Successful School Discipline: How to Get Students to Follow the Rules



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Successful School Discipline:
How to Get Students to Follow the Rules


student discipline

Bullies in Class discipline

Classroom and school discipline can be the toughest part of any teacher’s or principal’s job. Even though discipline problems can dominate many school days, teacher training tends to be focused 80% on content and a mere 20% on behavior management and discipline. Many teachers and principals report receiving even less instruction on discipline, and student classroom management and behavior problems are often cited as the top reasons that teachers leave the profession entirely.

In our Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth professional development workshops (coming soon to Seattle on May 4-5, 2017), we devote hours teaching you how to have excellent student behavior management. It is also most definitely one of the most requested topics that our workshop participants ask us to cover. I’m the Breakthrough Strategies Workshop instructor, Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. In this article, I’ll give you a peek into some of the top strategies we offer in our professional development inservice sessions. While this is certainly not a comprehensive article, it has some of our best tips to get you started on the path to successful school discipline. If you need more than the sampling of ideas briefly covered in this short how-to article, consider signing up for our Seattle Breakthrough Strategies Workshop sessions on May 4-5, 2017, where we will provide a whopping 200 interventions, all designed to produce successful classroom and school discipline.


Successful School Discipline:
How to Get Students to Follow the Rules

teacher classroom managementConvince Students of the

Importance of Rules

Many of us– whether young or old– fail to reliably follows rules and policies that we find to be unreasonable. Many very reasonable classroom and school rules are viewed by students to be totally bogus, and they act accordingly, and discipline suffers. To improve compliance with school and classroom rules, convince your students of the importance of those policies. Here is a fast and memorable way to accomplish just that. Remember: students who see value in the rules are far more likely to reliably follow those rules.

This strategy is a role reversal and many students can be offered the opportunity to participate in it. Ask one of your students to become the role play teacher. You may wish to choose a student who normally resists or ignores school or classroom rules. Offer the student a great prize in lieu of the paycheck that teachers earn. The prize can be anything that is enticing, such as getting out of class a bit early, or soda pop, or stickers, or whatever fits your age group. To earn the prize, the role-play teacher merely needs to teach the class to remember a 5 digit number. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But, this is a classroom with no rules. Even worse for the role play teacher, you’ve distributed a lot of the things you don’t want to see in class, items like bubble gum, snacks, cell phones, etc. If necessary, you can also prime several students to engage in other problematic behaviors like talk outs, being out of their seat, and so on.

The role play teacher attempts to teach your classroom and quickly discovers that it’s impossible. With your prompting, encourage the role play teacher to set rules, and attach the role play teacher’s name to the rules. Next, have him or her write the new rules on the board. After a while, retire your first role play teacher and give other class members a chance to experience teaching in a classroom without rules. Once enough students have gotten to experience the extreme difficulty of trying to teach in a class without rules, discuss whether there just might be values in rules. Not only will students view the rules differently, they are far more likely to follow them because their names are now attached to your classroom rules, and they are the ones that created those rules. Students are unlikely to hassle rules they created and named. You will be delighted at the difference in your classroom and school.


Teach Skills

Because Consequences

Will Never Compensate

control temper help


Many educators believe that if they simply have big enough consequences for school and classroom rule violations, that those sanctions are the way to ensure successful discipline. Sadly, that assumption is often completely wrong. If I say to you that unless you start speaking Swedish right now, you are going to face terrible consequences, most people in the U.S. still can’t speak Swedish. When you say to your students that if you engage in problematic conduct, you will face big sanctions, that is really no different.

If you want to excellent student behavior management and discipline, you must teach the behaviors that you expect– and also motivate students to see the importance of complying with the expectations, as discussed above. The clearest illustration is to look at your rules regarding the use of violence. Students who grow up in a violent family, for example, may have no idea how control their fist, mouth and actions. At home and in their neighborhood, using their fists may be commonplace, and consistently using more socially acceptable behaviors may be unfamiliar and seem undoable, just like you speaking Swedish on command. To expect a consequence to compensate for that deficit is naive and unrealistic, yet that is often what happens when schools expect students to magically change their behavior just because a heavy duty consequence can result. If you truly want student conduct to be better, you are going to have to teach those specific behaviors in an organized, step-by-step manner, very similar to the way you teach specific academic subjects. Further, just as you would never expect a student to magically or instantly learn calculus or to read, students can’t suddenly master self-control behavior skills.

Pictured above is a sample student worksheet that teaches acceptable behavior instead of aggression. It is from our Temper and Tantrum Tamers lesson book. Our website has thousands of resources that teach students self-control but our books, live professional development inservice workshops and online courses are your best bet.


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discipline postersBut My Classroom Is Completely Unmanageable

The truth is that some of you are still reading this article because your classroom or school seems really out of control, and there doesn’t seem to be any clear path toward reversing a worsening trend. Here is your solution:

First, if the classroom has really been quite out of control, it is usually far easier to start over than to clean up the existing situation. So, you will need declare Room 630 History Class or Mt. Vernon Elementary’s 3rd Grade Room 50 done and gone. Rename the space and start over. However, you must be able to re-start incredibly strong and firm or you will quickly find yourself back where you started.

Second, to avoid ever getting into this situation at all, we always recommend you start your school year being way too firm and strong in how you manage students. If you decide later to ease up, no student will fight you. However, if you start off a bit weak, indecisive or you are easily played by students, I can guarantee that you will not be able to easily– or perhaps ever– tighten up as students will fight hard to maintain the chaos, commotion and disruption that has become the standard. When you re-start, you must acknowledge the problems that occurred, clearly state what will be different, and then make sure that the new version of your classroom is firmly managed, with strict consequences, along with regular training that shows students how to meet behavior and discipline expectations. You will also need to motivate your students to see the value in school and education because a motivated student is far less likely to fritter away their education on misbehavior. Poster #471 (shown at right) is just one of our thousands of motivation-makers that transform kids into motivated learners. Our live conferences, online professional development seminars and books all can guide you because Youth Change Professional Development Workshops is your school discipline and behavior management expert. We are your classroom management authority, and we specialize in preventing and fixing serious, persistent behavior management problems. We’re here to help. You can email us here.


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About Ruth Herman Wells

Author/Trainer Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. is the director of Youth Change Professional Development Workshops. In 2011, Ruth was rated as a Top 10 U.S. K-12 educational and motivational speaker by Speakerwiki and Speakermix. She is the author of several book series, a columnist, adjunct professor for two universities, and a popular keynote speaker and workshop presenter. Ruth's dozens of books includes Temper and Tantrum Tamers and Turn On the Turned-Off Student.