How to Handle Student Discipline in School

Misty Hance
Misty Hance
Assistant School Principal; Ed.D. in School Leadership, Carson-Newman University, TN
Discipline written on chalkboard

Although it may differ at each school, I want to take a moment to address office referrals for misbehavior in the classroom. Please know that I am bringing this information about student discipline to you from the viewpoint of both a teacher and an administrator.

Establish Yourself as an Authority Figure

The first thing to keep in mind is that the principal and a student discipline referral should be your last resort. If you start giving office referrals for silly, minor misbehaviors, then students will not see you as their authority figure. You desperately need to establish that you are the main authority of your classroom. Students are to respect your position and know that your rules are there to be followed, and consequences will be given when rules are disobeyed. A good way to get student buy-in for your rules and consequences is to have your class help you create them, such as those found in a behavior management plan, but that is a topic for another time.

Just remember, your principal has a lot of responsibilities. He or she will willingly help with problematic situations. However, many things are best dealt with in the classroom. Things like typical age-related behaviors – a kindergartener sticking his tongue out or a third grader calling her classmate stupid because she dropped her paper – need to be handled in the classroom. Yes, they may be disruptive, and they may be mildly disrespectful; but your administrator is expecting you to be the adult, the professional, the disciplinarian.

Make sure each misbehavior within your classroom has only one punishment, and that it meets the level of the misbehavior. If a kindergarten boy sticks his tongue out because he doesn’t get his way, he needs an immediate, quick time-out. Remember, the younger the child, the more fleeting his or her memory. Don’t punish a young child on Friday for something they did on Tuesday. They won’t be able to connect it.

When to Give a Student a Referral

There are some times that you just can’t avoid writing an office referral for a student. This might be if a child has gone through the allotted number of misbehavior steps – typically five to seven. Another situation that leads to an automatic office referral is if a child truly hurts another child. I’m not talking about accidents, and I’m not talking about a slight pinch or bump. If a child intentionally hurts or threatens another child, you need to remove them from the classroom immediately. Likewise, if you have a student who is refusing to leave the classroom, or leaves without permission with the intent of leaving the school grounds, then you need to speak to the principal. Lastly, if you must write a referral, do it within the same day.

Speaking as an administrator now, I appreciate the teachers who handle their daily disturbances. I also know that when a true issue arises and they send a student to me, that they need me. I will swiftly deal with that issue, knowing the teacher has exhausted all other avenues.

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