It is the first full week of August, and that brings about the third week of the school year at our high school. I enjoy getting past the early days and first few weeks of school. Everyone is finally settling in and classes are really beginning to move. As I have reflected on the first couple of weeks of school, it makes me wonder why we continue to start school years the way we do. The first few days are often about classroom expectations and covering the syllabus. We tell students what they can and cannot do. Do we really believe that students do not know how they should behave or act in school by the time the get to high school? I am not saying they always act or behave in the most desirable way, but they have heard this same spiel for years. If they have not figured it out yet, do we really think by doing the same thing, repeating the same old lines that have not worked for years… again, in the exact same way, is going to get us anything different. Yet, we continue to repeat it year after year so that later when students do not follow along, we can say, “You know you should not do that, I talked about this on day one!”

For the students whom this opening day talk “works” for getting them to behave, honestly, they would have behaved with or without the conversation. And, for those students who it has not worked for yet to create positive behaviors in the past, it will continue to not work. It does not work for those students because compliance and obedience only go so far. Those who have discipline problems, typically continue to have discipline problems. Those who do not engage in school, often continue to disengage from school. We say the same thing over and over and expect it to have different results. For students who do not have the skills to manage their own behavior, they receive what we consider some sort of discipline. It is a cycle for many students that never ends. Fail to comply, receive discipline, rest and repeat…

Sometimes, I find it interesting to look at the definitions of the words I am contemplating when I find myself stuck in these ideas. So, here they are:

  • Compliance – the action or fact of complying with a wish or command
  • Obedience – compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority.
  • Discipline – two definitions:
    • the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.
    • a branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education.

With compliance, you are doing something because it is a rule; and obedience, is doing something because someone told you to. In discipline, one definition is about building that compliance or obedience – the other is about study. Yet, when we discipline students we often live in the compliance or obedience world. We believe students should follow along because: it is a rule, because I said so, or because it is what you are suppose to do in this setting. Those are not bad things, but we must see beyond these ideas in our educational system.


While compliance or obedience may help a student function in a classroom, it alone will not help them be successful in the world outside of school. And, in all honesty, if our classrooms only build compliance, we need to examine the culture we are creating inside those four walls.

As we move past the first couple weeks of school, let’s be sure we are also moving past building compliance and obedience in our classroom. We need to involve students in the decision making process, especially when that comes to behavior norms of our school. Working collaboratively with kids will help us find solutions and build skills that students really need to have to achieve discipline on their own. The goal of any discipline should be to create self-discipline, not just to drive blind compliance or obedience.

You may be thinking that this is backwards and time consuming, and… you are correct. But, if we think about the skills we need to build in our students to be successful after school, collaborative thinking, conversation, and reasoning are much more important than doing something because you are told. Sure there are rules, and we must all learn to follow them, but we need to stretch kids to do more and be more as many jobs are no longer just following rote instructions to the letter, and having no autonomy. We are way past the industrial revolution where your level of obedience determines your success. We are teaching 21st century learners who need to be prepared to work collaboratively and think independently in an ever-changing world, The world has evolved, the work has evolved. We have to make sure in education we are matching this change. We cannot remain largely unchanged in our practices despite the world around us.

Going forward this year, take the time to build skills in students that will help them be successful in the world they will face after high school. Work collaboratively to solve discipline problems, work collaboratively to solve academic problems, work collaboratively to build our students into the people they need to become to be successful in an ever-changing world.

Keep learning, keep growing, keep sharing!

2 thoughts on “Disciplined

  1. Pingback: For to From | Leading and Learning

  2. Great thoughts here. Personally… some of the skills I use in my life now… that are valued… communication, collaboration…. had me spending my 4th grade year in the back of the room by the art cart. “ talks too much” “bothers others”.


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