Judicious Discipline Definition Essay

judicious... 1. having or exercising sound judgment... 2.directed or governed by sound usu. dispassionate judgment: characterized by discretion... syn. see wise-- Webster's Third New International Dictionary

discipline... 1. a branch of knowledge or learning 2. training that develops self-control, character, or orderliness and efficiency... 3. self-control or orderly conduct... 4. a system of rules... 5. treatment that corrects...-- Webster's New World Dictionary

By Forrest Gathercoal (1932 - 2012)

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Professional Educators and Democratic Classrooms

A key element of democracy is that individuals are given human rights and these human rights are respected by all and protected by the government. It makes sense then that on the first day of class teachers should introduce themselves by saying, “Good morning students, I am <state your name> and I am here to protect your constitutional rights.” In one sentence a relationship can be established that creates a feeling among students that their teacher is here to help and support each of them as individuals. Most students have some awareness of what human or constitutional rights mean, but they have not been in a classroom where it has been put into practice. When a teacher begins the first day of class by recognizing and protecting student rights, they have just introduced the first three of ten fundamental legal principles that are the heart of Judicious Discipline and provide the structure and framework for a democratic classroom.

Students learn their constitutional rights consist of three foundational principles: freedom, justice, and equality.

Freedom means students are able to be themselves and have the right to express themselves through their behavior and opinions. Educators have a responsibility to protect and respect students’ individuality and acknowledge their right to make choices for themselves.

Justice means students have a right to school rules and consequences that are fair to everyone. The right to justice also means students accused of misbehavior have the right to tell their side of the story. For educators to listen to students in matters of concern and consider their views, demonstrates a sincere respect for a student’s sense of self worth.

Equality means an equal educational opportunity for each student. It means meeting the individual needs of every student in order to give each a chance to succeed in school. The educator who tells a student ‘If I let you do that, I will have to let everyone else do it,’ may be denying that student an equal opportunity to learn, if in fact that student needs special assistance in order to find success in school. Equality does not mean treating every student the same. It means educators will respond to students’ individual needs so each will have an opportunity to succeed.

The lessons taught about rights and responsibilities must begin with students learning and talking about their rights. It is important students identify first with their own needs and desires. Moving too quickly to responsibilities tends to ignore the importance of empowering students with the language and how it feels to have rights.

After students learn about their rights in a democratic classroom, they need to know those rights are denied or moderated when they exercise individual rights that interfere with the welfare needs of others. In other words, students cannot say nor do anything they want to say or do; expression and movement are limited. Legally speaking, if educators can demonstrate a compelling state interest, the rights of students can be denied. There are four legal arguments our courts have used to protect the welfare needs and interests of the state. The four arguments are: Threat of Property Loss and Damage, Legitimate Educational Purpose, Health and Safety, and Serious Disruption of the Educational Process. As students learn to think and act using these four arguments as guiding principles, the language used in the classroom moves from autocratic talk to democratic talk. For educators it replaces telling students how to behave to reminding them of their civil responsibilities. For students it replaces obedience with responsibility.

Students will learn how these four guiding principles will deny and moderate their constitutional rights as educators present them as responsibilities associated with the expression of their rights. These responsibilities are:

Property loss and damage or Treat All Property with Respect: Most students understand the need to protect property and usually have no problems with rules and decisions that deal with personal or public property. Sometimes students do not understand that what they are doing is damaging property and only have to be taught how to care for it. Computers, science equipment, shop tools, and so forth would be examples when students would need instruction on the care of school property.

Legitimate educational purpose or Take Responsibility for Learning: This is an opportunity for educators to set out rules and make decisions based on their professional judgment. They may appear to students to be fairly arbitrary but are based on professional knowledge and experience and are designed to help students learn. For example, a rule to bring paper and pencil to class would seem arbitrary but to an inquiring student asking why, a reasoned response would be ‘to help you learn.’ Educational curriculum, teaching methodology, assessment, homework, assignments, and testing are all examples of decisions educators make based on their professional judgment in order to carry out their professional responsibilities. These decisions sometimes conflict with rights of students and their families. For example, teaching a lesson on evolution may violate the rights of a family whose beliefs are otherwise. In this case, their child would be excused from the classroom when theories of evolution are being taught. On the other hand, state compulsory education laws which deny students’ freedom during school hours are based on a legitimate educational purpose. School rules and decisions must be both legitimate and educational to legally deny student’s rights.

Health and safety or Act in a Safe and Healthy Way: This is one of the principle roles of government responsibility and must be taken seriously. Clear and published guidelines about the physical health and safety at school are essential to ensure a safe and secure learning environment. This principle includes not only physical health and safety, but emotional and psychological health as well. Students who tease and harass are affecting another student’s emotional health. Vulgar language or bigoted slurs heard in hallways or printed on clothing is not constitutionally protected speech. Reminding students of their responsibility for the emotional health of others is an empowering approach to creating a consciousness of tolerance and respect among the student body. Health and safety must become the concern of both students and educators, not by forcing the issue, but by using the power of knowledge, language, modeling, discourse, and awareness to bring about a community of mutual respect.

Serious disruption of the educational process or Respect the Rights and Needs of Others: Problematic in teaching and learning about this principle is the definition of “serious.” Classroom disruptions can vary greatly from one room to the other depending on such differences as size, subject matter, age, teaching methods, classroom conditions, and the educators teaching style. Expressing and discussing the various factors which can affect a good learning environment generally result in ownership by everyone and does much to avoid disruptive classroom behaviors. Students usually agree material disruptions can interfere with their education; however, they are also often ready to dispute the seriousness of such disruptions. Class meetings can be an effective means for determining mutually agreed upon standards of responsible behavior. They allow input from students about their needs and desires and from educators about their educational methods and strategies which require responsible behaviors as well as some behavioral restraints.

The last three fundamental principles are time, place, and manner. “Time, place and manner” is a standard used by our courts as a criterion in deciding whether government has abused its authority in limiting individual rights. For example, if a student is distracted by something he or she brought to class, by asking the student if this is the best time, place, or manner to be playing with it, the educator reminds the student of his or her responsibilities and avoids a confrontation. By employing the language of reasonable time, place, and manner, educators reinforce responsible thinking in students who are beginning to use these concepts as organizers and an intrinsic rationale for determining for themselves what it means to be responsible.

These ten principles of democratic talk now become the language used by the classroom community. For example, instead of admonishing a student for harassing another with ‘stop bullying,’ educators can remind them of their responsibility by saying ‘health and safety.’ A teacher who sees a student damaging a textbook is often heard telling the student ‘that’s no way to treat school property.’ This would be replaced by asking, ‘Is there a property issue here?’ Questions using these principles avoid confrontations by separating educators from the rules and thus from an authoritarian role of telling students how to act. Refreshing a students’ memory emphasizes the power contained in a guiding principle and avoids the use of force which often results in counterforce from the student. When educators use language that empowers students with an intrinsic sense of responsibility, they find their students begin to move away from an obedience orientation to one of autonomy and self-control.

Involving students in setting up the rules or behavioral guidelines for the classroom is a first step towards giving students feelings of a sense of responsibility. When students develop the behavioral expectations or guidelines of the school and classroom, within the democratic structure described above, the community of learners takes greater ownership in their maintenance and further development. As a result, educators may not feel personally violated when behavioral expectations are broken by misbehaving students because educators can separate themselves from rules that are based on the same principles of civility we all live by in America. What better way to act in students best interests than for educators to help students learn to live responsibly in a free society.

When students mess up or stray from the class guidelines, the educator takes on the professional posture of one who works to help the troubled student come to terms with a problem situation. If educators are going to be effective in helping students recover from their misbehavior, get back on track, and do something else next time, they must create and maintain a “professional relationship” approach to consequences. A professional relationship can be defined as a fiduciary relationship in which students are entrusted to the care of educators. The professional ethics of this relationship is always acting in the best interests of those in our care. It is important, too, that each student believes his or her educator is always acting in his or her best interests. This is not easy for educators to bring about in a school setting unless students are included and feel some sense of responsibility in the relationship.

Developing a professional relationship with a misbehaving student begins with avoiding language and strategies that often lead to adversarial relationships. First, avoid lecturing students. Language like “I told you not to do that again’ and ‘you should be ashamed of yourself’ are usually voiced by educators to make themselves look responsible. Pointing out mistakes students already know about and retelling them what they have heard many times are examples of educators forcing the issue with guilt trips and threats in hopes of bring about compliant, submissive, or passive students. If students are going to learn to be responsible they should be doing the talking and the responding defensively to moralizing lectures.

Second, stop judging students. Playing judge and jury is the criminal justice approach often designed to humiliate, punish, and push students away from the learning community. Educators must learn to accept students exactly where they are now, assuming they have done the best they could. This does not imply that we agree with what they have done, it simply establishes a professional relationship with the student much like that of a doctor/patient or lawyer/client relationship. Misbehaving students are not asking educators to approve of what they have done, but they are asking for a professional educator to trust and understand that their behavior at the time was genuine and, under the circumstances, what they thought they needed to do at the time.

The first words spoken to a misbehaving student are always in the form of a question. The question empowers students to respond. The student talking is the one becoming responsible. Discourse encourages use of intellect and the associated feelings lead to mutual respect and responsible behavior for both students and educators.

Educators using a democratic approach to setting up school rules and classroom guidelines have separated themselves from the rules making it easier for educators to talk about rules without becoming defensive. By the same token, it is also easier for students to talk about their problems if educators separate students from what they did. This can be done by avoiding ‘why’ questions and focusing on questions related to what happened. ‘Why did you…,’ for example, focuses on the ‘you’, which often leads to defensiveness and litanies of excuses. Whereas ‘What happened’, asks students to describe ‘what’ occurred. ‘Would you like to talk about it?’ also emphasizes ‘it’ and thereby avoids students feeling they will be judged.

Once students have had an opportunity to respond (and regardless of what they say), the next question to be discussed is ‘what needs to be done now?’ This discussion with students revolves around what students need to do to put things back together and make things whole again. It is the legal concept of “restitution.” Also important are the feeling of others which may have to be considered. If feelings have been hurt, then some discussion regarding an apology should be considered.

When students have come to some resolution about what needs to be done about what happened, the next question to discuss is ‘what can we learn from this?’ Questions and discussions are related to changing goals and attitudes and talking about ‘what can we do next time so this will not happen again?’

It is important that throughout the whole discussion of consequences, educators must always respond to students in the form of questions. If students are reluctant to respond to questions or have no ideas, educators could ask question which introduce their own ideas for student consideration. For example, ‘what do you think about doing ____ as something you could do now?’ or what would happen if you did ____ next time?’ or ‘do you think an apology would help the situation?’ are some examples of questions which could be filled with ideas and next steps for students to consider. Decisions made from discussions must be volitional on the part of students. They must have the feeling they are making their own decisions and not playing off the authority of another. Troubled students are truly fortunate to be in the professional care of an educator committed to helping them recover and get back on track.

Guidelines and decisions based on democratic principles and consequences grounded in a professional relationship help bring students to a principled level of thinking. This reasoned and considerate approach to rules and consequences provides students with a paradigm they take to other social situations. There is a significant difference between learning obedience through rules and consequences designed to force behavioral changes and learning civil responsibility through the empowering language and discourse of professional educators. A democratic school experience is about developing learning goals with students designed to enhance character and courage which will hopefully provide them a presence of mind for living a life of equability and self-control.

Gathercoal, Forrest, Judicious Discipline, 6th Edition, Caddo Gap Press, San Francisco, CA, 2001
McEwan, Barbara, Practicing Judicious Discipline, 3rd Edition, Caddo Gap Press, San Francisco, CA, 1999
Gathercoal, Forrest, Judicious Leadership for Residence Hall Living, Caddo Gap Press, San Francisco, CA 1991
Gathercoal, Forrest, A Judicious Philosophy for School Support Personnel, Caddo Gap Press, San Francisco, CA 1996
Gathercoal, Paul and Gathercoal, Forrest, The Judicious Professor, Caddo Gap Press, San Francisco, CA 2010
Gathercoal, F., Gathercoal, P., Bryde, B. R., Verkaik, N., Judicious Coaching, Caddo Gap Press, San Francisco, CA, 2002

Caddo Gap Press
3145 Geary Boulevard, Suite 275
San Francisco, California 94118
Telephone: (415) 666-3012
Email: caddogap@aol.com

Paul Gathercoal, Ph.D.
Corroboree, LLC
Cell: (805) 479-1256
Email: gathercoal@dock.net

Last Updated January 6, 2017

Judicious (Character Education)Discipline

Paul Gathercoal
California Lutheran University


Virginia Nimmo
Mankato School District

A paper presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) 2001 Annual Meeting, (SIG - Conflict Resolution and Violence Prevention in Classrooms and Schools) 10 - 14 April 2001, in Seattle, Washington


U.S. education has focused on character development from its inception (Field 1996). The very first law dealing with public education in 1640 made the development of character a central aspect of education. However, U.S. education has increasingly turned away from character since the 1930s. In fact, in the past two or three decades educators have largely excludedthe teaching of character from the curriculum. Some attribute this situation directly to the reactionagainst the “values clarification” movement of the 60s and 70s. Educators too often tried to make education value free—a logical and behavioral impossibility and consciously moved away from teaching anything that looked like character education.

Much of the character-building curricula made available to teachers through commercial publishers, are well-scripted prescriptions for teaching about specific ethics and values. Some employ high-profile people who endorse the curriculum, its process, and substance. Most character-building curricula are marketed well and generally have the best interests of our society at their core. They are teacher‑friendly, and complement and work well with Judicious Discipline.

A Brief Summary of Judicious Discipline in Action:

Educators have always believed teaching citizenship is an important aspect of their educational mission. Judicious Discipline (Gathercoal, 1997) takes that belief one step further -- to acknowledge and respect students as citizens.  Judicious Discipline is a philosophy and a framework for classroom management and school discipline.  It is a citizenship approach that teaches students about their rights and responsibilities for living and learning in a democratic society.  It is based on the United States Bill of Rights.

How do we provide students with a framework that balances human rights with the rights and interests of the rest of society?  Forrest Gathercoal (1997), author of Judicious Discipline, presents educators with a model that respects the rights of every student and balances these human rights with the rights and interests of the rest of the students in the school/class -- a balance that is maintained in a state of dynamic equilibrium.  This model is best put into action when educators teach students about their individual rights (rights that are enjoyed by all citizens living in a democratic society), and allow students to explore their individuality by exercising their rights within the school and its classrooms.

The human rights guaranteed by the constitution of the United States to every individual are freedom, equality and justice.  More specifically stated they include freedom of speech, press, peaceful assembly, and religion; the right to privacy and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure; and the right to due process and equal protection of life, liberty and property. 

The rights and interests of a school's society can be summed up in four compelling state interests.  They represent legal reasons why educational institutions operate and maintain safe, disciplined, and proper educational environments.  The four compelling state interests serve as a framework for rules and expectations.  Students and educators cooperatively develop behavioral guidelines for their own teaching and learning situations based on these four compelling state interests.  These compelling state interests have been winnowed from two hundred years of U.S. constitutional history; they are very legal and represent the four arguments educators can use to limit a student's individual rights.

The compelling state interests are:

¶   Property Loss and Damage: an interest which acts as steward for the care and appropriate use of individual and state owned property.

¶   Threat to Health and Safety: an interest that serves a fundamental purpose of government to protect the health and safety of students who attend     public schools.

¶   Legitimate Educational Purpose: an interest that keeps in countenance administrators', teachers', and the educational institution's license to make arbitrary decisions that are based on sound educational practice and the mission of the school.

¶   Serious Disruption of the Educational Process: an interest empowering schools with the professional responsibility to deny student rights that seriouslydisrupt student activities.

When students are taught about the need for balancing their rights with the rights and interests of society, they come to understand that there is always an appropriate time, place, and manner for exercising their individual rights.  The rules and expectations students develop will naturally reflect an understanding of what are appropriate displays of individual behavior.  Concomitantly, students will have addressed notions of social justice and will have done much to generate an atmosphere and culture in their school and classroom that fosters the pursuit of academic excellence.

Judicious Discipline is "front loading;" it doesn't work very well unless expectations are in place and the community of learners develops them.  To get started, educators and their students develop classroom and school expectations by rewording the four compelling state interests into positive behavioral statements and then ask the students to help define what they look like in various teaching and learning situations.  The chart below, represents how the compelling state interests can be reworded into positive statements.

The Compelling State Interest and its Positive Behavioral Statement.

Compelling State Interest

Positive Behavioral Statements

Threat to Health and Safety

Act in a Safe and Healthy Way

Property Loss and Damage

Treat All Property with Respect

Serious Disruption of the Educational Process

Respect the Rights and Needs of Others

Legitimate Educational Purpose

Take Responsibility for Learning

Note that the four positive behavioral statements for students will never change; these are the principles upon which our society limits an individual's rights.  However, the examples that students will generate for each positive behavior statement will vary from learning situation to learning situation.  The examples students offer will be very different for teaching and learning in the Resource Center than if they are generated for teaching and learning in the Gymnasium.  So, the teacher will ask, "What does Act in a Safe and Healthy Way mean in this classroom?"  Students then provide the language that defines each positive behavioral statement while another student records the expectation on a large sheet of paper.  The teacher leads the discussion that defines each positive behavioral statement by conducting a democratic class meeting (Gathercoal & Connolly, 1997). When the expectations are complete, each student signs her or his name, or places a thumb-print on the paper. The expectations are then displayed in the class area as a reminder to students and educators. Displayed below is an example of a third grade classroom's expectations:

¶   Act in a Safe and Healthy Way:

¶   Walk in the school - Follow playground rules - Keep hands and feet to yourself - Use a person's first name when speaking - Follow bus rules - Use furniture correctly

¶   Treat All Property with Respect:

¶   Take care of furniture - books - bathrooms - computers and all personal property - Ask before using other people's property

¶   Respect the Rights and Needs of Others:

¶   Keep hands to yourself - Work without disturbing others - Cooperate to help others learn - Use respectful language – Guard the process of learning

¶   Take Responsibility for Learning:

¶   Listen to others - Do you homework and return it on time - Try your hardest and do your best work - Be prepared for school - pencils, books, and folders - Keep track of materials

When students develop the behavioral expectations of the school/classroom, within this democratic structure, the community of learners owns the expectations.  As a result, educators may not feel personally violated when behavioral expectations are broken.  The educator takes on the role of a mentor, or student advocate who tries to help the troubled student come to terms with a problem situation.  In this way, educators remain educators.

When educators use Judicious Discipline, work related stress is reduced through the lack of student/teacher confrontations and a greater feeling of professionalism as an educator.  As one classroom teacher commented,

The most immediate effect of my ...reading Judicious Discipline is myclassroom management.  The entire atmosphere of my classroom and therelationships I have with my students has been radically changed.  My old emphasis on 'discipline' and 'deadlines' had been replaced with compassion, understanding and awareness of the best interest of the individual.  It's remarkable to me how much I am suddenly enjoying teaching and how often my students are finding me to be an adult to whom they can turn for understanding.  (McEwan, 1990, p. 40)

Students, too, will feel greater self-worth as they are empowered with taking responsibility for their own behavior.  As a consequence, Judicious Discipline can be said to be actively involved in constructing a culture of a mutual respect between the educator and every student in the school.

Developing Character through Democratic Culture:

Character education, as portrayed today, is one approach to a much larger set of issues. At the heart of the desire to help our children have “better” character is their moral development. Judicious Discipline offersanapproach to democratic classroom management that enhances the implementation of any character-building curriculum. We believe that this approach is essential to the implementation of good character education programs in our schools.

There is much literature advocating that an educator's style of school and classroom management needs to shift from autocratic to democratic approaches (Hill, 1990; McEwan, 1990; Sarason, 1990; Shor, 1992; Glickman, Allen & Lunsford, 1994; Johnson & Johnson, 1994; Gathercoal, 1997; Gathercoal, 1999; McEwan, Gathercoal & Nimmo, 1999; Landau & Gathercoal, 2000). The rationale for this paradigm shift is simple.  Students need models from which to learn.  Educators delude themselves if they believe students will learn to be responsible citizens in a democratic society by passively learning about democracy in autocratic schools and classrooms.  Students need democratic models operating in their daily lives and opportunities to exercise their democratic rights and responsibilities.  It is pure fantasy for educators to believe that their students will operate at the higher levels of moral development as a result of their meting out rewards and punishment in hopes of reinforcing “good” behavior and discouraging the “bad.”  Students need educators who can model appropriate knowledge, dispositions and skills at the principled level of moral development. 

Public education exists to preserve and promote literacy and democracy. The ends of education are to assure that students succeed to the best of their abilities, and lead a healthy, personally enriching lifestyle. Although meaningful and humane goals, they are hardly important if not achieved in the context of a democratic society.  Our means must match the ends of education; they are intrinsically linked. What we do in the classroom inevitably impacts the ends of education for every student in that classroom. For example, isn’t it absurd to think that we can prepare students for living and learning in a free, democratic society by teaching them in autocratic classrooms? Character education will work only if it is founded upon the principles of democracy.

Often, character-building curricula will use rewards and punishment to encourage good character. Rewards and punishment (negative consequences) are at the lowest levels on any taxonomy for moral development. Isn’t this antithetical to the process? This is why we wanted our readers to keep in mind the ends of education and how the means and the ends are intrinsically linked. If we are truly interested in developing good character in students, then the process must involve intrinsic rewards. When we rely on extrinsic motivators, acts of good character are dependent upon the reward being present or the negative consequence being absent. The lesson learned by the student is to avoid the unpleasant and seek the pleasant. If the rewards are not forthcoming, you can do what you like, when you like, and however it feels best for you. Judicious Discipline, on the other hand, operates at the principled level of moral development. The teacher acts as a professional, the student’s mentor.  Judicious discipline uses intrinsic motivation and celebrates good citizenship. Rather than establishing and maintaining a codependent relationship with students, the teacher empowers students who then want to be strong in character.

Character-building curricula offer little opportunity for students to get to higher-level thinking. In fact, these curricula often encourage lower‑level thinking skills. Students are asked to parrot responses to ethical dilemmas with rehearsed social scenarios, legislated by those in authority, and thrust upon students as right answers. These exercises in character building use recall, explanation, and some application. On the other hand, Judicious Discipline encourages higher-order thinking skills through real social situations. Students are invited to describe, explain, predict, and make reasoned choices in a democratic classroom.

When students find themselves in a problem social situation, the teacher who practices Judicious Discipline will approach them as a professional educator. The teacher will probably ask, “What seems to be the matter?” The students then have the opportunity to tell about the situation, recalling what happened, explaining perceptions of the situation, making predictions about what is likely to happen, and suggesting possible choices based on recollections and predictions. Now they are practicing critical thinking. Isn’t that what education is about? Educators will not get there by providing students with “canned responses” to vicarious social situations.

For schools serious about character education, Judicious Discipline can provide the foundation—and, with some modification, good character-building curricula may help. Character education is more than a lesson or two each week. If we are really serious about preparing students to live and learn in a free, democratic society, we have to do more. Educators must be judicious educators and live what they are teaching.

The Research Design:

Kennedy Elementary School, in Mankato, Minnesota, has been using Judicious Discipline for five years.  This study has followed the school's progress over the five-year period.  Our qualitative and quantitative results show significant improvement in students' social development. 

Implementation and evaluation of Judicious Discipline has been on-going over the five-year period and was facilitated by action research methods. 

The research project involved students and educators in Kennedy Elementary School, in Mankato, MN.  The primary researchers were:

¶   Paul Gathercoal, Associate Professor, California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA. (Lead Researcher)

¶   Candy Bell, School Counselor, District 77, Mankato, MN

¶   John Klaber, School Psychologist, District #77, Mankato, MN.

¶   Ginny Nimmo, School Psychologist, District #77, Mankato, MN.

¶   Tom Ommen, Principal, Kennedy Elementary School, Mankato, MN.

The sample population consisted of volunteer students, faculty, administration and school support personnel, who attended or serviced Kennedy Elementary School.     The action research project documented successful strategies employed by educators who implemented the principles of Judicious Discipline in their schools and classrooms and investigated the effectiveness such a framework for classroom/school discipline had on teaching students to be responsible citizens through social development.

The project involved educators and researchers identifying successful strategies for teaching and learning that resulted from implementing Judicious Discipline  in their schools, and classrooms.  Through a variety of means, the primary researchers gathered data and artifacts that documented teaching and learning successes in the school/classroom.  Instruments for gathering data included surveys, meetings, class meetings and videotape interviews.  Other artifacts took the form of anecdotes, student-made products, teaching resources, instructional materials, or ideas for future implementation.   Class meetings provided a vehicle to discuss the results of the group with the students and determine their community’s needs.  The result of this project was a sharing of successful experiences and the accumulation of qualitative data in support of the implementation of Judicious Discipline

The primary researchers met periodically and shared data gathered from their research sites.  Observations were made and supported by the primary researchers with the artifacts and the data they collected.  The primary researchers reflected upon these observations and recommendations were made.  The observations and recommendations are presented in this paper for further consideration and discussion. 

The action research sharing meetings occurred as often as practical.  It was understood that the qualitative data presented at these meetings could be used as supporting evidence for the implementation of Judicious Discipline in schools, and classrooms throughout the United States.  The evidence shared could be published and disseminated to others interested in implementing Judicious Discipline

The Significance of the Mankato Action Research Project:

This research project was of both theoretical and practical significance.  Theoretically, the project addressed the notion that if students are given responsibility they may become responsible citizens.  For many of our American schools the responsibility for good citizenship is couched in the educator’s power to wield punishment upon wrong doers.  This project has produced qualitative data, that adds support to the theory that building a school culture through a non-punishment, democratic approach to classroom/school management can produce students who are responsible for their own actions and consciously strive to do good for societies sake (Gathercoal, 1990; Sarson, 1990).  It also provides support for a transfer effect of good citizenship at home, at work, on the sporting field, and in other social settings.  Citizenship skills were found to be transferable from situation to situation, unlike the rewards and punishment models for school/classroom discipline that tend to be situation specific.  There is data to support the notion that students who were in Judicious Discipline classrooms established better student/educator and student/student relationships.  As a result, it can be argued that the schools/classrooms where the principles of Judicious Discipline were applied contributed to students' social development and helped prepare them for living and learning in a democratic society.

Practically, the project was designed to produce ideas that could be used as models for implementation by other educators who wish to implement Judicious Discipline in their schools and classrooms.  Several artifacts have emerged including an instructional videotape on "Conducting Democratic Class Meetings" (Gathercoal & Connolly, 1997).

The Social Development Questionnaire:

Throughout the five-year period a questionnaire developed by The Social Development Group, Research Branch of the South Australian Department of Education, and published in their 1980 publication Developing the Classroom Group, was used to ascertain students level of social development.  The questionnaire differentiates between power and affect relationships through a series of eight true/false questions and places the individual's response in one of four developmental groups (dependent, rebellion, cohesion, and autonomy). 

Student behavior for each developmental stage is described below:

¶   In stage 1, the main issue is dependence.  Students are generally dependent and submissive, and do what the teacher says.  The students' interaction is mostly through the teacher, so there is low covert interaction among students.  there is little disruptive behavior, but some "attention getting."  Order is fairly high.  anxiety levels high in some students.  Some students are bored.  Motivation is extrinsic; approval, praise and encouragement from teacher and parent/caregiver(s) is important.  There is fear of punishment.

¶   In stage 2 the main issue is rebellion.  The students test, challenge and try out the teacher.  The student group separates into two camps, one in opposition to the teacher, the other seeking to maintain dependent group behavior.  Some students challenge or ignore the teacher's efforts to control the class.  Noise level tends to be high.  trust level among students is low, and aggressive interactions and put downs are common.  The rebellious sub-group is extrinsicly motivated by peer group approval, moderated by fear of teacher punishment.  The intrinsic motivation is for autonomy, moderated by dependency needs.

¶   In stage 3, the main issue is cohesion.  Students are friendly and trusting to each other and the teacher.  There is very little disruptive behavior.  There is lots of interaction but of an orderly type.  They conform to group norms.  There is little disagreement, as this is seen as disruptive to the harmony of the group.  This inability to handle conflict results in some covert bad feeling.  Extrinsic motivation comes from praise and encouragement from peer group and teacher.  Breach of class norms brings strong group disapproval.

¶   Autonomy is the main issue at stage 4.  Individuals are self-directed, able to seek and give support but function well without it.  Students take responsibility for their own learning.  There is a high level of interaction.  Agreement and discussion are the norm; agreement occurs in the context of disagreement.

Feelings (positive and negative) are openly expressed.  Students work the same with or without the teacher present.

Disruptive behavior is virtually non-existent.  Students show flexibility and adaptability in a variety of learning situations without demanding conformity of all members.  They utilize self-awareness and empathy rather than rules to choose behavior.  Motivation is mainly intrinsic.  Social behavior is based on respect for self and others.  Learning is seen as a way of gaining personal competence and joy.  (Education Department of South Australia , 1980, p. 31 - 35)


The questionnaire was administered to students five times throughout the five-year period.  It was administered by the Primary Researchers and scored by the Lead Primary Researcher.  The following, TABLE 1., provides the distribution of responses at the various levels of social development over the five-year period.

TABLE 1.  School-wide Results for Kennedy Elementary School’s Questionnaires

Questionnaire #1 - Administered to All Students in September 1995





N = 449:  26%

N = 68:  4%

N = 736:  42%

N = 498:  28%

Questionnaire #2 - Administered to All Students in January 1996





N = 335:  20%

N = 179:  10%

N = 570:  34%

N = 602:  36%

Questionnaire #3 - Administered to All Students in May 1996





N = 284:  17%

N = 129:  8%

N = 510:  31%

N = 742:  45%

Questionnaire #4 - Administered to All Students in October 1999





N = 122:  9%

N = 169:  13%

N = 419:  32%

N = 602:  46%

Questionnaire #5 - Administered to All Students in June 2000





N = 101:  8%

N = 139:  11%

N = 280:  22%

N = 748:  59%

Qualitative Results:

The qualitative findings indicated that teachers who took the time to teach students about Judicious Discipline reaped many benefits: 

¶    Their students were more likely to indicate they are operational at the autonomous stage of social development, and as a result,

¶    Teachers were less likely to feel frustrated and/or experience high levels of work-related stress.

¶    They were more likely to be respected by others, and

¶    They felt a sense of professionalism.

¶    They knew they were using management strategies that are legal, ethical, and educationally sound, and

¶    Their students were provided with a “language of civility,” that established a common vocabulary for discussing, mediating and reconciling social problems, and

¶    Their students used that “language of civility” to advocate for themselves and to solve their own social problems, and

¶    Through democratic class meetings students learned a model for dealing with conflict resolution and problem-solving within their respective communities, which also carried into other areas of the school.

     The qualitative findings also indicated that in those classrooms where teachers had not spent adequate time teaching the philosophy, or in the use of class meetings experienced more difficulty with peer relationships and student to teacher relationships.  The students did not show growth in levels of autonomy.  This was evident in student interactions in unstructured settings, and also with associated referrals to the school counselor and referrals for assessment.


The results of this action research project suggest that when teachers use strategies complementary with the philosophy of Judicious Discipline they do much to lead students toward the autonomous stage of social development, as measured by our questionnaire.  Students become more self-directed and are able to take responsibility for learning.  They display flexibility in a variety of social situations without demanding conformity of all students.  They are able to empathize with others and establish mutual expectations based on respect for themselves and others. 

The findings of this research project suggest that teachers need to take the time to teach students about Judicious Discipline.  Teachers who take the time to teach about and practice Judicious Discipline in their classrooms reap many benefits.  Students in their classrooms are more likely to respond at the autonomous stage of social development on our questionnaire, and as a result, these teachers are less likely to feel frustrated and/or experience high levels of work-related stress.  The study indicates that educators who practiced Judicious Discipline,ostensibly as it is designed to be used, were respected by others and they taught their students respect by giving them respect; these teachers were “models of respect.”  These educators indicated that using Judicious Discipline gave them feelings of professionalism they had not experienced before.  They felt that they were using management strategies that were legal, ethical, and educationally sound.  In teaching about Judicious Discipline and providing students with a “language of civility,” educators found common ground for discussing, mediating and reconciling social problems that developed as a result of living and learning in a democratic classroom/school.  As well, students who learned about Judicious Discipline were able to use “the language of civility” to advocate for themselves and to use it to solve their own social problems.  Students with Downs Syndrome were able to learn the language and respond to its use as a modifier of inappropriate behavior and as a reminder of socially appropriate behavior.  Students with emotional and behavioral disorders were treated with respect, and the result was learning the concepts of conflict resolution and a language to help them in the school community and future society.

Judicious Discipline did much to establish a new school culture at Kennedy Elementary School.  It provided all students, educators, administrators and staff with a common language of civility that was used to solve social problems and think about what was "right" and "good."  "Our perceptions and interpretations influence the way our bodies respond.  When the "mind" is in a context, the "body" is necessarily also in that context.  To achieve a different physiological state, sometimes what we need to do is to place the mind in another context." (Langer, 1989, p.177)

Practicing Judicious Discipline at Kennedy Elementary School helped everyone to construct a context they perceived as fair, free, and caring.  When we truly believe that this is the state of the environment, we are more likely to think of ourselves as having value and as a result, we will be less likely to act out against people and things in that environment. 

It makes sense then to project that teachers who use Judicious Discipline are less likely to be victims of revenge.  Consider that some, not many, but some students will be "tagged" with this description and will exhibit these characteristics:

...signs of irrational thinking are usually absent.  They are egocentric and lack the capacity to feel empathy and love.  They have little or no conscience or sense of guilt, tend to project blame when they get into trouble.  They are unreliable, untruthful, and insincere, but they are often convincing because they believe their own lies.  There is a vast gulf between what they say and what they do.  They are impulsive, the whim of the moment being paramount.  They are given to periodic and often senseless antisocial behavior, which may be either aggressive or passive and parasitic. (Restak, 1988, p. 310)

This is the description of the violent psychopath.  For these students, no discipline model will work well.  They are not normal.  However, using Judicious Discipline will not make things worse, and Judicious Discipline has the potential to make things better

The teacher who uses Judicious Discipline avoids power struggles and encourages students to be responsible for their actions.  In this way, the teacher remains on the same side as the student and is rarely viewed by the student as the problem.  The teacher remains student-centered.  The teacher maintains the role of mentor and guide when the student is in trouble.  The teacher remains ever the educator, armed with knowledgeable resources for teaching and learning.  The teacher embraces student behavior problems as another "teachable moment;" another opportunity to teach about what is "right" and what is "good."  Isn't this why responsible adults go into education?  Isn't that why we call them "teacher?"


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