Designing Strategies for Sustainable Discipline

Topics: Equity and Diversity

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education has released a fact sheet detailing evidence-based approaches to effective school discipline policies, “Creating and Sustaining Discipline Policies That Support Students’ Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Academic Well-Being and Success: Strategies for School and District Leaders.”

When designing disciplinary policies and practices, school leaders must consider whether practices are designed to punish or promote responsive relationships and safe, supportive, and equitable learning environments. If the goal is to improve student behavior, interventions should focus on teaching and supporting appropriate behavior with evidence-based, nonpunitive interventions and supports.

Discipline implemented in this way teaches young people the skills necessary to manage their behavior and helps them learn from mistakes. By centering approaches on a positive school climate, administrators can reduce the behaviors that warrant disciplinary action in intensity and frequency.

Punishment-Based Versus Responsive Discipline Practices

The report recommends reflecting on current disciplinary policies with staff, students, families, and the community, contrasting the following markers:

Punishment-Based Discipline PracticesResponsive Discipline Practices
Exclusionary, punitive, transactionalInclusionary, supportive, restorative,
Rely on power and controlRely on relationships and
Penalty for bad behavior; making a child suffer for breaking rules; barrier to learningTeach child skills to manage their behavior; help them learn from mistakes; facilitate learning
Done toDone with
ReactiveProactive, responsive
Leave a child with shame and guiltLeave a child’s dignity intact
Activate stress response (fight, flight, or freeze)Activate relaxation response
Deficit-orientedAsset- and growth-oriented
Technical strategiesAdaptive strategies
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