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Schoolbox 
Andrew Potter chats with a group of boys at The Scots College

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This is a favourite proverb of mine because I think it offers great insight for educators, and I suspect the sentiment is just as relevant for parents. From time to time, we hear of a so-called discipline crisis in schools, but in my experience the challenge for educators, and in particular boys’ educators, is to develop structures that assist boys to be disciplined, and more importantly, self-disciplined.

Boys need to know the truth of their responsibilities and duties in life in order to learn, execute and internalise them. When they do, they usually see that discipline is a ‘friend’ for life and that rules and standards are for the good of all.

Here are my top tips for developing a structured approach to discipline:

  • Consider needs and personality type: How we discipline the outgoing, the reserved, the people oriented or the task oriented boy should be different. The confident outgoing boy responds to discipline with strength to match his need to control every step of the way. The reserved and conscientious boy, on the other hand, requires tonnes of encouragement, predictability and sensitivity.
  • Planning, applying and evaluating discipline: Boys need to know what is expected in a learning situation. Boys love a clear structure and routine and teachers need to clearly outline the rules, expectations, rewards and consequences for particular behaviour. Boys find security in understanding what is expected. Consistency is key and practices intended to humiliate boys – sarcasm and public ‘dressing downs’ – should not be part of an educator’s approach to discipline.
  • Positive class atmosphere: Boys need to feel wanted, respected and safe in the classroom. Learning goals should be within their reach and they should feel and experience the opportunity to succeed with a good dose of humour facilitating the process.
  • Authority: An understanding of authority needs to be taught and modelled to boys. The favoured view of authority is not ‘authority for authority’s sake’ but ‘authority for love’s sake!’ Boys need to be taught and recognise that authority structures have been put in place for their good.
  • Correction and reward: Teachers must not want to control boys but must play a role where boys gain control of themselves and their own lives. Correction and reward will vary from child to child, so ‘test’ different consequences to determine what works for the individual. It is important for boys to believe they are being treated justly and that no boys are being favoured over others.
  • Training: I believe that in the most disciplined classes very little disciplining actually occurs. Training up, however, is consistent and part of the classroom culture. Training involves finding out what we did wrong, fixing it to the extent possible and continuing on with the learning process. Boys do not like to be ‘cornered’ with a heavy hand emphasising how ‘bad’ they are. Boys will know if they have done wrong or right!

By providing structures that facilitate self-discipline in boys, it is hoped that the strongest chord of discipline is not found in the ‘rod’ but in the strings of love, respect, honour, loyalty, admiration and care.

Written by John Crerar, Head of Preparatory School – Deputy Principal, The Scots College.

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