Student-Centered Discipline

While your team works to align school discipline policies to SEL, it’s important to ensure that all classrooms consistently reinforce a student-centered approach to discipline.

When classrooms foster supportive relationships and a strong sense of community, belonging, and safety, students are less likely to engage in disruptive behaviors. Research shows that schoolwide SEL has a positive impact on student behavior and leads to fewer disciplinary issues (Durlak et al, 2011).

At the same time, student-centered classroom discipline policies contribute to a supportive environment and provide developmentally-appropriate opportunities for students to learn, problem-solve, and take ownership of their behaviors. In contrast, classroom discipline practices that focus on punishment can undermine schoolwide SEL initiatives and disengage students from their classroom communities (Toldson, McGee & Lemmons, 2013; Kupchik & Catlaw, 2014).

Student-centered discipline involves engaging students as decision-makers and problem-solvers. This process:

Cultivates and maintains trusting relationships, and is respectful of students.

Helps students understand their impact on others, build empathy, and repair harm they may have caused.

Prioritizes keeping students in the learning environment, engaged with peers and support systems.

Is responsive to the cultural, developmental, and school context for behavior and aims to end the disproportionate use of harsh punishment of students of color.

As you implement schoolwide SEL, it’s important to engage all teachers in collaborating on a consistent strategy for student-centered discipline.

Support teachers in learning and developing student-centered discipline strategies, including:

  • Having discussions and providing students with opportunities to provide input and feedback on classroom routines, procedures, and community agreements.
  • Providing strategies for students to monitor and regulate their behavior and emotions.
  • Providing tools for students to problem-solve, work through conflicts, and repair harm.
  • Teaching and modeling self-reflection.
  • Responding consistently and fairly when classroom shared agreements are breached, but also understanding students’ individual needs and the root causes of behaviors. Adapted from: “Student-Centered Discipline” in Social and Emotional Learning Coaching Toolkit

Your school may choose to use a specific approach to discipline in all classrooms. Some published SEL programs include guidance for implementing a student-centered approach to discipline (see the CASEL Program Guides for a list of programs). Many schools have also adopted Restorative Practices or Restorative Justice to support classroom discipline (see the International Institute for Restorative Practices for more information.)

Below are a few tools that may support classroom disciplinary practices.

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Using Grade-Level Team Meetings to Support Student-Centered Discipline and Restorative Practices

This tool provides guidance for using grade-level team meetings to collaborate and reflect on strategies for student-centered discipline.

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Peace Areas

This tool provides guidance for teaching students to use Peace Areas in the classroom.

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Restorative Responses Chart

This tool provides guidance to support teachers in reframing responses to challenging behavior with an SEL focus.

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Note: A school’s efforts at SEL are more likely to succeed if you consistently make space to discuss SEL implementation. Grade-level team meetings are an excellent time to support reflection, inquiry, and collaboration among teachers.

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