Positive or Assertive Models of Discipline?

I have a son who works really hard at school and he comes home with A+ for his work.  However, yesterday, my son was dreading his day at school due to one particular teacher.  When I questioned him why?  He said “she always shouts at everyone in class and nobody likes her”.  He then wished for his other teacher to teach him; who is also the headmistress of the school.  Therefore, I started thinking about different approaches that teachers have and which approach works best with children within schools.

There is a variation between the approaches to behaviour management within schools (Ingram, 2012).  Teachers face children who refuse to cooperate, rudeness and aggression.  However, these are types of behaviours that teachers manage on a regular basis.  Bear (2009) evaluates two popular techniques; these are positive discipline and assertive discipline.  He believes that positive discipline is based on building self discipline through gathering the child’s social/emotional needs and giving a strong student relationship combined with individual responsibility.  This is opposite to the behaviourist – style that is based on rewards and corrective actions that is eventually internalized by the individual.

Therefore, if having a child refusing to work within a classroom, teachers would need to decide what action to take.  If the teacher is aware of the cause e.g. anxiety then various empathic responses could be preferred or perhaps the behaviourist approach might seem the better option; e.g. not awarding a house point or give the pupil detention.  One of the issues here is; perhaps when showing warmth and understanding it can perhaps encourage the individual not to work in order to spend more time with the teacher and having one to one attention.  However, on the other hand punishment can also give a negative effect by making the child feel the teacher is against them!

Therefore, this relies heavily on professional judgement that gives the correct balance of pastoral or the behaviourist approach.  Therefore, which theory is correct as supporting psychological theories and research do not offer any rationale in deciding when one approach is better than the other?  Again, Bear believes that the majority of schools are disciplined by punishment in order to achieve compliance to those who do not comply.  Therefore, which is right?  Should children have a positive or assertive discipline?

Bear, G. G. (2009).  The positive in positive models of discipline.  In R. Gilman, E.S. Hueber & M. J. Furlong (Eds.) Handbook of positive psychology in schools (pp.305-22).  Abingdon: Routledge.

Inglam, R (2012).  The Educational Meets the Evolutionary.  The Psychologist vol.25 no. 3.


About caryswilliams

Third year student studying psychology..
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7 Responses to Positive or Assertive Models of Discipline?

  1. Firstly I think that it is important to discuss classroom management because effective discipline practices are associated with academic success. However, when looking to improve classroom management adopting an either or approach in regards to positive or assertive discipline may not actually be helpful, instead adopting a more whole school intervention which encompasses an array of not only management strategies but ways to get students more engaged could be a better route. Research conducted by Lulsell, Putman, Handler and Feinberg, 2010 found that when implementing an intervention which involved improving instructional methods, formulating behaviour expectancies, increasing classroom activity engagement, reinforcing positive performance and monitoring efficacy through data base evaluation was significantly associated with a decrease in discipline problems over the course of several academic years and an increase in student academic achievement.


  2. maz06 says:

    Hey Carys,
    I focused my blog on the behaviourist approach to dealing with the discipline problems that the nation is facing. Using punishment may be ineffective as often it is not followed up nor explained to the students, whilst it may temporarily solve the problem it does not stop the child from repeating the behaviour. O’Leary et al (1970) found that punishment could be effective if it was a private reprimand; where children receive feedback immediately and are given the opportunity to have a positive relationship with the teacher.

    Good game behaviour approach could help discipline. This involves setting rules for the class and children are put into groups. The group is then awarded rewards / demerits depending on their group behaviour. Social psychologists such as Allport may argue that students will be more motivated to put more effort it in order to keep up with the group performance. Embry (2002) suggested whilst this did not relate to academic performance, good behaviour increased significantly.


    O’leary, D., Kaufman,K., Kass, R., & Drabham, R. (1970) The effects of loud and soft reprimands on the behaviour of disruptive students . Exceptional Children, 37, 145-155.

    Embry, D.D. (2002).The good behaviour game : A best practise candidate as a universal behavioural vaccine. Clinical and Family Psychology Review, 5 (4). DOI: 10.1023/A:1020977107086

  3. psub39 says:

    I believe that the self discipline more beneficial in the long term as the student take control for their own discipline and has no need for external rewards and punishments (Bear, 2010). Learning self discipline is beneficial in education especially in university; where over forms of disciplines such as adult monitoring is less influential. If self discipline is beneficial how can students learn this?

    Bear et al (2006) believed that there were four steps to developing self discipline which were:
    1. Perceiving that a social or moral problem exists.
    2. Determining what one ought to do.
    3. Deciding among alternatives.
    4. Doing what one decides to do.

    He stated that carefully used praise and reward strategies could help students learn to develop these steps, he also stated that a positive teacher student could also be beneficial for this development.

  4. scofedhannah says:

    I find this an interesting topic and funnily enough I attended an ABA lecture today about how teachers should approach bad behaviour in the classroom. Baker-Henningham (2009) designed ‘The Incredible Years Series’ a training program for teachers in how to deal with badly behaved children, designed for implementation during the early childhood years. It is designed to ignore bad behaviour and reinforce and recognize positive behaviour. Thus giving attention to positive behaviours only. They use role-plays, practical activites, small group work, vignettes, modeling and praising to encourage good behaviour in class.

  5. Corinna says:

    As pointed out by Hannah, there is the Incredible Years program, which has been found to significantly improve the behaviour of a lot of children even with both ADHD and conduct disorders compared to a control group (Jones, Daley, Hutchings, Bywater & Eames, 2007). Additionally, a two year follow-up study found persisting results (Reid, Webster-Stratton & Hammond, 2003). The program focuses on building positive relationships between the children and authority figures, while being flexible in how each individual is treated (Reid & Webster-Stratton, 2001). Hence, it has parts consistent with what has been described in your blog as positive discipline. However, the program also involves behaviourist methods such as praising and ignoring (Reid & Webster-Stratton, 2001). Furthermore, it has been argued that all components must be included, otherwise the effectiveness will be reduced (Webster-Stratton, 2004). Therefore, an effective discipline program may need a combination of the two approaches.

    Jones, K., Daley, D., Hutchings, J., Bywater, T., & Eames, C. (2007). Efficacy of the incredible years basic parent training programme as an early intervention for children with conduct problems and ADHD. Child: Care, Health and Development, 33, 749-756. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2214.2007.00747.x

    Reid, M. J., & Webster-Stratton, C. (2001). The incredible years parent, teacher, and child intervention: Targeting multiple areas of risk for a young child with pervasive conduct problems using a flexible, manualized treatment program. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 8, 377-386. doi:10.1016/S1077-7229(01)80011-0

    Reid, M. J., & Webster-Stratton, C., & Hammond, M. (2003). Follow-up of children who received the incredible years intervention for oppositional-defiant disorder: Maintenance and prediction of 2-year outcome. Behavior Therapy, 34, 471-491. doi:10.1016/S0005-7894(03)80031-X

    Webster-Stratton, C. (2004). Quality training, supervision, ongoing monitoring, and agency support: Key ingredients to implementing the incredible years programs with fidelity. Incredible Years, 1-12. Retrieved from http://ww.incredibleyears.com/Library/items/quality-key-ingredients-fidelity-04.pdf

  6. Benjamin says:

    This is definitely an interesting argument in the realm of the classroom, and one I’m sure we’ve all had experience with growing up, I always look back on my best teachers being really kind and caring, but when I really think about it, most of those teachers were also quite strict with students who didn’t take the classes seriously, clearly there is a balance that depends on the situation. Research has shown that punishment can lead to faster learning (Penney & Lupton) but there are other things to consider when ‘punishing’ children, take Banduras social learning theory for example, children will copy the actions of their carers and so you may teach children negative behaviours, I myself have seen my nephew try and send my niece to bed for being a ‘naughty girl’ when she was playing with the toy he wanted… Punishment can work, but it has wider implications that must be considered.

    Penney & Lupton – http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/com/54/4/449/
    Bandura – http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1963-35030-000

  7. Pingback: A Change That Would Allow More Effective Changes « Blogs on the Science of Education

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