What is the purpose of discipline?
Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.
Discipline, in popular usage, refers to making people obey rules or standards of behaviour, and punishing them when they do not. (Collins Dictionary)
The more traditional meaning and according to the American Heritage Dictionary, discipline refers to “training that is expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behaviour, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.”
Some schools tend to think that discipline and punishment are synonymous. You only need to examine a school’s discipline policy to find multiple references to detention, in and out of school suspension, expulsion and restitution. Rarely does the policy include the explicit teaching and reinforcement of appropriate behaviours.
So why do we want our students to know how to behave appropriately?
Do we want our young people to be compliant so that we can teach our content area and have quiet, well-managed classrooms?
To some degree, yes!
When students have good self-regulation skills, it is easier for us to teach, and students are more successful in their learning.
Discipline however, is not a goal unto itself. When we consider the needs of the whole child and their successful integration in society we want far more for them than compliance.
Teaching students appropriate behaviour goes hand in hand with learning essential social and emotional skills. These skills equip young people with strategies and understandings to navigate the world in an effective, dignified and caring way.
The core competencies are well documented in the Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL):
- Self-Awareness: Being able to identify your own emotions and thoughts and understand how they impact your behaviour.
- Self-Management: Being able to successfully regulate your emotions, thoughts, and behaviours in various circumstances.
- Responsible Decision Making: Being able to make productive choices about your own behaviour and social exchanges based on ethics, safety and social norms.
- Relationship Skills: Being able to build and maintain healthy and satisfying relationships with diverse individuals and groups.
- Social Awareness: Being able to see a variety of perspectives, empathise with others’ points of view, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
When there is a whole school approach,
“Teaching of SEL (social and emotional learning) permeates every part of school life and focus, from the interactions between staff and students, to curriculum choice and classroom pedagogy”. (CASEL)
In addition to these capabilities we teach students appropriate behaviour so that they:
- can learn effectively
- know how to cooperate with others in a social and academic setting
- have strategies to manage conflict
- develop a strong sense of self-efficacy and high self-esteem
- develop skills of independence
Discipline takes on a radically different perspective when teachers understand that poor behaviour is a lack of appropriate social and emotional skills.