Assertive Discipline

Lee Cantor introduced Assertive Discipline in the United States.

This is research based, and followed on from the question: What did teachers who had few discipline problems do that other teachers with more problems did not do?

The ones with fewest problems obviously create the time to teach the most.

In General

Some children have weak discipline structures or emotional difficulties at home, and they come to appreciate a clear structure to discipline at school because it offers certainty and security.

Assertive Discipline is most potent when it is practised throughout the school consistently.

Assertive Discipline is about catching children being good as much as doing wrong. It involves an exchange of trust, and with the analogy of having a bank account deposits are made that praise and encourage.

To be assertive is to be:

Not to be assertive is to:

Some teachers try to impose discipline through hostility but this rarely works (because its limits are exposed) and the result of the inevitable accusations and responses is to degrade the children.

Assertive Discipline needs a plan of action based on the right to learn and the right to teach.


Vague, incomprehensible, non-literalist rules are out. It must be clear what is instructed and how this is carried out.

Three parts to be displayed:

There can be discussion in class about the rules but they must be the individual teacher's rules (the whole school practises assertive discipline but each classroom may vary the type and order of rules). More than this, the teacher must be happy with the rules, then the consequences and positive responses to be carried out.

Rules may include:

These rules with the consequences of breaking them have to be taught. This means children should be checked that they understand the rules and process.

These consequences must be:

Consequences must start with near insignificance but as a notice to begin the process of discipline. There must be no favouritism towards any single individual.

This is important: the consequences must be disliked but not humiliating.

Consequences (examples/ choices):

Writing a student's name down, for example when arriving late, is a good tool and may be additional or equivalent of writing the name down above.

The general rule is the less the consequence the better, as with the principle of English and European justice.

If the initial warning is ineffective, then move up one stage. Continue moving up stages with each ineffective stage.

Verbal Praise and Positive Reinforcement

It is important not to reward restorative behaviour, otherwise a child will plan ahead with an incentive for bad behaviour.

Positive reinforcement regimes are collective to avoid the danger of subjective responses and rewarding those who have done misdemeanours. This is also the case because positive reinforcement depends more on the judgement of the teacher in a dynamic situations and is open to variability.

In general and unconnected from consequences, there should be a general regime of verbal praise for work and behaviour done as required. Verbal praise should still be carried out with those who find it uncomfortable. It can become comfortable if it is the norm in that place. There may be private verbal praise strategies, however, for a time.

The teacher must be comfortable with the rewards for positive reinforcement. For example, homework passes may be regarded as unsuitable by some, labelling homework as a punishment, whilst planned in by others.

All the time it is important to appreciate those who neither disrupt nor excel. The middle people participate in the praise of a whole group.

Whilst restorative behaviour must not be rewarded, even the good behaviour and work of a misbehaving child freely given benefits the whole class. Do not reward what looks like restorative behaviour. A bad child who earns points for the whole class will find the class encouraging the individual into good behaviour.

In the same way, and more importantly, a child who is bad shares in the treats given as positive reinforcement to the whole class. The bad child must not be excluded from whole class treats at any time.

A high level of praise is reporting to parents good work.


There is a plan worked out, it has consequences for individuals and positive reinforcements for whole classes. Correction is given to individuals, benefits go to everyone.

The plan must be discussed with those higher in authority so that it is clear what they will do in situations of deeper consequences.

Carrying a plan through

Then the plan can be implemented, and this needs to be taught. It may be the first lesson or the introduction contains a whole section in the lesson on the discipline plan.

Noise meter idea

There may be grounds for additional monitoring. A noise meter is used by some people. It gives by visual means whether the noise level is excellent for positive reinforcement, fair, becoming too high, and consequences. The level of acceptability moise meter is adjusted according to the type of work carried out.

Tasks involve praising for what someone has done before criticism for what someone else has not done.

There are strategies:

Every day establish a lesson ethos:


The paradox is that if the consequences are having to be used a lot then the plan is not working. It may be necessary to reintroduce the plan.

The Chronically Badly Behaved

This needs assertive confrontation

There may be a meeting with another teacher too to:

Teachers may confer and issue a student with an individual discipline card.

The discipline card:

Where a plan is not working with a bad student, a dropping down technique is necessary

Some students argue. With them use:

The Broken Record:

Repeating the same line as a response such as "I understand but..." or "This is not the point; what are you going to do?"

This must be followed with a choice of compliance or consequences.

Compliance means no further consequences. Further consequences are, of course, at the deeper level reached. One at this point may well be contacting the parent, though the parent may well have been aware of developments if there was an after school detention or report home.

When a parent is to be contacted, one technique is to get the child to telephone home. Crying by the child at this stage before the call must be ignored in terms of making the call.

When a parent is involved in supporting assertive discipline at home:

If this does not work, is it possible to bring in the parent to sit in class. Another strategy is the tape recorder, the tape to be played with the parent. Another possibility is to take the child to the parent's workplace and leave the child with the parent!

In school detention is better than out of school. Saturday school may be one idea.

In extreme cases forced removal may be necessary which should be signalled by a teacher for ready prepared colleagues to do.

What's Inadequate?

The problem with this alone is that it is divorced from the work. This Borg like approach - "resistance is futile" - could allow the classroom teacher to produce the most uninteresting work and least taught work and expect compliance. There are good ideas about consistency and professionalism that is in calm application, but there needs to be a merging of education, which itself is called a discipline, and the task of doing discipline itself. Well paced, engaging, assessment considered (in terms of levels, what is wanted back) and varied work is its own discipline tool. An atmosphere of work gained by getting pupils on task quickly and moving through tasks is its own Assertive Education. It is when consequences are needed that the Assertive Education has in effect failed.

My own view is that ordinary, co-operative classes, looking for a learning ethos, and where that ethos infects the whole class, requires an implicit system of discipline - praise and pace - and that when a class is clearly in need of turning around then the rationalist Assertive Discipline is needed, or something similar, so that as it establishes itself the Assertive Education can follow on quickly.


Assertive Discipline has been extended to parents and even bus drivers.