We all know these months can be the most difficult months of the year. January and February can leave us frustrated, exhausted, and questioning decisions. It is usually this time of year when we see staff morale struggling, overall motivation slumping and student discipline at its peak. All those challenges come on top of the daily, weekly and 24/7 duties, decisions and debates you always face as an administrator in your building. Before we dive into proactive discipline, take a big deep breath in, hold it for three solid seconds and exhale slowly. Then, do it again, but this time think of two things you are thankful for during that three second hold. One more time and this time, make a personal commitment to stay positive for the remainder of the day during your three second hold.

Don’t you already feel so much better?! Now, take the time to stop what you’re doing and complete that task at least twice a day. If you’re having a rough day or can feel your tension building up, take three seconds and complete that task!

Now that we are feeling positive and refreshed, let’s talk about something that can be pretty negative, overwhelming and downright discouraging. That’s right! Student discipline. The good thing is that everyone deals with it! We work with a lot of different schools, leaders and teachers around the country and student behaviors are everywhere! Even in the most perfect of schools, you can’t find perfect students. You want to know why? Because those students are KIDS! Children will make mistakes, children need guidance, and you will always have a need for your discipline handbook. That will never go away, but what you can prevent is the amount of time and headaches student behaviors can cause. We believe a major factor in this is what we call “proactive discipline.” Proactive discipline really is not rocket science, does not cost a lot of money, nor does it require any curriculum. Let us give you some insight to this by showing you four core strategies of proactive discipline.

1. Build Relationships
We believe relationships are the absolute foundation of any meaningful work. We can have great ideas, systems, strategies and spend a whole lot of money on programs, but if we don’t take the time to build intentional, genuine, and positive relationships then none of them will truly flourish to their potential. These relationships start before the first day of school, but if you’re thinking you missed the boat this year, it’s okay and not too late to start today! Start with three positive phone calls home to parents this week, an encouraging handwritten note to a staff member, and 50 student high-fives or fist bumps each day. Get to know your students, staff, parents, and the community you serve! This will make the tough conversations easier, build respect and foster collaboration.

2. Be Active and Be Visible
We believe this is the easiest one for you! While it’s no secret that your to-do list is never-ending and you could live behind your desk for the next 78 hours straight and still not complete it, you really will never get caught up if the students with an office referral in their hand must “take a number” outside of your office. So why not avoid that by getting out of your office, being active, and being visible. Take time each day to be in the hallways during passing periods, grab a tray and eat in the cafeteria, go play at recess, and be present in classrooms without any agenda or observation. This takes intentionality and the right mindset. One thing that has helped us is setting alarms on our phone to make sure we didn’t miss a passing period and were on time to lunch.

3. Communicate
When teachers, staff, and parents want to complain during these months, they typically like to bash your communication. That is why we say you can’t communicate enough to those you serve. This is particularly important when it comes to practice disciplining. Communicate to your students how you expect them to behave. Communicate with your staff on areas where more supervision is needed, the red flags you are seeing with students, ways you are addressing issues, and most of all, how you can work together to improve behaviors. Communicate with parents when their student does the right thing, when they mess up, and when you are proud of them. Proactive communication is a vital piece of proactive discipline.

4. Model Behaviors
Modeling the right behavior in your building is just as important as being active and visible. One pet peeve we have with schools is when teachers and principals get frustrated with students for not being nice to each other or refusing to work together, yet they can’t have a nice conversation with a colleague or collaborate on a committee. This is essential! Treat people right and do the right thing. Others are always watching, and if you’re doing it right, it will be contagious!

None of our four strategies will cost you a dime. Yet, we guarantee they will make a positive impact in your school and improve student behaviors. For us, these practices even improved our work, made our own days more positive, and brought the joys out of each day. Give them a try and let us know what you think!


Todd Nesloney is TEPSA’s Director of Culture and Strategic Leadership. He is an award-winning educator, author and international speaker.

Ross Braun is a former elementary principal who is passionate about supporting schools and leaders to ensure every child has a safe, loving and engaging learning environment. Ross is now the VP of Positive Education at Spring, Texas based, School Life.

The Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA), whose hallmark is educational leaders learning with and from each other, has served Texas PK-8 school leaders since 1917. Member owned and member governed, TEPSA has more than 6000 members who direct the activities of 3 million PK-8 school children. TEPSA is an affiliate of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

© Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association

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