Thursday, 2 July 2020

Principle 14 - Is your classroom a place where just punishment and discipline are part of school life?

When I created this blog, I set out to write posts on all 20 of the principles that shape the pedagogy central to my book 'Pedagogy and Education for Life'. I stressed that the very start of good Christian pedagogy requires the teacher to mirror the person of Christ, in order to make good and wise choices as they nurture and teach the children in their care. I included a framework within the book organized under three major headings, all reflecting the theology that informed the book, as well as offering a biblical theology of personhood.

 

These three headings are broad biblical truths, and give shape to my framework: “God is Creator,” “God’s creatures are meant to be learners,” and “God made us for communion.” Principle 14 is the last of ten that relate to the central truth that God created us to learn with others. We are to spend time with other people, as fellow learners who thrive in communities centred on knowledge of, and faith in God. If this is the case in your classroom and school, then the community will be different. This extends to every aspect of pedagogy and life in the school, including discipline.

 


As a teacher, you will need to make different (though hopefully consistent) decisions for each child in your care. It may require you to respond in different ways, and offer different forms of support and even discipline, every day. It is important to stress again, that pedagogy isn't a set of one size fits all methods, techniques or procedures. The search for the perfect pedagogy will have a fruitless search, for the day-to-day working out of our pedagogy will vary from teacher to teacher and class to class.

 

But—and this is an important “but”—we should strive to teach in ways that are true to the way God has created us and his purposes for doing so. We must constantly acknowledge our nature as learners and creatures made in the image of God, and that the essence of community is shaped by the gospel of Christ.

 

The great challenge for teachers and leaders in Christian schools is to consider what should be distinctive about our education and schooling. This of course extends to the way we administer discipline. Proverbs 13:24 teaches that he who loves the child “is diligent to discipline him,” but such punishment is to be just and not in anger and for revenge. Do we understand that unjust and unexplained punishment, punishment that breaks the spirit or is in anger and frustration, is wrong? Do we see punishment and discipline as a means that “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:11)? And through discipline, do we also show our love and concern?

 


Any kind of physical punishment is banned in most Western countries; hence discipline is inevitably related to detention, spoken comments, the withdrawal of privileges, and the involvement of parents. However, while some will see limited options for punishment, sound teaching requires management of classroom life in such a way that punishment is rarely needed. The key to effective discipline and the lack of need for it, is pedagogy that leads to exciting classrooms that engage and motivate learners. If our students are motivated and encouraged to contribute positively to community life, and are engaged in the activities of the classroom and school, discipline usually becomes less necessary. Having said this, if punishment is required, it must be administered fairly, consistently, and justly, otherwise the teacher will have lost the battle to create a learning environment where all students are engaged and motivated and see their schooling as having life purposes that matter. The example of Chanda in chapter 2 of my book is an illustration of how one disagreeable, unmotivated, belligerent, noisy and disruptive student was redirected in my classroom, simply by taking the time to get to know her, understand her personal life situation, and open a doorway into her life through my interest in her underground music and poetry.

 


It is worth stressing that if the teacher finds themselves needing to discipline all or some of their students regularly and excessively, then they have a significant pedagogical problem. Why? Because clearly students are disengaged and alienated from the teacher, the purposes of education in the class and school. Furthermore, it is highly likely that the teacher does not know their students. In particular, they do not know their hopes and dreams, interests and desires, motivations and hopes for life. Knowing and loving our students is the starting point for effective discipline and pedagogy.  

 

 

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