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Building a school discipline program can invoke three mutually supportive constructs:

  • Prosocial rituals: Developed by George M. Batche & Howard M. Knoff, from the Goldstein materials is essentially a process of teaching people in the environment the ritual of 1) Stop & Think, 2) Good Choice or Bad Choice, 3) Alternative Choices & Steps, 4) Decision making (Just Do It!) and 5) Evaluation/Feedback (How did I do?).
  • Instructional interventions: Apparently being formalized by Colvin, Kameenui & Sugai, this is a process of addressing social problems with the same instructional model as academic problems rather than punishment. While the ritual behavior is a process of examination, and situational teaching; the instructional model is more formal. Its most developed form seems to be the Prepare Curriculum of Arnold P. Goldstein. Whether individual teachers using instructional principles respond in situ to individual problems or a formal class is developed to address the problems in living demonstrated by a group of students, the principle is social skill building as a remedial action instead of punishment.
  • Discipline without Reward or Punishment: Most highly developed apparently by Marvin Marshall, the program is a proactive attempt to deal with disruptive behaviors before they occur, in contrast to a reactive strategy. The program uses the intrinsic motivation that most children desire to be choice thinkers and responsible. Much of the literature seems to indicate a prior attribution focus – treat students as responsible and they will be responsible.

Each of these methods seems to have merit and the CCIU should look to combining them into a training module available for all school districts. Of course, methods of discipline [in the mode of teaching children how to become responsible for their own behavior] are valid in other contexts. A module for parents and for community settings might be salable.

CCIU uses a discipline culture structure designed upon the model of discipline without reward or punishment promoted by Marvin Marshall. It additionally, utilizes the problem-solving model of George Batche and adds the regular inclusion of internal attributions, thus ‘seeding’ the environment with prosocial reinforcement. The focus of all these designs is to foster social responsibility in the client. Since this aspect of the culture is to be carried out by all staff, but falls most upon the ‘security staff’, such an approach may be quite difficult.

Marshall essentially uses an instructional design similar to that suggested by Sugai. Both agree that the most common responses to disruptive students are punishment and exclusion; punitive systems which have proven ineffective. Detention, suspension, reprimands, fines and extra tasks simply are not effective strategies for reducing problem behavior, and in fact, increases in problem behavior are more likely to be seen [Mayer, 1995]. A compelling body of literature indicates that punishment, counseling and psychotherapy are the least effective responses [Gottfredson, 1997; Kazdin, 1995; Lipsey, 1991, 1992; Lipsey & Wilson, 1993; Tolan & Guerra, 1994]. Both also suggest instructional remedies.

Marshall suggests a mnemonic method of reminding ourselves about instruction.


L = left-right brain activities
I = intelligences
M = modalities
E = emotion and learning
S = styles

Some clients learn better with sequential and linear tasks [typically left brain learners]; others find holistic and random patterns or physical activity involvement [typically right brained] more conducive.

Howard Gardner suggests that students are smart in different ways: Words [linguistic], reasoning and numbers [logical/mathematical], and pictures [spatial] smart are traditional ways that have been used to measure school performance. Other intelligences include attention to sound [musical], the body [kinesthetic, other people [interpersonal], one’s self [intrapersonal], and the natural environment [naturalist].

Marshall sees the relationship between emotions and learning, how anxieties, for example sabotages clear thinking. Staff must be mindful to introduce new lessons and topics in a manner that will minimize anxiety.

Four behavioral styles emerge from commonly used inventories: a thinker analyzes, a feeler expresses, a doer is oriented toward results, and relater is focused on relationships. Staff should understand their own style for one whose style is dominantly that of a thinker and doer might have a propensity to provide fewer learning opportunities for children who are feelers and relaters.

Behavior management has to do with how instruction is made efficient. It focuses on how routine procedures are made known. Routine procedures need to be established, for example, for borrowing pencils, distributing materials, taking roll, cleaning up, etc. Such routines are necessary for smooth management, which reduces behavior problems. These procedures must be taught and not assumed. Staff should consider whether clients themselves help to develop these procedures?

Discipline has to do with standards, rather than simply procedures. Behavioral standards exist in any continuing social relationship. Appropriate behavior is a result of awareness of such standards, or in other words, the result of social consciousness. The objective of good discipline is to increase self-responsibility, social awareness and social responsibility.

Self-development and self-correction [learning self control] are most effective with intrinsic motivation. External manipulators [reward or punishment] may compel obedience, but they do not tend to encourage good choices for personal growth, especially in adolescents, who often are powerfully influenced by peer pressure.

Intrinsic motivation is fostered in a positive learning environment where people feel they will not be harmed, where they are given choices that encourage ownership in projects and assignments, and where self-evaluation and self-correction are the dominant approaches to growth. Our purpose is to concentrate on discipline, but we cannot do so effectively without understanding that there may be other causes and corrective responses to disruptive behavior.

The Scribner dictionary furnishes six definitions for discipline.

  1. Training that molds, corrects or perfects …
  2. Orderly, obedient, or restrained conduct; self control; self-restraint …
  3. Acceptance of or submission to authority and control order…
  4. Punishment given to train or correct; chastisement….
  5. Branch of instruction or knowledge; field of study…
  6. Set or system of rules for conduct.

A sense of “control” is apparent in all of the definitions; but the locus of control changes depending on whether one uses discipline as a noun or a verb. The fourth definitions, for example, seems to indicate that one is providing control for another, which means I will discipline you [ a verb].Number one indicates the use of training as the process of helping persons gain discipline [a noun].

Some might argue that punishment is really a method of training, but when we remember about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, we realize how ineffective such methods have been. We want to use the word discipline as a noun, as in self-control. Discipline is an end, not a means. The aim of the staff is to foster a commitment to social responsibility, rather than to compel obedience to a rule.

This means that the staff role is that of a teacher, not a cop. Teaching responsibility by a deductive [general to specific] approach embodies the notion that clients can evaluate their own behavior, which is one reason that a deductive approach is highly successful.

The staff provide the client with a conceptual framework for assessing their own behavior. Once that framework has been established, the pattern for self-evaluation is set. The process for developing social responsibility then follows a constructivist approach, which emphasizes thinking, understanding and self-control. Constructivist teaching is based on the notion that humans are constructors of their own knowledge, rather than merely reproducers of someone else’s knowledge.

Institutional relationships are for the most part involuntary. Clients usually don’t choose either staff or mates and the same will be true for the future workplace. Fostering social responsibility, therefore, means developing the social skills needed to coalesce with strangers, to form working relationships that may or may not incorporate friendship [voluntary association].

A Social Responsibility Program employs seven practices:

  1. Communicate responsibility, not victimization. Regardless of the situation, stimulus, or urge, people choose their own responses.
  2. Provide Choices. Choice empowers. It is a fundamental principle in motivation.
  3. Teach self-evaluation. No lasting skills will be developed until clients “own” them and can examine their own behaviors. Covey wrote, in all my experiences I have never seen lasting solutions to problems, lasting happiness and success, that came from the outside in”.
  4. Encourage self-correction. This is the natural outcome of self-evaluation and the essential next step in developing social responsibility.
  5. Discuss motivation. Acting responsibly is more gratifying through intrinsic motivation.
  6. Be positive. Clients learn and perform better when they feel good. Punishment, or the threat of punishment, is not useful in this program.
  7. Be tough without being punitive. Growth is greater when authority is used without punishment. Being tough means here “sticking to your point”, being persistent in placing the choice and the responsibility on the client.

Assume for a moment that one client hits another client, and the other hits back. The staff sees only the action of the second client and calls him on it. The client says “he made me do it”. Is this a justifiable response or not? Both clients made the choice to hit. Clients need to learn that regardless of the stimulus – people have a choice of responses and that a social responsibility lesson is owning one’s choice.

External thinking – “he made me do it – makes “victims” of individuals who might otherwise exercise social responsibility. The message of social responsibility is that you may not be responsible for the circumstances you find yourself in; but you are always responsible for your behavior in those circumstances most clearly articulated by Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning.

A Social Development Program follows a three-phase model:

  • teaching vocabulary and concepts
  • checking for understanding
  • using guided choices

Vocabulary and Concepts

Marshall suggests the use of four levels of social development concepts:

A. Anarchy: This means “without rule” and represents the lowest level of social behavior. An absence of governance.

B. Bother: Bullies and botherers boss others, behave boisterously, break rules and behave only when the threat of punishment looms. They do not exercise self-control.

C. Conformity: Conforming people are compliant, cooperative and considerate of others, but their motivation for doing so is external rather than internal.

D. Democratic: This is the highest level of social responsibility in which the adolescent develops self-reliance, civility and a sense of responsibility for classroom community. The client chooses good behavior from a sense of self-evaluation and self-correction.

The difference between Conformity and Democracy is motivation, not action. Conforming is necessary in any society, but the democracy level is certainly the level that staff should want clients to attain when they go back out into the world.

Effectively teaching clients about standards requires more than just introducing and defining the vocabulary. Adolescents need to be actively engaged in constructing their own examples of each level, making the examples specific to their own situations. They can share examples in small groups or the entire group can create example scenarios set in the classroom, school or neighborhood.

Teaching vocabulary and forming concepts about the levels of behavior is the foundation of the entire program.

Teaching vocabulary and concepts:

  • fosters communication;
  • creates awareness of social responsibility as a value;
  • encourages clients to exercise self-control;
  • emphasizes that clients choose their own level of behavior;
  • encourages clients to maintain an environment conducive to learning, rather than always relying on the staff person to do so;
  • helps clients to distinguish between inappropriate behavior and the person who behaves inappropriately [separates the act from the actor; and
  • provides the first of the three-part strategy to create and maintain a positive, noncoercive learning environment.

Checking for understanding: unobtrusive techniques

  • eye contact;
  • facial expression;
  • looking at the disrupting client for a second or two beyond the normal – but with a slight smile;
  • a nod of the head;
  • a change in voice [such as a pause, inflection, or reducing volume almost to a whisper];
  • moving to a new location;
  • a signal for attention, such as all raising hands;
  • a release of tension, such as breathing out and then taking a deep breath in;
  • a variety of “ssshhhh”, such as “You sssshhhhould be listening now”;
  • a subtle hint, such as “Thank You, John” or “Please, Sandy”;
  • a friendly request, such as “thank you for your attention” or “Please ask yourself if that meets the standards of the class”, or
  • a friendly question, such as “if your could do something about that, what would you choose?”

What is being suggested is that clients may self-correct after a reminder of the concepts that they have learned. But , of course, not all clients will. If the disruption cannot be handled unobtrusively, then a direct application of CHECKING FOR UNDERSTANDING may be required. Checking for understanding is a questioning strategy.

The key to successfully using the checking for understanding lies in having taught the four levels. Using this common base of understanding, the staff person can move into a guidance mode when a disruption occurs by simply asking the client to identify the behavioral level of his or her actions.

The client is not asked to describe the behavior; just the behavior level:

Staff : On what level is that behavior?
Client: I don’t know.
Staff : Tell me a civility standard in our class.
Client: Not to be talking when someone else is.
Staff : Then you are making your own standards. What level is that?
Client: Bother
Staff : Thank you.

Staff : On what level is that behavior?
Client: He was doing it, too.
Staff : That was not the question. On what level is that behavior?
Client: I don’t know.
Staff : The letter comes right after A in the alphabet. What letter comes after A?
Client: B.
Staff : Thank you.

Staff : Would it be right for everyone to operate on that level?
Client: No.
Staff : What level do we call it when someone makes his own rules and bothers others?
Client: I don’t know.
Staff : As capable as you are, that is hard to believe. Class, can anyone help?

The purpose of checking for understanding is to help the disrupting client simply to acknowledge the level of social responsibility s/he is exhibiting.

When the client acknowledges the level of behavior, the misconduct usually not only stops, and some apologize. The staff does not ask the client to apologize. The apology is offered as a natural by-product of accepting responsibility.

Once clients understand that the staff is not going to punish, a more positive climate is created. Adolescents who do not fear punishment can more readily

– acknowledge inappropriate behavior,
– self-evaluate,
– take ownership, and
– develop a plan for better behavior.

Not punishing the client and not telling the client what to do can lead to a fundamental change in the environment.

Assure that the questioning used in checking is neither coercive nor negative; it is a way for the staff person to guide the client to acknowledge a level of behavior. Ineffective questioning can be counterproductive. Asking “what are you doing” can lead to an unproductive confrontation or justification. Asking, “what level is that behavior?” refers to the levels previously taught and is merely a check of understanding. The dialogue is not confrontational, but obviously can be made so with the tone of voice and body language.

When a client has acknowledged level-B behavior and again disrupts the class, authority without punishment is used. This is the third phase of the social development programs: guided choice.

GUIDED CHOICES: predetermined choices are given in the form of questions. The person who asks the questions controls the situation. However, as long as the client can make a decision, regardless of how small it is, his/her dignity can be preserved and confrontation can be avoided. Learning social responsibility is like any other type of learning. Students are not punished for not learning math; they are given opportunities to learn, relearn and practice.

A simple written form that contains three questions might be used:

– What did I do?
– What can I do to prevent it from happening again?
– What will I do?

Any form used should meet two criteria: it should foster reflection and involve future planning.

Guided choice also means using authority without being confrontational. A form could be handed out with one of the following questions:

– “Would you rather complete the activity in your seat or in the rear of the room?”
– would you rather complete the activity by yourself or would you prefer to have someone help you?
– “Would you rather complete the activity in the classroom or in the office?”

The specific question will depend on the staff person’s appraisal of the client and the situation. Prosocial problem solving may also be included: Is that a good choice or a bad choice?

Marshall suggests that there are two benefits to guided choice: first, the disruptive client can be isolated from the activities so the rest of the group can continue, and second, the client is given a responsibility-producing activity.

When the form is completed, the staff person quickly glances at it to see if the client has acknowledged responsibility for the disruption. If not, the form is returned to the client or a new form is given, with the simple admonition that the client has not acknowledged responsibility. If the client acknowledges responsibility the client rejoins the class activities.

One way to show the client that the staff person is only interested in the client’s growth – not in punishment – is for the staff person to discard the form in front of the client.

The hard part is to treat this as a “learning experience” rather than as a punishment or threat. We are so used to playing the role of the controller, it is difficult to change our own behavior.

When a client feels powerless and loses respect or dignity, confrontation is likely. Confrontation decreases the potential for learning social responsibility and also may escalate a minor disruption into a major loss of instructional time and focus.

One of the interesting things about oppositional or confrontational incidents is that they require two people. The issue that is being addressed is how to change the staff person behavior in order to get different client behavior.

Even if the disrupting client communicates that s/he will not complete the self-evaluation form, the client is still given a choice. The staff person may enter into the prosocial ritual of helping the client think out the problem. “Stop and think!” “Is that a good choice or a bad choice?” “What other choices could you make? “

If all else fails, the staff person might say “John, I would much prefer to have you remain with the class. However, if you choose to make your own rules, it would not be appropriate to stay in the class because of that B level behavior.” this is particularly effective if the rest of the group helped to devise the standards.

The staff person would then move away from the client, giving the client space and an opportunity to reflect on his choice.

The staff person should always try to maintain an acceptance of the client, even while rejecting the client’s behavior. One way to do that is to always invite the client back once they are able to control their own behavior.

What is not stated of course is that this is often difficult for staff persons to do with clients who are challenging. However, a positive message within the context of using authority can work wonders or the way the child views himself, other and the future.

Guided choice is a win-win strategy. The staff person wins because s/he uses a nonstressful, non-confrontational guidance approach that permits a quick return to the lesson. The client wins because his or her dignity is preserved and the time-out activity is a learning opportunity.

This still leave us open to the desire of clients to use such behavior to avoid situations that they don’t want to be in? But it also does two other things: first, it avoids escalating the issue into larger problems, and second, it opens an avenue for communication about the way the client makes choices.


In cases where a client continues to be disruptive, completing a self-diagnostic referral form can be the next step.

– Describe the problem that resulted in getting this assignment.
– Tell the level of behavior
– Explain this level.
– Explain how the behavior is on this level.
– When acting on this level, on what level must the staff person act?
– is this how you want to be treated?
– Why or why not?
– On what level should you have acted to be social responsible?
– if you had acted on this level, how would the situation have been different?
– List three solutions to the problem that you could use to act more responsibly.

Obviously, the staff person [program] will need a series of steps to deal with continuing behavior issues. This level, according to Marshall, is the beginning of documentation. The form is kept in the file.

If a second self-diagnostic referral form were to be filled out by the client, a copy of the first and second would go home, along with a note to the parents.

We need to begin to think about the program in terms of the entire facility, for many reasons, but most importantly because of the potential that the process begins to move out of the group at this point. Should the referral go first to the director’s office? If not, at what point do we notify the director?

A third self-diagnostic report would implement a rule of “three strikes and you are out”. Copies of all three self-diagnostic referrals would be mailed to the parent along with a second parent note indicating that the staff person has exhausted every means to foster social responsibility and asking for suggestion from the parents. The purpose of this is to involve the entire family in seeking solutions. With other parts of the program, a social learning intervention with parents is being carried out, and this is a time to bring these strands together.

Also the staff may choose to use individual instructional learning packets in order to help the client review the basic concepts of social responsibility within the area of difficulty. Clinical staff providing the Decision Program should also be included at this time.


– be proactive
– neither reward nor punish
– use a guiding approach
– provide choice
– rest all strategies on sound education principles
– view the group as the ideal setting in which to teach social responsibility, and the disruption as a teachable moment.

The real power of the staff person is seen not in what clients do when they are with staff persons, but in what they do when they are not.

Guided choice also means using authority without being confrontational. A form could be handed out with one of the following questions:

– “Would you rather complete the activity in your seat or in the rear of the room?”
– would you rather complete the activity by yourself or would you prefer to have someone help you?
– “Would you rather complete the activity in the classroom or in the office?”

The specific question will depend on the staff person’s appraisal of the client and the situation.