Dr. Paccione-Dyszlewski and Dr. Barreto are clinical assistant professors at Brown Medical School and manage the in-patient program at Bradley Hospital. Bradley was the first children’s mental-health hospital in the nation and continues to assist children. These psychologists are strong supporters of good discipline but not punishment.

Punishment Hurts More Than It Helps

In a typical school day, teachers encounter many students who are not on the same page as others in the classroom. Many are hurting academically, physically or emotionally. Each child comes to school with different issues in the “school suitcase” and each one has individual needs. One size does not fit all.

Teachers are in schools to teach, of course. State standards and curriculums drive each classroom lecture and getting information to students in a designated length of time is important. So, what is a teacher to do when a student doesn’t cooperate or disrupts a classroom? Punishment is the common tool. It would be wonderful if it worked, but it doesn’t. Unfortunately, the fact that punishment doesn’t work has not stopped teachers from using it.

Punishment Is Emotional

When a student insults a teacher in front of the class, a natural reaction is to shame the child to regain control. It is embarrassing and the teacher feels the need to regain the power the student took away. Embarrassing the student is a common practice. Shaming creates more anger in the already angry student. Often, this results in the student being shunned by being sent to the office. Out of sight, out of mind. Unfortunately, the teacher returns to teaching without giving much thought about why the student behaviors occurred. Without knowing why, the behaviors are likely to return.

Shamed Students Are Not Repentant

Sending a student to the office has not improved the relationship between student and teacher but now, the teacher is free to move on in the lesson plan book. What about the student in the office? He or she now has plenty of time to plan retaliation to use at a later time. The student is not likely to be thinking of how he has done something inappropriate and how to correct the situation in the future. In fact, the student is more likely to be planning how to shame the teacher on a higher level. This unofficial declaration of war may last the entire school year creating a painful situation for the student, teacher and the students that must watch this tug of war for power.

Shaming Affects Peers

Shaming a student also has an effect on other students. The teacher loses respect in the eyes of other students who often feel sympathy for the student being punished. Peers may begin to act out in support of the student removed from the classroom. The teacher may now see problem behaviors in four other students and the behaviors may escalate.

What Is Discipline?

Punishment Does Not Equal Discipline
Discipline is not throwing consequences at a student out of the rulebook. It is also not shaming the student in front of peers or excluding. Discipline involves relationship building. It brings the student and the teacher together to discuss what is happening, how people are feeling, and a collaborative effort to solve the problem. Having the student leave the room is not discipline. It may be necessary at times but following up at a later time is the next step necessary for success.

Discipline brings a solution to the table that both parties can accept. The guidance office may be the location for this to happen–a neutral party. The counselor can meet with the two parties separately or together to develop a plan that can work. It may involve a signal from the student to the teacher instead of acting out. Often, an intervention is required.

Dr. Paccione-Dyszlewski and Dr. Barreto Promote Collaboration

Paccione-Dyszlewski says, “When the school system [teachers or administration] come to the table to solve problems with the child, they can feel as though they lose authority. In fact, you gain authority by giving it away. The mere fact that I’m sitting with the child shows I’m choosing to be respectful, choosing to be collaborative. And that respect is going to come back to me 1,000-fold.”

End Ineffective Discipline

Paccione-Dyszlewski says, “A lack of community results in punishing behaviors, because breaking the rules assaults the school’s authority.” Paccione-Dyszlewski warns schools to not get into a negative cycle of punishing students. This revolving door produces nothing positive and destroys students’ self-esteem, often producing dropouts.