cohort that is genuinely invested in each other, one that embraces the deeper value of building true membership in the art and act of learning collaboratively. The antithesis to this collective contribution is, of course, a sense of not belonging, even perhaps of insignificance. Dreikurs states that "a misbehaving child is a discouraged child" (Nelson, 2006, p.69). Considering learning communities foster open, caring, and supportive environments, Positive Discipline develops a strong sense of community by holding students accountable for not only their behavior, but the effects of their behavior on their own learning and the learning of their fellow peers. PD serves to empower and encourage students in their educational development by offering students choice - agency with meaningful outcomes.


Positive Discipline recognizes the need for redirection when behavior is disruptive and/or detracts from a positive and productive learning environment. In this instance, it is crucial to remember that discipline is our response, not our reaction, to the student's actions. Appropriate, helpful, and effective redirection is worth infinitely more than a sharp word and purposeless consequence.

As such, let us discuss natural and logical consequences. Natural consequences represent what will happen naturally as a result of any given action. For instance, when you forget your coat on a winter day, you feel cold. Logical consequences are helpful learning experiences that require teacher intervention. For example, a student that is knocking her table loudly with a pencil must either stop or must forfeit her pencil. Logically, in forfeiting her pencil, she will not be able to take notes, participate in an exam, and more.

In both cases, consequences are to be used not as punishment, but as meaningful opportunities to teach our students, both younger and older, the reality of our actions. Consequences can be both positive and negative - receiving dessert upon finishing a nourishing dinner, for example, is a delightful consequence of eating healthfully. Emphasizing positive consequences is vitally important to pursue in the classroom. This can be done as simply as stating, "I noticed Micah and Ella were able to complete their project well in advance of the deadline because of their diligence in working together respectfully." This reinforces the behaviors and norms you would like to see develop in your classroom.

Building Solutions

Inviting our students to be accountable for their actions is empowering and vital in building their sense of belonging in the learning community of your classroom. When a student misbehaves, makes a poor choice, or appears to be struggling, offering her choices within reasonable limits allows her to take ownership of her actions while trusting that you have her best interests in mind as not only her teacher, but also as her guide. This alone is extremely powerful in building solutions that are attainable, as well as in identifying mistaken beliefs and goals that students may hold closely. Positive Discipline allows for classroom management that does not rely solely on the instructor as reigning authority, but rather develops a community effort toward management that deals with complex issues and problems collaboratively (Bielaczyc & Collins, 1999).

Case Study

Please take a moment to view the following video clip. Analyze the instructor's interactions with her students in the example given your general understanding of the Positive Discipline approach. Notice the instructors carefully orchestrated use of positive reinforcement, encouragement, and respect, particularly at the 1:15 time mark.

Case Study Example

Test Your Knowledge: Multiple-Choice

Ready to test your knowledge? Click the link below for the quiz titled Positive Discipline: The Basics. Feel free to reference the material in this unit as you move through the assessment. If you discover you have answered a question incorrectly, please take time to read the explanation for the correct answer. Take time to reflect on the question and the material before moving on to the Booster Thought.

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Booster Thought

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What is Positive Discipline and why is it important?

Ultimately, Positive Discipline strives to give students a deep sense of belonging and significance not only in their classrooms, but in their life. Think of yourself as one of many vital architects in this connection building

Ready to move on? Continue with Unit 2: Evaluate & Explore.