No school can function effectively unless there is a comprehensive system of discipline in place, which has been communicated to staff, students and parents. Student discipline creates a safe and effective learning environment for students and teachers. It allows meaningful instruction to proceed without interruption, distractions and teacher frustration. Indiscipline, on the other hand, reduces teaching time, causes chaos and low student achievement. Principals must make discipline a priority at all times in order to maintain a positive and productive school culture.
Punishment for any offence should be appropriate and should take place, after a proper hearing, as soon as possible after the offence has been committed.
All schools need to have a school-wide behaviour management plan, discipline policy and code of conduct. These three entities are closely interlocked and they are generally based on obedience or compliance by students. Codes of conduct or school rules are written and disseminated to staff, students and parents. Penalties for various infractions of the rules are made very clear and must be applied as needed. Principals and their deputies, Senior Teachers, department heads, form teachers, teachers, senior students, Prefects, form monitors and non-teaching staff all have roles to play in ensuring that discipline is upheld.
All students are entitled to safe and peaceful classrooms, as well as freedom from bullying. there must be zero tolerance for serious offences such as threats, violence, gambling, gross disobedience, stealing, possession of illegal drugs or alcohol, offensive weapons, extortion, smoking, sexual misconduct, cheating in tests, altering school documents, or any kind of criminal behaviour. Guidance counsellors also have an important role to play in the maintenance of good social skills and values among students. Respect for oneself and others is key in this domain. Principals must be visible and proactive through strategies like management by walking around.
However, having all the systems and provisions mentioned above gives no guarantee that good discipline will prevail in any school. Other initiatives must be taken to achieve this. For instance, the best system of discipline can only work if all personnel involved are committed to upholding it consistently on a daily basis. They must be all on the same page, treating all offences in the same way, across the board. That way, penalties are consistent throughout the school and teachers are united. There is no differential treatment for anyone, so students must comply with regulations. There are no instances of favouritism or undue lenience extended to some students and not others. Teachers must be firm and fair and the principal must support them, within reason, when they bring serious cases of indiscipline to him or her.
Rewarding students for good conduct is an excellent idea. Teachers can use their imagination and the school’s resources to encourage good behaviour by publicly rewarding students for exemplary conduct over a period of time. This will help to prevent indiscipline.
Good lesson planning and classroom management will definitely prevent students from disrupting classes. When teachers plan each lesson carefully and keep students fully engaged with meaningful classwork, there is no time for any students to misbehave. In fact, the other students will quickly reprimand any student who dares to disrupt a brilliant lesson. Great instruction eliminates misconduct. Teachers should also reward students for academic and technical achievement. This speaks to motivation.
When teachers take the time to get to know their students and build close relationships with them, students respond by trying to please those teachers. Teachers are then in a position to use their influence over these students to prevent or reduce disruptive behaviour and conflict. Teachers can foster a proper work ethic and teach them conflict resolution techniques.
Students should be given guidance on their choice of friends at school. Those who associate with disruptive peers tend to act in the same way, while those who associate with peers who value education tend to become better students.
The help of supportive parents can be a valuable asset for teachers who may be experiencing problems with student indiscipline.
Systems must be put in place to prevent indiscipline in the school buses, canteen, corridors and on the playing fields. Responsible senior students, prefects, and teaching and non-teaching staff can be of some help here. They need to mitigate or report any problems that emerge.
Many schools are using various behaviour management tools, such as Positive Behaviour Management Schemes of various types, Discipline with Dignity elaborated by Curwin and Mendler (1999), and others, with noticeable success. Discipline with Dignity focuses, not on obedience, but on accountability and values instead of blame. Responsibility is important.
There is also the discipline of work. Students who are focused on their academic or technical work and who are highly motivated, will not waste any time misbehaving.
Taking all the points mentioned above into consideration, one must conclude that any true discipline would have to be self-discipline. Not discipline that is coerced or bought with rewards. This is the real challenge for schools and parents: how to promote self-discipline, respect for self and others and responsibility in our charges. They must understand right and wrong. Any other views?