School Discipline

School discipline is a hot topic in South Africa. When a person learns I have taught and led schools in Dallas and now in Shanghai, one of their first questions is something like, "In America and China, how do students behave and how do teachers and principals handle student discipline?" I also recently caught the tail end of a discipline discussion on a local South African radio station. Some listeners expressed concerns regarding the student discipline situation in South Africa. The radio piece prompted me to reflect on my experiences with chronically misbehaving students.

When a child chronically misbehaves, we basically have two choices. We can blame the child (or parent or lack of parental support). We can choose to think that the child is a bad child. "The child is wired to make bad choices." Or we can look at the situation in which the misbehavior occurred, and reflect on whether we as the educator could do something differently in the future. How can we change the environment in the days ahead in an effort to alleviate some or possibly all of the triggers that are causing the child to chronically misbehave?

If we choose to blame the child, frankly, I think we are in a hopeless situation. Let's focus on what WE CAN DO. We are the adult, the teacher, the defining factor in every classroom. How we as teachers view children makes the difference between whether we quickly blame the child or whether we make a commitment to work with the child to bring about long-term positive change. We can mold children into respectful and responsible adults.

Throughout my teaching and school leadership career, I have had students every year that require a greater level of mental and emotional energy. Whether it's energy to improve academically or behaviorally, or both, we are in the business of student improvement. We are in education for EVERY child. We shape children, ALL children. We do not look for excuses. We are natural problem-solution people. A child is struggling in math, so we work hard to meet his/her individual learning needs. We don't write them off; we don't marginalize them. We treat every child as a gift, no matter their socioeconomic status, skin color, or whether they consistently make poor behavior choices. We treat all 180 school days as if it were one of the last days we have with a child. The last day to make a impact. Everyday, we choose to make a positive impact on every child under our care, whether a class of 16 students or 36. All children.

Changing a chronically misbehaving child's behavior is one of the most difficult jobs an educator faces. It's NOT easy. It requires a time commitment, clear expectations, an individualized plan of action, follow-through, and lots of love and care. A RELATIONSHIP.

We, as adults, have in the past changed, usually not when we were forced to change, but when someone, a friend or colleague, invested time in building a relationship with us. Encouraging, supporting, and guiding us through the change. Let's treat every child with respect and build the positive relationship with them that they so desperately need.

For some practice-proven discipline techniques, see my "Consequences for Misbehavior” post -

With something to think about, this is Mr. Russell. Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours (I end my daily intercom announcements with this phrase).

Wayne Russell


Shanghai, China

Tweeting @GlobalEdNow