Discipline is a noun and a verb

This post picks up from Why then? What now?
It is an ongoing reflection through my lenses as a student, educator, and constant learner.

Discipline has been a misused and misunderstood concept in education. It is an evolving remedy for a host of behavioural issues? Simply put, it’s difficult to discuss and describe. Yet, education as we know it is often defined by it in so many forms. Take this snap shot of instructions/behaviour management commands that are used daily, to some measure, in classrooms;

Listen, line up, sit here, be quiet, watch this, do this, respond now, co-operate, snack now, clean up now, play now, stop playing now, line up, sit here, listen, watch, be quiet, do this, respond now, eat now, clean up now, get dressed, line up, sit here, do this, work together, respond, clean up now, get dressed now,  get your agenda signed, do your homework, hurry to your bus, and no running in the halls.

Talk about a running list of marching orders? Out of it’s context, it would be easy to imply that there doesn’t seem to be much time for learning. But, that is not true at all. Within these lines can also exist beautiful universes of learning where students are engaging in hands on learning, creating, and collaboration. The problem is the scope of what we see is on the student(s) who are not working in these magical inner spaces of education.

Same planet, different world

I am a co-SERT at my school and there have been times, due to extraordinary circumstances, when I am unable to greet my own students at the door of our classroom after they return from their Arts classes. However, it is during this time that I have been able to witness, without them knowing, their ability to return to class, begin an activity without prompting, and wait until I made it back to our room. This is the discipline which I have been working with my students to achieve.

You see, a key goal for all my students is for them to do the right thing even when no one is watching. That isn’t only discipline, but true freedom. Consider the power in this quote from Abraham Lincoln;

Freedom is not the right to do what you want, but to do what we ought.

When we give students the time, tools, and our trust there comes an incredible discovery that they are capable of so much more. If we spend our time over-instructing, we miss the opportunities to witness this.

Am I a tough disciplinarian? Most consider me a pushover, however, I have asked and empowered my students to be decision makers capable of great things at all times. This requires high expectations and a great deal of patience. As a result, students receive a great deal of positive attention for their ability to choose to act(not behave) so wisely. This is not in the form of a bribe, but in recognition and satisfaction that as my students demonstrate strong skills of responsibility, then opportunities for more independence and greater amounts of trust, are not far behind.

I believe that if we establish high expectations for our students, and give them the trust and encouragement they will rise to meet them far more often than not. Yes, they will fail. Yes, students will forget, and will require a pep talk, but it has never been a deal breaker in my classroom.

What does discipline look like in your learning space?

While you wrestle with an answer, here’s another tidbit for context.

Growing up in the 70s left me with a share of emotional and physical scars from grade school. In grade one our teacher tied us to chairs or put us in a dark closet when we misbehaved. Other years were trouble free and filled with care, support, and grace. And then there was the 1000s of lines and broken rulers from middle school. Somewhere the paddlings became supplanted by writing cramps and time theft. All of this, meted out to me and my classmates as part of the acceptable educational landscape when I went to school. (And I was one of the good kids.)

Then there was the year, our school had a vice-principal who used to make students, who were caught fighting, fight without a crowd. Most times nothing would happen, but there were a few times when the fights continued before he would intervene. After it was all over, he made them shake hands. True story.

Barring extreme circumstances, issues of discipline usually level off as each year progresses. Granted, there will always be isolated incidents, collegial discord, and disruptions too. Thankfully, schools are quickly becoming the places to offer/provide the help/structures necessary to support students in need who are struggling to communicate through their behaviour. We have to remember that behaviour is communication (L.R. Knost).

Sadly, no amount of support or discipline can supplant the harsh realities of mental illness, apathy, addiction, neglect, abuse, despair, or poor choices that can spare our youth from a bleak future. Whether the destination is the streets or the justice system there will still be some who fall through the cracks. Despite our collective best efforts, no amount of discipline, instruction, empathy, or act of punishment that will succeed in curbing or changing behaviour. I would like to hone my skills at understanding their actions as communication in order to support and build discipline through education, in their lives. It is the thought it continues to happen despite access to education that breaks my heart the most and led to my 2016 TEDxKitchenerEd Talk.

That used to be a paddling

With years of public education under our belts, pardon the pun, discipline should be employed as a noun long before it is ever used as a verb. Instruction and knowledge were at the heart of its original use in Latin – disciplina. And along this fine line we all walk as new teachers. Thankfully, the violence of corporal punishment has been struck in favour of more holistic and civil practices, but without compassion in our classroom, no amount of discipline will ever matter.

We must also embrace new approaches in our pedagogy that are first founded in respect, relationship building, and resiliency. Inside of all this is the need to share discipline as instruction and knowledge rather than punishment and intimidation.

In my next post I want to share about restorative approaches and mindfulness as part of my classroom management and my effort to build up discipline the noun and tear down discipline the verb. Thanks for reading. Please share and comment. It keeps us going to know you’re out there and along the journey of education. Will

Updated: October 28, 2017 — 1:49 pm

The Author

Will Gourley

P/J lead learner and SERT at Adrienne Clarkson PS in the YRDSB. Focused on disruptive, and divergent modern learning. Member of the global TED-Ed(Club) movement, 1 of 110 TED Ed Innovative Educators, and Global Math Project Ambassador. Twitter @willgourley Proudly blogging here and at https://escheweducationalist.wordpress.com/

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