Outlining Elements of Discipline

This week, Stephen Greenspan, author of Elements of Discipline, outlines his new book, which provides nine principles for teachers and parents.

My book Elements of Discipline,  has been percolating for a long time: it is based on an article I published over 20 years ago. The book grew out of my long-standing interest in social competence, in that the main purpose of discipline (aside from maintaining classroom/ family harmony) is to facilitate the development of social competence in children and youths. Also, the ability to maintain harmonious and effective relationships with young people is a form of adult social competence, while inability to do so is a form of adult social incompetence.

As a long-time professor in the school of education at the University of Connecticut, I was dismayed by the absence of meaningful training in behavior management given to those about to enter the teaching profession. This contributed to the large numbers (some estimates as high as half) of new teachers who quit the teaching profession within their first five years, citing inability to control their students as the main reason for becoming disaffected.

My book presents a comprehensive framework (what I call the “ABC Theory of Discipline”) which integrates principles from the three major discipline education systems: (a) Affective (Freudian), (b) Behavioral (Skinnerian); and (c) Cognitive (Adlerian).

The approaches are integrated hierarchically in that each approach has a principle that mediates between an empirically validated domain of discipline (termed “Warmth,” “Tolerance” and “Influence”) and an empirically validated domain of social competence (termed “Happiness,” “Boldness” and “Niceness.” )

The nine principles of discipline are generated as follows: For the domain of Warmth, the principles are “Show Respect” (Affective), “Give Positives” (Behavioral) and “Encourage Participation” (Cognitive). For the domain of Tolerance, the principles are “Accept Feelings” (Affective), “Ignore Much” (Behavioral) and “Allow Independence” (Cognitive). For the domain of Influence, the principles are “Assert Needs” (Affective), “Be Contingent” (Behavioral) and “Say Why” (Cognitive).

The resulting nine principles, or elements, provide caregivers–teachers, parents, early childhood workers–with a larger and more diverse toolkit than would be the case if they operated within one of the three discipline systems. Thus, caregivers are able to mix and match principles in a manner suited both to their own style as well as each situation which confronts them. The key thing, to me, is being accomplished in all three domains, but considerable flexibility exists for how to achieve that balance.

One additional benefit of this framework is that it enables caregivers to become more discerning consumers of discipline literature. Most existing books do not make their theoretical underpinnings clear, or may present a system that is insufficiently comprehensive. This book should help caregivers know when a discipline expert or manual is to be taken seriously or dismissed as rhetoric masquerading as science.

Elements of Discipline not only includes the theoretical but it also provides concrete tactics and techniques for dealing with specific situations. I hope readers find such advice useful, as specific challenges, such as a student insulting an adult, require a specific response.

The book also contains a “toolkit” of eighteen statements that are useful  for hosting discipline workshops, as well as many tables and figures intended to make the theory understandable on a visual level. This chart below shows how the model integrates domains of disciplines, outcomes of discipline and the three approaches to discipline.

I hope Elements of Discipline is useful to educators, parents, caregivers and administrators.  I welcome readers’ feedback.

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