How to Foster Initiative in Students

Recently a teacher asked me, “Can we really expect ALL children (even kindergartners) to understand and abide by the Discipline Without Stress’ 4 levels of behavior without ANY rewards?”

Here is my reply:

YES, but you start by differentiating between ACCEPTABLE levels and UNACCEPTABLE levels. See the posters and cards at

Also (and this is critical), be sure you have taught, practiced, and practiced again EVERYTHING you want your students to do. A MAJOR ERROR EVEN EXPERIENCED TEACHERS MAKE is ASSUMING that students, of any age, know what to do without first learning, practicing, and ritualizing the procedure or skill.

Once STUDENTS (especially young ones) HAVE LEARNED what YOU want them to do, they will want to do it. Learning for them is fun. If you are POSITIVE with your kids, they will like you and will want to please you. Boys and girls have a natural desire to please their teachers (level C–external motivation). They will readily do what you ask them to do if they know HOW to do it.

Once young students have learned what you have taught, many will TAKE THE INITIATIVE to do exactly what you have taught because they then KNOW HOW TO and WANT TO do the right thing, simply because it is the right thing to do. This describes level D—internal motivation.

Guided Choices in the Classroom

In the Discipline Without Stress methodology, Guided Choices are used when a student has already acknowledged level B behavior and disrupts the lesson again.

The most effective approach is to ELICIT a consequence or procedure to help the student help himself to avoid future unacceptable behavior. This should be done in private by stating, “What you have done is not on an acceptable level.”

Then ask, “What do you suggest we do about it?” Be ready to ask, “What else?” “What else?” “What else?” until what the student says is acceptable and will assist the student in not repeating the behavior.

The advantages of ELICITING the consequence are multiple:
1. An adversarial relationship is avoided.
2. The student has ownership in the decision.
3. Victimhood thinking is not encouraged because the student is empowered rather than overpowered.
4. The student has developed a plan to avoid repetition of the inappropriate behavior.

When talking with the student in private may not be immediately practical, one of the Discipline Without Stress discipline forms can be used. (K-1 teachers can have the student draw the situation.)

When handing the discipline form to the student, give the student choices. Three (3) choices are more effective than two because any sense of coercion is eliminated with a third choice.

Quietly ask, for example,
–Would you prefer to complete the activity in your seat?
–At the rear of the room?
–Or in the office?

The teacher controls the situation using this approach because the teacher is asking the question(s), and as long as the student has a choice, dignity is preserved and confrontation is avoided.

Discipline and Emotions

Why do you think young people misbehave? When I ask people this question, most say that it’s because the youth don’t know any better, have had poor role models in life, or just because—no reason at all. The fact is that young people misbehave because it makes them feel good; otherwise, they would not misbehave. […]

How to Accept Constructive Criticism

If you believe that life is growth and that people should strive to grow both intellectually and emotionally, then you need to accept comments by others (oftentimes called criticism) as being in your own best interest. Accepting such comments with a positive spirit depends on two criteria: (1) You trust the person and understand that […]

Satisfaction vs. Happiness

Many people think that satisfaction brings happiness in life. In reality, it’s the positive people, not the satisfied people, who are happy people. Happy people are pleasant to be around. Being around people you enjoy improves your own disposition and desire to put forth effort. Being positive should not be confused with satisfaction. Telling someone […]

Emotion and Learning

Whenever I share the Discipline Without Stress methodology with teachers and parents, they often ask me, “What is it that makes your approach so successful?” My response is that I think of how the brain and body are so interrelated that one affects the other. Therefore, I think of how the brain and body react […]

Your Words Influence Behavior

We often want to assist people by telling them what to avoid. Upon analysis, however, you will discover that so often when you tell a person what to avoid, the opposite results. The reason is that the brain does not envision “don’t” or any other negative-type word. The brain envisions pictures, illusions, visions, and images. […]

Learning Should be Fun

When turtles are born, they know everything they need to know to live for 50 or so years. Since learning is one of the joys of living, I don’t think turtles have very much fun. Learning brings growth, and both the process and result of learning can be enjoyable. Watch anyone at any age who […]

Teacher Training Programs Fail

 A study by the prestigious TNTP reported that teacher training doesn’t make the grade. The study announced on August 5, 2015 reported that investments in ongoing training for teachers usually did not improve their performance and schools should rethink how they bolster teachers’ skills. The Brooklyn-based organization, formerly known as the New Teacher Project, which […]

How to Teach Troubled Youth

At some point, every teacher will have troubled youth in their class. These students may appear reluctant, apathetic, and/or disengaged. When working with these students, patience is critical, and building relationships is the ONLY way you will have success. These students trust no one, and it will take time for them to truly understand that […]