Classroom Management: Assertive Discipline

Assertive discipline is an approach to formal education that has been developed in recent years as a reaction to some progressive child-centered pedagogical theories. Some educators fear that this approach to teaching and learning advocates a return to the less enlightened days of the one-room school house, though, admittedly, with a kinder face. No one wants a system dominated by authoritarian teachers where children are forbidden to speak and express themselves, but proponents of assertive discipline want to see firm teacher control and students who respect some well defined rules of the classroom.
     A teaching methodology based on assertive discipline is founded on good classroom management. In many ways, this is not a new approach, since good teachers have always recognized the need for proper control, and they have traditionally accepted responsibility for identifying acceptable behavior within the classroom. However, the problem has been that some child-centered theories have placed too much responsibility on children, expecting them to identify their own learning needs, and this has sometimes led to a detrimental lack of control by the teacher. Proponents of assertive discipline reject any system that allows students to set their own limits.
     Without proper control, no teacher can implement an effective educational program. Too many classroom rules can be counter productive, of course, but it is still necessary to provide positive direction by clearly stating and enforcing the limits. Unacceptable behavior must be clearly defined, and teachers must be firm in dealing with transgressions by applying appropriate consequences. Most experienced educators agree that a combination of kindness and firmness produces the best results.
     One of the hallmarks of good education today is the positive rapport between teachers and students. Proponents of assertive discipline agree that this positive approach must be maintained, and good behavior must be reinforced by recognition and reward. But the other side of the equation must be addressed too. The consequences of unacceptable behavior need to be clearly defined, and they should be based on an escalating scale if transgressions on the part of some students are frequent and persistent. In general, however, it should be possible for students to begin each day afresh with no regard given to any failings of the previous day.
     Assertive discipline is most effective when it is implemented under a school policy rather than exclusively in an individual classroom. Students need to know that their teacher is supported by administrative staff and by their own parents, and that the codes of behavior being applied in the classroom have been discussed and decided by everyone involved. It is essential, therefore, that parental assistance and involvement be secured at the beginning of a school year. This is usually done through a general staff-parent meeting where details can be outlined and specific involvement by parents can be explained. Most parents appreciate a collective approach in order to ensure a safe and secure school environment and will readily cooperate with the administration and staff. Any decisions made in these meetings should be recorded and clearly stated in the school handbook.
     Assertive discipline can be seen as a reminder that students and their parents have a right to expect positive direction and control within the school setting. Child centered programs do not advocate an abdication of control by teachers, but focus on the learning needs of individual children. These needs can be implemented most effectively when teachers are clearly in charge, and in this regard, assertive discipline is quite correct in its propounded objectives.