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Discipline With Your Style

Adam Day

Whether you're a pushover, a control freak, a scaredy-cat, or just plain clueless about discipline -- you can become a better classroom manager.

One recent Sunday I was on my usual rounds checking on our Sunday school rooms. I noticed an entire room of fifth-grade boys sitting with their heads down on the tables while the teacher and assistant stood at the front of the room with their backs turned, writing on the whiteboard. I casually stepped in and glanced around. The room was silent and full of tension. There wasn't a single wiggle or giggle -- highly unusual for a group of preteen boys. I figured something really big must've just happened, so I decided to break the silence. "Mrs. Smith," I asked, "is there something I can help with?"Mrs. Smith turned to me and said with a huge smile, "Everything's fine, Pastor. We're running five minutes ahead of our next scheduled activity, so I told the boys just to put their heads down."

Her response stunned me. I couldn't believe it. Back when I was a kid we only got the heads-down treatment when someone did something really bad -- running in the hall with a pair of safety scissors or correcting the teacher on a Scripture reference. But being ahead of schedule? The lesson wasn't even on patience that day. (I checked.)

So I got to thinking...How many times had these kids sat with their heads down because their teacher wasn't flexible enough to handle minor variations from schedule -- or willing to let go of regimented control? I mean, five minutes? We're not launching the space shuttle here. We're telling kids about Jesus. I knew Mrs. Smith was a new teacher. But during our interview process she hadn't shown up in combat gear. So naturally I had no idea she was really an undercover drill sergeant.

Admittedly, classroom management can be the toughest part of a teacher's job. It's a constant struggle for some, and even those who seem to have figured out how to best manage their kids see that doing so is a continual proc-ess rather than one easy fix. Teachers everywhere seem to struggle with discipline in some way -- usually because they fall into one of four categories: The Pushover, The Control Freak, The Scaredy Cat, or Just Plain Clueless. So before you get out your knuckle-snapping ruler or let the kids run over you on their way out the door, read on. Discover which discipline style is your default -- and how you can strengthen your classroom management skills.

You may be a Pushover if you...

• Can't say no -- even when you know you need to.

• Grin and bear bad behavior because you don't see other options.

• Can't (or won't) set or enforce limits.

• Notice the kids are taking over and you're not sure you should regain control.

• Must repeat yourself constantly to be heard over the general roar in your classroom.

know this

Rules are healthy
. Saying no is a foundational development stage in all children. In fact, no is one of the first words most children learn to say. And if a child is old enough to tell you no, then the child is old enough to hear it in return for inappropriate behavior. Ministry to children isn't only about spir-itual principles; we're here to help give them a productive, healthy approach to life.

When kids take over, no one wins. If kids are calling the shots, everyone will walk away feeling unfulfilled. If you allow children to write the rules, you give them a false impression of what real life is all about.

Testing is normal; your job is to define the boundaries. You can rest assured that your kids will test the limits. It's a normal aspect of childhood. But it's important to understand that while this testing is natural, children feel comfort and security when they know where the boundaries are. They want to know you love them enough to tell them no.

do this

Post a few simple rules.
Then -- and this is key -- hold kids to them. At first it'll seem like you're mean if you haven't been enforcing rules up until now. You may get some initial push back from your kids, but this is normal. Keep steady and hold your ground.

Help kids self-regulate. A marble jar is a great way to encourage collective self-monitoring from your kids, and it produces positive peer pressure. Put the jar of marbles in front of your class, and add marbles when kids are attentive and on-task. You'll find kids self-regulating if they know that marbles could get taken away. You'll be surprised the first time you hear someone say, "Zach, stop! We'll get a marble taken away!"

Help yourself. If you still need an extra push to establish and enforce rules, consider asking someone you know who has great classroom management skills to join you in your classroom for a few weeks to help you build your discipline muscles.

You may be a Control Freak if you...

• Can't say yes -- even when doing so would have absolutely no negative impact in your classroom.

• Tightly control every aspect of kids' interactions and behavior.

• Are terrified of what might happen if kids "take over."

• Hear kids tell their parents, "Church has too many rules."

• Constantly use no, don't, can't, and stop when you talk to kids.

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