Keeping the Mileage off Your Discipline Tools

My witty seventh grade teacher used to say, “Come on now, air out those armpits!”

No, he wasn’t asking us to vent our stale areas–no junior high classroom needs more funky odors wafting about. What Mr. Vanden Berg wanted was participation, to see more hands in the air; and the statement worked because it was offbeat, unexpected.

We all crave freshness, don’t we? Not just pure air in the room when lunch recess is over–but new teaching activities for tattered lessons, and unspoiled responses for wearisome behaviors. In that vein, it was the originality of Love and Logic that drew me in when school finished in the spring. We’d seen the gamut with behavior: hyperactivity, pig-headedness and backtalk, hormones, and–especially burdensome–demeanors that emanated from a trauma that occurred at our school. My tank was empty, and this stuff was different, innovative.

But here’s the irony. The basic tenets of Love and Logic aren’t really that “fresh,” at least to anyone who is familiar with motivational research. Theorists have long understood the impact of showing empathy and compassion, of building positive relationships, and of teaching students to solve their own problems. The “sparkle” of Love and Logic is that its tools for implementing that philosophy are so accessible–easy to adopt. If you’ve had any exposure to the approach, you’re familiar with those famous “one-liners.” I’ve highlighted several that I hope to implement as occasions arise this fall:

  • I listen to students who raise their hand and wait to be called on.
  • I’m sorry you made that choice.
  • You’ve created a problem, and you need to do something about it. If you choose to do nothing, I will do something.

I can’t help but like the way the authors guide teachers to remain calm while helping students assume responsibility for the problems students themselves have created. And I love the blend of frankness and subtle humor in some of those responses, such as this one for kiddos who wear me down with their whining or random noises:

Would you mind saving that for Mrs. De Wit? She really likes that stuff. Ha! What a gas!

And there’s this dandy for those caught in a habit of whining or bickering: I argue at recess and after school daily. Brilliant!

Of course, we can’t forget the philosophy of Love and Logic if we wish to realize the full impact of statements like those. A context of sincere empathy is essential; even a smidgeon of sarcasm would ruin the whole effect. But if the foundation of understanding and compassion remains intact, the methods of the approach look promising.

One thing makes me wonder, though: how do we keep our methods fresh, whether we’re drawing from Love and Logic or some other approach? Tools wear out after a time, especially our favorites.

Take this one, for example: I used to curb roughhousing in the classroom by making offenders perform chores during break time, like sweeping stray pebbles off the concrete outside. The penalty included exercise–which all children need–but it deterred the behavior because culprits missed out on playing with their friends. Eventually, though, I had to scrap that punishment and invent a new one because other kiddos–in their unceasing creativity!–found ways to torment the sweepers, and they teased me about how many victims I had roped in with my labor scheme. Takes a sense of humor to survive in teaching, doesn’t it?

So, what do you think? How do you maintain the vigor in your discipline methods?

  • If your school has adopted a particular approach, like Love and Logic–and students hear the same responses from multiple teachers–do those responses start to lose their potency after a while?
  • What can be done to keep our “discipline tools” from showing their mileage?
  • If our presumptions about children and the nature of wrongdoing are clearly established, do we find our tools easier to repair–or replace–when they wear out?

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