When it comes to student discipline, relationships matter.

Image credit: iexaminer.org

Student discipline is a hot topic in South Africa. When a person learns I have taught and led schools in Dallas and now in Shanghai, one of their first questions is something like, "In America and China, how do students behave and how do teachers and principals handle student discipline?" 

I recently caught the tail end of a discipline discussion on a local South African radio station. Some listeners expressed concerns regarding the student discipline situation in South Africa. The radio piece prompted me to reflect on my experiences with chronically misbehaving students.

When a child chronically misbehaves, we basically have two choices. We can blame the child (or parent or lack of parental support). We can choose to think that the child is a bad child. "The child is wired to make bad choices." 

Or we can look at the situation in which the misbehavior occurred, and reflect on whether we as the educator could have done something differently. How can we change the environment in an effort to alleviate some, or possibly all, of the triggers that are causing the child to chronically misbehave?

If we choose to blame the child, frankly, I think we are in a hopeless situation. Let's focus on what WE can do. We are the adult, the teacher, the defining factor in every classroom. How we as teachers view children makes the difference between whether we quickly blame the child or whether we make a commitment to work with the child to bring about long-term positive change. We CAN mold children into respectful and responsible adults.

Throughout my teaching and school leadership career, I have had students that require a greater level of my mental and emotional energy. Whether it's energy to improve academically or behaviorally, or both, we are in the business of student improvement. Education for every child. We do not look for excuses. We are natural problem-solution people. A child is struggling in math, so we work to meet his/her individual learning needs. We don't write them off, marginalize them. Be it with a class of 16 or 36, we treat every child as a gift, no matter their socioeconomic status, skin color, or whether they consistently make poor behavior choices. We treat all 180 school days as if it were one of the last days we have with a child; the last day to make an impact.

Changing a chronically misbehaving child's behavior is one of the most difficult jobs an educator faces. It's NOT easy. It requires a time commitment, clear expectations, an individualized plan of actionfollow-through, and lots of love and care. A relationship.

We, as adults, have in the past changed, usually not when we were forced to change, but when someone, a friend or colleague, invested time in building a relationship with us. Encouraging, supporting, and guiding us through the change. Let's treat every child with respect and build a positive relationship with them that they so desperately need.

For some practice-proven discipline techniques, here is a previous post.

With something to think about, this is Mr. Russell.

Wayne Russell
Shanghai, China

Tweeting @rssll80