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To prevent the breakdown of discipline in your school
Learning Years

Adapted article. First published in the Kleuterklanke/Learning years Vol 24 no 2 Winter/Spring 1999

What do we do to prevent the breakdown of discipline in our school?

Every teacher, whether in preschool or in the foundation phase will agree that the majority of children in their groups are normally well behaved. Disciplinary problems are however like measles. It starts with one or two children and left unchecked, will quickly affect the whole group.

One of the managing skills teachers must have and develop is the ability to take swift decisions. If and when misbehaviour erupts a teacher has to take a decision how to handle it. Of course prevention is always better that cure in these cases!

When deciding to react the following aspects should be taken into consideration:

Types of intervention 


Smaller distractions and minor cases of inattention can usually be ignored. Misbehaviour is also rewarded by negative reactions from the teacher. A learner seeking attention would accept scolding or censure because it is better than no attention at all. The teacher should try and focus on positive behaviour and ignore negative behaviour. This type of intervention can be used effectively but it is also difficult and especially in the beginning, problematic. Initially a learner might increase the disruptive behaviour because he or she might think that you have not noticed it. You might also get the situation where a learner comes into your particular class with the experience that his attention seeking actually worked in other situations and he or she has the same expectations from you.

Preventative intervention

Effective managers always try to prevent major eruptions of misbehaviour by intervening early. You as a teacher should be aware of the “temperature” of the class as a whole and also observe and assess individual learners in terms of misbehaviour. Moving casually to a learner, making eye contact, shaking your head, lifting your hand to indicate “wait”, are all ways to prevent interruptions and problems. Non-verbal strategies can be powerful ways to restore order while at the same time maintaining the work pace of the class. Research has shown that these strategies were able to restore order 79% of the times.

Verbal reprimands

Verbal reprimands are probably the most widely used of teacher techniques to restore order in the classroom. Research has shown that the incidence of verbal reprimands can be as high as one every 2 minutes! In fact, as teachers we often reprimand much more than what we praise. Good teachers can use reprimands in a very effective manner:

Effective teachers view these instances as opportunities to help learners acquire better learning behaviour. They do not see it as an opportunity to punish.

Forcing the learner to repeat the correct behaviour

Sometimes a learner would leave a class in anger and bang the door behind him or throw books or toys on the floor. The teacher would then request the learner to correct the situation by coming back and acting correctly. This is often used for learners with problems with self-regulation and self-discipline.


Sometimes it is effective to remove an offender, trying to get attention through misbehaviour, from the group and isolate the learner or bar him from participating. With younger learners this is often very effective in cases of aggression. There are a few rules to be remembered when applying this method:


Punishment has been part of classroom for a long time. It is intended to make it unpleasant for the culprit to repeat the misbehaviour. Effective teachers use punishment as a last resort; and effective punishment is brief and mild. Positive punishment gives learners the opportunity for restitution and they will have normal status afterwards. This is important – often teachers (and parents) keep coming back to misbehaviour that should have been forgotten and buried. This results in feelings of frustration and revenge in learners and can escalate misbehaviour in the classroom.

Potential problems with punishment

There are many critics of punishment. Their problems with punishment are the following:

Teachers often think out complex systems and end up by punishing themselves! Keep it simple, swift, appropriate and practical. Classroom life is after all much more important than punishment. If a learner disrupted a class and you have to do filing or cleaning after school, let the learner help you and use that time for contact and communication with the learner. You get time to teach about life and the learner gets time to appreciate the complex task of the teacher.

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