4 Approaches to Student Discipline (But Only One Builds Trust)

[The following is an excerpt from TrustED®: The Bridge to School Improvement]

Traditionally, many school leaders approach student discipline in terms of how to best control inappropriate student behaviors. If that control involves cajoling and constricting students into limited behavioral patterns focused on an adult system’s needs and expectations, I would argue there is no place for that type of behavior management within a school setting. Moreover, certainly not within a setting committed to developing a high level of trust. However, suppose when using the word control, school leaders focus on providing guidance and an environment in which children develop thoughtful and reflective self-control. In that case, we approach a child behavioral management theory that supports building trust between leaders and students.

I am not saying that adults should not have authority over children or that school leaders should allow students to run wild. Consider these four theories of controlling or guiding child behavior:

  1. The Permissive Approach Theory
  2. The Uninvolved Approach Theory
  3. The Authoritarian Approach Theory
  4. The Authoritative Approach Theory

Only one focuses on keeping the main thing the main thing. When these theories of student behavior management are analyzed, trusted school leaders champion a balanced, authoritative approach as the most effective and appropriate. Here is why.

The Permissive Approach

The permissive school leader’s profile is reminiscent of the values celebrated and promoted in the 1960s, such as exploration and experimentation. This approach actively encourages students to get in touch with their inner feelings and indulge emotional and physical appetites. These leaders rarely set firm boundaries and very rarely engage in active discipline. The reluctance to administer discipline is primarily due to their very low expectations regarding student behavior or self-control level. These leaders tend to be far more responsive than demanding. Yet, these leaders also tend to be relational and often view themselves as a friend to the students.

The Uninvolved Approach

The uninvolved school leader appears similar to the permissive leader, as student behavior is largely unchecked, but it is quite distinct. While the permissive leader actively encourages students to explore and indulge, the uninvolved leader is distant and perhaps even absent. This leader views managing a student’s behavior as someone else’s job or believes intervention would impede the student’s ability to learn through the course of natural consequences. The uninvolved leader sees the consequences of inappropriate behavior as just deserts and that life will be the teacher. These leaders also value characteristics such as courage, fortitude, and self-defense. Students are encouraged to fight their own battles… [continue reading]

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