The Discipline of Teaching

More dogears from Smith

Real discipline, I would argue, is not always a matter of driving yourself on; real discipline is also knowing when to stop. This goes for all people in all jobs. Certainly, as a teacher you need to pace yourself, to sense when you’re losing your perspective, to recover as you go along, to have some fun and relaxation in the term-time, to think of other things, to enjoy yourself and not to fall into a puritanically self-obsessed rut. And for their part, the holidays are much more rewarding and memorable if there is some intellectual challenge and creative reflection. Wordsworth called this ‘a wise passiveness’. For a teacher and for a parent finding that delicate balance – or getting a life – is a tricky business.

“Glob-bogeys” good for the brain

This [via @briankott] made me smile.

“Chewing gum can and does help you focus and concentrate, not to mention relieve your boredom and tension. Hell, the military uses it to keep the soldiers sharp. It can also improve your memory for as much as 35 percent.

Especially given this (not uncommon) view

It’s repulsive stuff, chewing gum. It performs no useful function other than allowing kids to believe themselves mini-versions of James Dean, ‘rebels without an idea of how to mark off a subordinate clause’. It gets everywhere – into carpets, onto your best teaching trousers, and often into Hermione, the Pre-Raphaelite kid’s, hair.

Upturn any school desk and you’ll find a ‘tribble’ of them nestling like guilty, germridden, rock-hard glob-bogeys, festering and sneering at your utter impotence and inability to stop more of their cousins joining them next lesson. There are few things in British schools that bring out this teacher’s inner fascist quicker than the wanton cud-chewer.


The IPPR has published a report a while ago which looks good.

“The problem with ‘kids these days’ is the way adults are treating them. Britain is in danger of becoming a nation fearful of its young people: a nation of paedophobics. We need policy which reminds adults – parents and non-parents alike – that it is their responsibility to set norms of behaviour and to maintain them through positive and authoritative interaction with young people.”

ippr’s report will argue that children need adults who give them:

  1. Consistency in rules and discipline
  2. Warmth and interest
  3. Stability and security
  4. Authority without hostility
  5. .

Warmth and interest some teachers do better than others. Personally, I find much of the discipline issues take care of themselves if the children trust you are one their side. One way of engendering that trust is to do the human basics, say good morning, know their names, have lunch with them, but not intrude. Stability and security, in the private sector is for the most part a given; as is authority without hostility.

From my (little) experience, the hardest of these to manage in a school setting is consistency in rules and discipline. What I think is hard for school is to co-create a set of rules for which students, staff and parents understand the need. The two immediate stumbling blocks are necessity and number.

By necessity, I mean that all concerned understand the need for the rule. For instance, we have a rule at our school about sports kits not being worn inside after lunch. Some teachers mind more about it than others. Or, less damningly, some teachers try to uphold the school rules more earnestly than others. The difficulty here is being able to argue convincingly why it should be the case. If one cannot, I would suggest the rule is dropped. The burden of proof, I think, falls on those suggesting the rules; “that’s just how we do things here” is never really good enough.

By number, I mean that the more rules there are, the harder is is for all to understand them. If things become overly Bablyonian, the children begin a) to take great pleasure in seeing a teacher who does not know the rules, and then b) decide that if the teachers don’t know all the rules, why should they? Equally, the teachers end up in the position that they it is all too easy to contradict what colleagues have said.

So how do we focus on the need and number. Partly, I think, the two go hand in hand. The number of sensible rules a school needs do not have to be great.

Partly, though, I think there is help to be found in Dave Snowden”‘s Party Metaphor.

“Imagine organizing a birthday party for a group of young children.
Would you agree a set of learning objectives with their parents in advance of the party aligned with the mission statement for education in the society to which you belong? Would you create a project plan for the party with clear milestones associated with empirical measures of achievement? Would you start the party with a motivational video so that the children did not waste time in play not aligned with the learning objectives? Would you use PowerPoint to demonstrate to the children that their future pocket money is linked to achievement of the empirical measures at each milestone? Would you conduct an after action review at the end of the party, update you best practice database and mandate future process?
No, instead like most parents you would create boundaries to prevent certain types of behaviour, you would use attractors (party games, a football, a videotape) to encourage the formation of beneficial largely self-organization patterns (Identities); you would disrupt negative patterns early, to prevent the party becoming chaotic, or requiring the draconian imposition of authority.”

There is gold dust in that there metaphor, I’m sure of it. Just not so sure what it is yet. My best guess is that schools have a strong, simply explainable sense of what is a negative pattern. A mission statement perhaps? But if so, then do they need to be less generic than this plucked at random from thousands of similar school mission statements.

“[the school] recognises that each child is an individual; that all children are creative; that all children need to succeed. Therefore, [the school] respects the individual needs of children; fosters a caring and creative environment; and emphasizes the social, emotional, physical, intellectual development of each child. “

My gut feeling is yes, it needs be less generic. But any pointers, suggestions, ideas hugely welcomed.

Parental discipline ‘key factor’ in giving children best start

The report, Building Character, studied data from 9,000 households in Britain to find out what sort of upbringing produced character traits, such as application, self-regulation and empathy, which gave the best guarantee of future success.

When a whole range of factors including household income, family structure, parental education and breast-feeding for at least six months were taken into account, discipline emerged as the key indicator of likely future prosperity.

Children with parents who practised "tough love" were twice as likely to develop good character traits by the age of five as those with "disengaged" parents – and were also likely to do significantly better than those with "laissez faire" or "authoritarian" parental regimes.

Source: here

T.E.Lawrence on Discipline

From Seven Pillars of Wisdom:

… it had seemed to me that discipline, or at least formal discipline, was a virtue of peace: a character or stamp by which to mark off soldiers from complete men, and obliterate the humanity of the individual. It resolved itself easiest into the restrictive, the making of men not do this or that: and so could be fostered by a rule severe enough to make them despair of disobedience. It was a process of the mass, an element of the impersonal crowd, inapplicable to one man, since it involved obedience, a duality of will. It was not to impress upon men that their will must actively second the officer’s, for then there would have been … that momentary pause for thought transmission, or digestion; for the nerves to resolve the relaying private will into active consequence. On the contrary, each regular Army sedulously rooted out this significant pause from its companies on parade. The drill instructors tried to make obedience an instinct, a mental reflex, following as instantly on the command as though the motor power of the individual wills had been invested together in the system.


This was well, so far as it increased quickness: but it made no provision for casualties, beyond the weak assumption that each subordinate had his will-motor not atrophied, but reserved in perfect order, ready at the instant to take over his late superior’s office; the efficiency of direction passing smoothly down the great hierarchy till vested in the senior of the two surviving privates.

It had the further weakness, seeing men’s jealousy, of putting power in the hands of arbitrary old age, with its petulant activity: additionally corrupted by long habit of control, an indulgence which ruined its victim, by causing the death of his subjunctive mood. Also, it was an idiosyncrasy with me to distrust instinct, which had its roots in our animality. Reason seemed to give men something deliberately more precious than fear or pain: and it made me discount the value of peace smartness as a war-education.