Ten Spiritual Principles of Discipline

Wisdom I Learned from My Teacher, Avatara Adi Da


4. Discipline works best in a culture of expectation.

If a child only receives discipline from one or two sources, the process of individuation grants the child ground to rebel against the power that is perceived to come from above. This vertical staging or adult-child-contrast is the theatre for most rebellion. If, however, a whole culture expects certain behavior, the child will be acculturated to it easily. (It is like when your kids go to a neighbor's house and they are suddenly angels.) The discipline changes from a vertical staging to a horizontal one. Therefore, it is most important to create a culture within the classroom and in the familial sphere, where everybody is included and expected to follow certain rules of harmonious living -- and from this horizontal culture, discipline is accepted, even embraced. It really does take a village to have great discipline.

A classroom can be its own culture of great expectation. A skilled teacher creates this culture of expectation, through both nurture and demand. She or he heartily invites children into the great process of continual learning, its delight, and continual growing and its delight. Upon the power of this enjoyment, the master teacher can tender a fire of growing demand.

I call my classroom management techniques "strategies of inclusion", rather than the mere strategy of exclusion. For example, I draw two boxes on the board, one on each side. On one side is the typical "name-on-board" strategy. Persistent misbehavior will be named and accounted for in this box. This kind of negative accounting is usually what I call an "exclusion strategy", a gauging of misbehavior that spans from reminders to expulsion. However, my negative accounting is flexible: good behavior will always eliminate demerits, allowing any misaligned student free access to more harmonious participation.

On the other side of the board is the minutes box. Every mark is a free minute at the end of that class period. In those free minutes, they can talk, perhaps draw on the board, listen to music, even dance. They can't run or even be too loud or throw anything, but talk and laugh and art can be energetically and harmoniously engaged. Students who still have demerits serve the room during free time by sharpening pencils, cleaning the board, the floors, etc. (since their actions took energy away from the class, they can balance that direction by giving energy to the class ... true justice).

How does the class get free minutes? By whole class participation, whole class good behavior, by paying attention, being on task, and by individuals catching themselves when they are about to blurt something out and instead raise their hand, or by any individual effort to improve. Since free minutes are granted to effort and not just to specific (good) behavior, minutes are most quickly earned by those students who are having the hardest time paying attention. So when those children who tend to be the problem children try and can be seen to be trying, they readily earn free minutes for everyone. The avenue to be heroic is wider for the weakest and more challenging to the already strong, but everybody is invited to a celebration.

Sample dialogue illustrating the above principles might sound like: "Did you see that class? Ronny was about to blurt out something and instead raised his hand? Did anyone see that? Well, Ronny, you have earned the entire class a minute of free time." Or, "Jensen has not been perfect today, but he has been doing better, really trying. Jensen, when I looked up, I saw you really working well, you just earned the class a minute for everyone." Or, "How nice and quiet. I love it when everyone is working and on task. Two free minutes, way to go everyone." Or, "I'm sorry, this is not acceptable, I'm erasing one minute of freedom. Please earn it back." Five earned minutes per period is typical, emphasis on earned. Four mini-celebrations a day are possible in my school day. Rare, too. But two earned free times a day are common. Immediacy is important both for disciplines and rewards. Pizza on Fridays or an end of year trip carries little force in comparison.

In the typical name-on-board/turn-your-card strategies is the possibility of exclusion. For example, a student is asked or told to leave the room until they can meet the requirements of participation. But instead of mere exclusion, in "strategies of inclusion", they are heartily invited back as they are made to leave. Students who must be excluded most readily reform when they are simultaneously included.

A typical dialogue in event of a temporary exclusion might go: "Jackson, will you step outside for a break? Come back when you can do your work and not distract others, I want you back. Come back when you can."

This strategy stands in contrast to ordinary strategies of exclusion, such as name on board, go to the office, or "turn your card" demerits. For in strategies of inclusion, such "negative" accounting is flexible and not fixed, students are encouraged to improve their behavior and their balance sheet that day, soon or immediately. Students can work off bad marks for unhappy behavior in management strategies of inclusion and flexibility promotes sensitivity. Likewise, rewards are not at the end of the year or end of quarter or even end of the week or day. It can be at the end of every period and now is always made a time to grow and learn and be happy.