The Canter model of Assertive Discipline is a classroom management model that I believe is useful in the Christian school classroom. In this model of classroom management, teachers make rules and enforce the consequences of those rules, whenever they are broken. This model was developed by Lee and Marlene Canter. Lee was an educator and social worker, who helped educators work with students who had behavioral disorders. Marlene had advanced training in special education. The philosophical and psychological foundations of their model was based on B. F. Skinner’s Behavior Modification theory of rewards and punishments. He purported that positive reinforcement follows positive behavior, and that punishment or a negative consequence follows negative behavior. He also believed that consequences should increase with the continuity or severity of an offense. The Canter’s considered the rewards and punishment theory to be effective, stating that in their system both teachers and students have rights, rules and consequences are delivered without bias, consequences are appropriate for the age level of the student and the type and severity of the infraction. But before Skinner, the Bible, clearly set up a system of rewards and punishments in Genesis. God stated to the children of Israel “I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse…” I believe the Canter’s model of discipline is consistent with the Bible and it’s implications for discipline. All the tenets of their model can be supported by scripture, which makes it an ideal model for teachers in Christian Schools.
There are generally three response styles of teachers according to the Canters, the non-assertive style, the hostile style, and the assertive style. The nonassertive style of teacher has no clear standards, no follow-through, and is ineffective in their classroom management style. Teachers must set clear standards, be consistent enforcing them, or they will be ineffective in the discipline of their classroom. According to Proverbs 19:19 A rebellious and angry person must pay the penalty, for if you rescue him from punishment, you will have to do it again and again. The hostile style of teacher has an aversive approach with threats, sarcasm, and shouts, and is often emotionally harmful, and possibly even abusive. According to Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue… so teachers, especially Christian ones, should avoid this behavior. The assertive style of teacher sets clear limits and consequences, and has appropriate rewards and consequences for behaviors, and clearly expresses them to her students, usually in both written and oral forms. Deut. 11:32 is a good example of this. God told the children of Israel “Be sure to obey all the laws I am setting before you today.” God gave them a clear set of rules (the Ten Commandments), and clearly set the rewards for obedience and the punishment for disobedience. Teachers using the assertive style of discipline should avoid the broken- record response, using a maximum of three requests for compliance. The nonassertive style that is shown in Pro. 19:19, which tells us that if we let someone get by with something without the proper discipline, we will have to do it repeatedly, so teachers must be consistent with discipline.
The Canters believed that teachers have three roles, the first being the giver of rewards and punishments. This is supported in Proverbs 24:12, which states …And will You not give to each according to their deeds. The second role is to be consistent with rewards and punishments. This principle is clearly seen in Pro. 19:19 which states, A rebellious and angry person must pay the penalty, if you rescue him from punishment, you will have to do it again and again. It can also be supported by Pro. 24:23, which tells us that It is not good to show partiality in judgment. The third role of the teacher is to create positive interactions with students. This principle is supported by Pro. 16:21, which says Sweet words increase learning. Pro. 18:21 is also a good verse to remember here, which tells us that Death and life are in the power of the tongue…We can either build up our students or tear them down by our words, for A good word is a tree of life, but an evil word breaks the spirit. (Pro. 15:4)
The Canters believe teachers can provide their students with an optimal learning environment by encouraging students to work together, by establishing common learning and behavior goals, by providing curricular content based on the students ability and their developmental level, by explaining the relevance of curriculum content, by accepting student diversity, by addressing student needs and building on their strengths, and by providing a safe learning environment where students can give opinions, without fear of reprisal or violence. When applying assertive discipline, teachers should give attention to setting and displaying rewards and punishments, creating a hierarchy of discipline, setting appropriate consequences, paying attention to both the students’ and the teacher’s rights. Class rules, with their rewards, and consequences should be clearly posted in classroom and given to students and parents. Rewards may be tangible prizes, activities, or intangible things like praises. Teachers must be consistent with these rewards and consequences. If you do it for one student, you must do it for others, and if one student is punished for something then others must be punished for that same infraction. Consequences may include exclusion from privileges, time-out, parent notification, administration notification, and detention. Consequences from one day should not apply to the next day. Each day is a new day, with a clean slate. A clipboard is private way of recording infractions without unduly embarrassing students.
In creating a discipline hierarchy, teachers would be wise to remember to save Harsh discipline for the one who continually disobeys the way. The discipline hierarchy tells students of the consequences of breaking rules and the order in which they are imposed. An example of this is first- a warning, second- a reminder and consequence, third- a reminder and a more severe punishment, fourth- parent notification, and fifth- go to the office. In setting appropriate consequences teachers can remember to give to each according to their deeds (Pro. 24:12). Effective teachers have an assertive style that establishes limits and consequences, follows through fairly and consistently, respects diversity without prejudice, provides consequences all behaviors, both positive consequences for positive behaviors, and negative consequences for negative behaviors. Consequences should be appropriate to the grade level, and to the developmental and psychological level of the students. I like an idea that came from the book Little Men, which is the conscience book that Jo kept for her boys at her school. She kept this behavior journal, in which she wrote about their behavior, their reasons for breaking the rule, and alternative actions that could be taken by them.
In establishing the rights of both the students and the teacher, the Canters believed students have the right to have an optimal learning environment, have teachers who will help them with inappropriate behaviors, have teachers who support good behaviors, have teachers who don’t violate their best interest, and to choose their behaviors with prior knowledge of the consequences. The Canters believed teachers have the right to maintain an optimal learning environment for all students, to expect appropriate behavior from all students, to expect support from administrators and parents, to secure student rights and responsibilities with a clear discipline plan, to make rules, while setting consequences that are clear and specific, to determine the consequence of continued behavior, and to determine the consequence of refusal to cooperate with discipline. Some general rules teachers may want to use are Treat others how you want to be treated, and Respect others belongings and school property. Some specific rules a teacher may want to use are Raise your hand before speaking, Ask for permission to leave your seat, Have books and supplies for class when the bell rings.
In the practical application of assertive discipline, teachers need a plan they are comfortable with, can use effectively, and can use along with their method of instruction. The effectiveness of the plan depends on its emphasis on clear and positive limits, and teachers acting assertively and positively. In evaluating the potential for Assertive Discipline to address student misbehaviors, I find that it addresses most routine discipline problems like talking, disrupting class, and students leaving their seat excessively, but its limited in more severe circumstances such as fighting, and using weapons, etc. The strengths of assertive discipline are that it insists on consistency and clear limits, it applies to all student without prejudice, it provides some flexibility for individual students when possible, it does not damage students self-esteem, being a positive approach, which is fairly easy to implement. The form of discipline can be severe if the teacher doesn’t consider extenuating circumstances. Another weakness is that its emphasis is more on management rather than teaching students self-discipline.
Some of the underlying beliefs of Assertive discipline are that teachers must believe the system works, and believe it will work for them. They need to develop a personal philosophy to determine if Assertive Discipline works with their philosophical, psychological, and spiritual beliefs. Teachers may ask themselves these questions to see if this plan is a good fit for them:
- Can I put clear and specific limits on student behavior?
- Do I believe rewards and punishments are appropriate consequences?
- Can I be consistent to all students and situations without bias?
- Do I believe students respond best to extrinsic or intrinsic motivation?
- Does Assertive Discipline provide an appropriate level of structure?
- Can I refrain from nonassertive and hostile behaviors?
- Am I willing to treat the symptoms rather than the cause?
- Can I place less emphasis on student responsibility and self-discipline?
- Am I willing to use tangible rewards for positive reinforcement?
- Is this form of discipline consistent with my spiritual beliefs about discipline of children?
So what does the Bible say about Discipline?
On rewards and punishments:
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse —the blessing if you obey the commands of Yahweh God that I am giving you today– the curse if you disobey the commands of Yahweh God and turn from the way that I command you….Deut.11:26-28
On the posting of rules and consequences:
Be sure to obey all the laws I am setting before you today. Deut. 11:32
A rebellious and angry person must pay the penalty, if you rescue him from punishment, you will have to do it again and again. Pro. 19:19
On severity with continued rebellion:
Harsh discipline is for the one who continually disobeys the way. The one who hates to be corrected will be destroyed. Pro. 15:10
On positive relationships:
Sweet words increase learning. Pro. 16:21
Death and life are in the power of the tongue…Pro. 18:21
A good word is a tree of life, but an evil word breaks the spirit. Pro. 15:4
On appropriate punishment:
…And will You not give to each according to their deeds. Pro. 24:12
It is not good to show partiality in judgment. Pro. 24:23
On corporal punishment:
Do not withhold correction from a child, if you physically punish the child, the child won’t die. If you physically punish the child you’ll deliver a soul from destruction. Pro. 23:13-14
Both physical punishment and verbal reprimands give wisdom, but children left to themselves brings shame… Prov.29:15
- How Should School Staff Respond to Bullying Behavior? (education.com)