PUBLICATIONS (Positive Discipline)
Positive About Discipline
A system of discipline that can work in South African schools
by Avril Knott-Craig
Quaker Peace Centre
Paper presented at THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON LEARNER DISCIPLINE held at the North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa, 2-4 April 2007.
This paper examines positive discipline as an effective discipline system currently working in schools in South Africa.
1 THE PAPER HAS THE FOLLOWING OBJECTIVES
- To describe the contextual background
- To introduce pertinent Quaker values and the reason for development of a non-violent form of discipline
- To outline positive discipline principles
- To review positive discipline in practice
- To make recommendations.
In 1996, corporal punishment was prohibited in schools in terms of the South African Schools’ Act (Section 10.1.) Teachers, who relied solely on corporal punishment for discipline at school, still grapple with the problem of what to do to replace corporal punishment.
The information is derived from anecdotal evidence, gained from fieldwork and through direct contact with role players, and from monitoring the behaviour of participants before and after our training in positive discipline.
Methods of informal interviews and participant observation were employed. The recommendations were derived from our experience in training teachers in positive discipline.
Currently corporal punishment is still used by South African teachers. I observe that schools using corporal punishment experience the most serious discipline issues. The continued use of this practice sustains the false belief that it is acceptable to solve problems using violence.
An authoritarian system of punishment
Apartheid education relied on an authoritarian system of punishment and corporal punishment was the accepted form of discipline. Consequently many schools do not have planned discipline approaches or written policies to guide them through disruptive behaviour. Many South African teachers were brought up with corporal punishment and it is the only model they know. I observe a trend among teachers to seek revenge in situations of conflict with their learners. They want the learner to pay and suffer for the bad behaviour. They believe that in order for that learner to behave better in the future she/he has to first feel worse and suffer. These attitudes are indicative of the justifiable anger and perceived powerlessness of teachers, but violent discipline in schools is prohibited in accordance with the South African School’s Act (Section 10.1) and any person who contravenes subsection 1 is guilty of an offence.
The need for revenge in conflict situations tends to escalate the levels of anger in both teacher and learner, to the point where only lashing out verbally and / or physically actually gives any satisfaction.
The role of media in violence
South Africa is plagued by violent behaviour; television glamorises violence while the media report violent behaviour that threatens innocent lives daily. Learners often watch television without adult supervision because it is often used as a babysitting tool. Learners are exposed to a variety of anti-social behaviours all acted out in the name of entertainment and marketed as “action”. Soap operas espouse questionable values and provide role models who are shallow, sentimental and devious. The Cartoon Network channel portrays violence as a form of entertainment. I have noticed that learners often act out, in the playground and in the classroom, what they see on television. Glamorised and gratuitous violence sends out the message that violence is an appropriate way to get rid of your problems and regular exposure to this has a negative influence on learner behaviour.
Many South Africans argue that corporal punishment is advocated in the scriptures and is part of their religious practice. Others argue that corporal punishment is entrenched in their culture. These beliefs preclude the possibility of change. Slavery was condoned in Biblical times (Exodus 21.7); should we continue to condone it in 2007?
The prohibition of corporal punishment in schools
Teachers claim that the removal of corporal punishment has led to the increase of violence in our schools.
If corporal punishment was so effective why did it have to be implemented on such a regular basis and involve the same pupils? I argue that its fear and discomfort factors are short-lived.
Students at university argue that they were hit as children and are fine so what’s wrong with hitting? It’s so much easier to hit than develop new systems of discipline. The problem with this argument is that we will never know what they might have been like, had they never been hit.
Punishment is like an antibiotic. As bacteria strains mutate and become stronger so too must the antibiotic, until the only antibiotic that will work is one that will kill you along with the bacteria. Punishment loses its effectiveness over time, which is why we have learners today who say: “Why can’t you just give me cuts and get it over and done with?”
Violent behaviour in schools
Several factors have contributed to the upsurge in violent behaviour at school. Apart from television violence, the removal of trained arts and sports teachers and their associated programmes from most schools has resulted in the loss of safe, controlled environments in which learners can experience and learn to deal with, the emotional turmoil associated with dysfunctional backgrounds and growing up. Learners no longer have the benefit of arts and sports to give vent to their frustrations and confusions. I started my career as a drama teacher in an area plagued by gang violence. Many learners’ parents were trapped in extortion systems by gangsters who demanded “protection money”. In the drama room we were able to act out and analyse fears, frustrations and anger in safe, simulated real life situations. We dealt with emotional issues and learners expressed how they really felt. Once the feelings were exposed, we were able to discuss them and channel the energy into non-violent forms of expression and behaviour. We used to practise for life. Very few learners these days are given the opportunity to express and discuss their feelings, fears or needs. Frustrations and fears are channelled into anti-social expressions of anger and conflict. The drama class, and indeed all arts classes, bring about order from confusion, and in sport, learners are able to release pent up energy and experience the benefits of belonging to a team as well as having to learn, and conform to, the rules of the game.
Western Cape education authorities are re-introducing arts programmes to schools but the teachers assigned to these subjects are not all trained in the field. The result is that we have a group of fed up and insecure teachers of the arts who really don’t know what to do.
In South African schools with class sizes of 40 or more we must expect disruption. There are too many bodies in a cramped, often hot, space, and conflict will happen. This situation puts added strain on both teacher and learner. While we must lobby to the Minister of Education for a change to this situation we must also make provision in our schools for the inevitable eruption of conflict. Schools have to cater for disruptive learners.
Support for teachers
Teaching is a stressful and challenging occupation. Many teachers are de-motivated and feel hopeless. The curriculum is demanding and overloaded with administrative duties. These factors, combined with some very obstructive learners, are driving teachers out of the profession. While a system of positive discipline can bring about some order in chaos it cannot remove the stress from the job or guarantee a smooth ride. Teachers have to inject some fun into their lives. They need to look after themselves and strengthen themselves for the job ahead. We need robust teachers who are self-aware and have their self-esteem intact. Learning how to manage anger is also a necessary tool to add to the already heavy toolbox that we carry around. Recently a teacher told me that their parents have scant respect for the profession and regarded teachers as just another of their employees along with the gardener and the plumber. This attitude of disrespect filters down to the pupils. Teachers must assert themselves in the face of this attitude and boost their self-esteem so that when confronted with attitudes of disrespect they can respond respectfully without prejudice or collapse.
The Quaker Peace Centre strives to build a peaceful society, in which no form of violence is condoned. Corporal punishment is deemed violent and damaging to the dignity of the individual. This research into systems of positive discipline arose in response to requests from teachers in 2000, who asked: If we can’t hit them what can we do?
“The Quaker emphasis in education probably lies in non-violence, in participation, and in caring. Not only to run the school without violence, but to produce young people who will feel a concern to reduce the level of violence in the world.” (Quaker faith and practice 23.74, 1994)
“We Quakers say that we have no creed. We almost do! For nearly all of us would say we believe in ‘that of God in everyone’. That is why some of us in Northern Ireland do speak to the men of violence. It does not mean we agree with what they do. It does mean believing in the good that is in everyone and in the potential for growth and change that is in us all.” (Quaker faith and practice 29.08, 1994)
If everyone has the potential to change, then we must begin to develop the individual who can bring about change in our environment, and in our schools.
PRINCIPLES OF POSITIVE DISCIPLINE
Schools today compete with many fashionable trends. Learners are exposed to many different cultures – gang, street, Hip-Hop, TV, crime, political, home and religious cultures.
All of these influences come into our classrooms and not all of them are welcome.
Even the very best teachers struggle with discipline at some point and wonder why there seems to be a general breakdown of discipline in South African schools.
Each school has to establish its own culture, ethos or climate.
Jan Carlzon, CEO of Scandinavian Airlines, appointed to transform the company in 1983 (Bengt Gustavsson 1999) began to establish a new culture for the organisation. Apparently he asked one of the workers what he understood by the phrase “the culture of the organisation”. The worker thought about it and suggested: “Isn’t it the way we do things around here?”
The culture of our school is the way we do things around here. These are the things we find acceptable and unacceptable and what we tolerate and do not tolerate.
Regardless of what you do at home or beyond the school gates this is the way we do it here. We need to establish a culture of respect in South African schools.
The Oxford dictionary defines respect as: due regard for the feelings and rights of others; avoid harming or interfering with; agree to recognise and abide by…
Bill Rogers in his book You know the Fair Rule (1998) suggests that respect is a commitment to an action. Respect is not about how we feel but rather about how we behave. If we are to develop learners who are socially well adjusted and able to function healthily in society we have to teach them respect for self and others.
At the beginning of each year teachers can brainstorm the word respect with their classes to draw up a code of conduct. Including the ideas of learners encourages ownership and also accommodates the individuality of each teacher. Schools need a broad definition of what is acceptable or not, to ensure consistency throughout. Some schools provide learners and parents with booklets of important information, including the codes of conduct. This obviates dealing with claims of ignorance of the rules and consequences. Teachers have to model the behaviour they wish to see. I have observed that at schools where the teachers come late, the learners come late, when teachers are often absent, learners are often absent, and the same applies to swearing. Many teachers believe in “Do as I say and not as I do” but that is disrespectful and it is also not acceptable to today’s youth, who, far from being retiring and in awe of authority, question and challenge in a way that indicates that they are thinking beings. A deputy principal in charge of discipline at a high school told me that he had to give up smoking after 15 years of addiction so that he could credibly challenge the learners at school who smoked.
Learners must feel better about themselves before they can do better. Schools must be places of safety where learners can develop healthy self-esteem and learn appropriate forms of emotional expression. School must prepare them for life and not just the exams. The punitive approach to behaviour management needs to be replaced with constructive forms of discipline that will teach the learner how to do better in the future and not repeat the same irresponsible behaviour.
Without consequences all of the rules and codes and policies are useless. Bill Rogers, Cracking the Hard Class (2000) explains: ”A consequence is the stated (or negotiated) outcome that relates to irresponsible behaviour.”
He adds that consequences should be related to the irresponsible behaviour, be reasonable, have regard for the dignity of the individual and include some learning value.
In positive discipline every action has a consequence. A positive action receives affirmation and a negative action is followed up with the appropriate consequence, always. Learners need to be taught about choosing behaviours and attached consequences. It is in the act of choosing a behaviour that they select the consequence or outcome. All offending behaviours and consequences should be specified and applied consistently throughout the school. Teachers have told me that they have the consequences in place but don’t have time to follow up. If this plan is not followed through to its conclusion, the behaviour at the school will deteriorate.
Positive discipline is not a soft approach to discipline; it ensures that everyone is responsible for his/her behaviour.
Equal emphasis needs to be placed on positive consequences or rewards. Rewards should not be material; they should acknowledge, affirm and recognise progress and achievement. Most learners respond well to being recognised as a success as it makes them feel good about themselves and boosts their self-esteem. Other kinds of rewards must hold currency for young people. Extra break is always popular, as is going home earlier than the rest. Wearing civvies to school works in certain communities. I note that teachers spend most of their time on the learners who disrupt. So if you want the teacher’s attention you have to be disruptive. The majority of the class usually just get on with it and are therefore ignored by the teacher. The 80/20 principle is useful here: teachers should spend 80% of their time tending to the 80% who work well and only spend 20% of their time on the minority who disrupt.
Rights and responsibilities:
Young people today are aware of their rights. They know they have the right to be educated and the teacher cannot deny them this. Equally true is the fact that, with the right to be educated comes the responsibility to attend school regularly and not prevent others from being taught. Schools need to teach learners and parents about the relationship between rights and responsibilities and duties. When a responsibility is neglected, a privilege may be suspended. Break at school with your friends can be regarded as a privilege. If you behave irresponsibly during break you may be told to have break alone under the supervision of a teacher. Being taught in the same class as your peers can be considered a privilege. If you are disruptive you may be asked to do your work in another class with another age group where nobody will recognise you. The BBC Back to the Floor Video Series 1 on schools entitled “A Class Apart” features a community school that has a room called “the remove” where the “naughties” go if they are irresponsible in class. They work alone until they are willing and able to return to their class. Learners cannot be allowed to disrupt classes without facing the consequences.
The human relations component in schools is crucial. Relationships are key to transforming the school. All relationships need to be considered:
These relationships need to be built, maintained and healed after they break down. Unhealthy relationships at school create conflict, which exacerbates stress levels and has a negative impact on discipline in the school.
- Management and staff
- Teachers and colleagues
- Teachers and learners
- Staff and parents
- Learners and peers
A school’s greatest asset is its human resource, especially the teachers. They need support and care as they support and care for their learners. The role of the teacher has been transformed in the last decade from being a transmitter of knowledge to being a facilitator of learning. In order for learning to take place, the teacher has to be creative, inventive and robust.
Teachers have to build and maintain professional relationships of respect with learners. It is difficult to engage co-operatively with learners when there is neither relationship nor respect. This is when discipline problems occur. I believe that teaching is a relationship business and that those of us who are not good at relationships will not be good as teachers.
Most learners who disrupt classes know that they are misbehaving. Recognition and acknowledgement from them is the first step in the process of correcting the misbehaviour. It is the teacher’s role to build a relationship with each learner so that communication channels are open to enable the learner to acknowledge the disruptive behaviour. Accusation and confrontation evoke defensive responses, often expressed as defiance and anger. This process of questioning the reasons for the behaviour with the learner leads to acknowledgement of, and responsibility for, that behaviour.
An effective strategy is “checking in”. At the beginning of a lesson teachers can go around and ask each learner how they are feeling or to relate something good that has happened to them recently or perhaps, to say what it is that they would change about their circumstances if they could. The list of topics is endless and the exercise need not always take a long time. It is a way of getting to know your class and of building trust and relationships; after a while learners begin to enjoy the opportunity to talk about themselves.
“A leader leads by leading. A true leader whilst eager to carry his constituency with him sometimes has to take a stand that is not too popular with his followers. But the real leader then demonstrates his mettle by leading through leading. It requires courage to do this, but the leader recalls that the tortoise makes progress only when it sticks its neck out.” (Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu 2006)
Schools today require real leadership that is morally sound and courageous. I thought the tortoise an unlikely metaphor until I analysed it. A tortoise is vulnerable when it sticks its neck out: it is safer to hide in its shell and never move forward but then it will die. In order to bring about change in our schools we need leaders who are prepared to stick their necks out and challenge, as required. Principals, teachers and parents need to risk popularity to ensure that fair and right decisions are made. Teachers relate that parents are afraid of taking unpopular decisions because they want to be best friends with their children and so they give in, hoping to be liked. The result is a lack of respect from the children and the same can be said of principals and teachers. Leaders must lead, set the example and not tolerate threats from learners and parents.
School leaders should not become aloof and authoritarian. We need leaders who are approachable, consultative, charismatic; whose leadership style is caring and in control. Ultimately the leader sets the tone at the school and in the absence of clear adult leadership the learners tend to take over the role of the adults. It is at this point that the teachers begin to feel powerless.
Delivering the curriculum:
“...well-documented links between antisocial behavior and academic underachievement suggest that, as the difficulty of academic material increases, students with behavior problems will turn to off task and disruptive behavior in order to escape from academic demands.” (Center, Deitz and Kaufman 1982 in Safe & Responsive Schools Guide)
In my experience learners in class who do not know what to do, do not understand, or who are bored, will disrupt the lesson. They would rather be labelled uncooperative or naughty than appear stupid. They crack a joke or interfere with fellow learners but will seldom ask for assistance. Teachers need to make the lesson relevant to the experience of the learner and to include the experiences of the learners in the lesson; channel their excess energy into stimulating and challenging learning exercises and deal with the disruptive learners individually either immediately, or when the lesson is over, or when they have cooled off. Learners may not disrupt lessons. When I was teaching at high school a student teacher took my difficult class for a lesson in the last period of a hot day. He began with his back to the class writing copious notes on the board while the class became less and less interested. After about 10 minutes he realised that the class was very quiet. He turned around to find that half of them had escaped through the window. An astonished student came to call me to help him find his class. Naturally the offending learners were disciplined but it also had to be noted that the failure of the lesson was not the fault of the class.
Teachers have to engage the learners with stimulating, creative and challenging lessons that capture their interest and require their participation. In the delivery of a learning point the teacher today competes with a variety of technological media and gadgets that easily and quickly capture the attention of the learners. Lessons have to engage their imaginations and “get them thinking and feeling, get the adrenalin flowing” (Norah Morgan /Juliana Saxton 1994) so that they feel a need to participate and express themselves.
“A huge proportion of unwelcome behaviour can be traced to a problem with what students are being asked to learn” (Alfie Kohn 1996)
Teachers must be interested and interesting and put the fun back into learning.
Clear policies and monitoring:
Unambiguous policies and behaviour codes discussed and agreed upon, by management, teachers, parents and learners are essential. Everyone in the school community must be informed each year that this is the way we are going to do things and every incident of irresponsible behaviour must be dealt with consistently. They must be regularly informed of changes before they are implemented. Policies guide us when we deal with irresponsible behaviour and ensure that every case is dealt with consistently.
An unambiguous policy for cell phones, ipods and technological gadgets used in class is currently implemented by a high school in Cape Town. When these gadgets are used in class they are confiscated for the term. Learners can collect their gadgets on a day at the end of the term. If they do not collect their items they are donated to charity. Everybody knows that discipline processes are implemented and followed up and that consequences are applied.
Schools must keep behaviour records of troublesome learners and parents must be kept informed of these records so that the school has proof of its dealings with irresponsible behaviour when education authorities, parents or learners claim unfair practice.
POSITIVE DISCIPLINE IN PRACTICE
Schools with effective discipline systems have:
A maths and science school in Cape Town emphasises life orientation classes taught by a trained counsellor. Their aim: to produce mathematicians and scientists in touch with their feelings and able to express themselves. In an interview with the principal and learners I asked how they dealt with discipline problems and they said they didn’t really have any. All behaviour and activities are informed by the value of respect, the yardstick by which everyone’s conduct at the school is monitored. The motivated learners are given time and space to meet and discuss disputes and differences during the school day. They either request to go to the meeting room to sort out a dispute or are sent by a teacher. They return to class once a solution is reached and the teachers are able to get on with their job of teaching.
- Strong leadership
- An emphasis on the pastoral care of the learners and building of relationships
- Creative curriculum delivery, relevant to the life experience of the learners.
- Leadership at the school catering for the human resource development of the staff.
- Respect informing all systems and processes
- Teachers and leadership modelling respectful behaviour
- A system of actions and consequences in place and teachers focus on acknowledging success and improvement, not only on risky, disruptive behaviour.
- Consistency and follow up with appropriate responses.
- Healthy relationships and minimum conflict.
- An emphasis on developing communication skills.
Parkhurst Primary School in Mitchell’s Plain, Cape Town implemented systems of positive discipline in 2005. As a result they have been able to disband their discipline committee. Before positive discipline they had behaviour problems that made the teachers afraid to come to school. The Grade 7 learners were the most difficult: they brought weapons to school, were involved in sexual offences and smoking. The principal reports that the Grade 7 learners have become role models for the younger learners. She explains that the reduction in conflict at the school is due to the fact that both teachers and learners can now express themselves better. “The children love coming to school” (Madden C King E 2006). In 2006 Parkhurst Primary school parents requested instruction on positive discipline methods. The learners are using their improved communication skills to solve conflicts at home and this has intrigued parents.
The school has a cooperative atmosphere and all the educators and learners take responsibility. When learners are involved in a dispute amongst themselves, the principal invites them into her office, seats them at a small table and gets on with her work while they discuss the issue and try to sort it out themselves. Invariably they find a solution and return to class empowered and satisfied.
A principal at a primary school in Grassy Park, Cape Town, reported that he gives his teachers a day off every month in acknowledgement of their hard work. As a result the teachers are willing to work even harder. His decision has been opposed by the education authorities. He will not stop the practice until the authorities can prove to him that it is detrimental to the school. He has a staff attendance rate of 97% and teachers who are happy, co-operative and working harder than before. The parents are involved in the school and there is a minimum of discipline problems.
- Schools need unambiguous policies on contentious issues consistently applied.
- Popular television programmes can be used as teaching tools to encourage critical thinking and debate.
- Management, teachers, learners, maintenance staff, parents and the governing body must all be clear and consistent about the way things are done and the established culture of the school must dominate once one passes through the school gates.
- The punitive culture must be transformed to a culture of respect.
- Everyone at school must be held accountable for their behaviour.
- Solutions for behaviour problems must be found to prevent recurrence. Suspension within the school in a room apart, a “remove” is recommended.
- Consistency and fairness are key ingredients for managing discipline as well as 100% co-operation and commitment from staff. The onus is on adults to replace violence and chaos with a culture of respect and learning.
- Teachers and training institutions must lobby and advocate for smaller classes.
- Education authorities must exercise sanctions against teachers using corporal punishment.
- Teacher training institutions must deliver courses in positive discipline.
- Schools must teach teachers, learners and parents about positive discipline systems with funding for training supplied by the Departments of Education and Social Development.
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Madden C King E 2006 Exploring the Impact of Positive Discipline Programmes in Schools and Families in the Western Cape Cape Town Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (Rapcan)
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Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) 1995 Quaker faith & practice Britain Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Revised Standard Version 1952 The Bible William Collins Sons & Co Ltd New York Glascow Toronto
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South African Parliament 1996 South African Schools Act of 1996 Section 10 (1) Pretoria http://www.parliament.gov.za
Tutu D 2006 Real Leadership Cape Town Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust Tenth Anniversary Memorial Lecture
Avril Knott-Craig is the project leader of the positive discipline project at the Quaker Peace Centre.
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