What is different about different discipline programs ?
Timothy A. Carey
The following paper was initially written as the introduction to a doctoral research program. In the paper, current approaches to discipline in schools are examined and a single unifying thread is identified. It is my contention in this paper that all approaches to discipline share a common understanding of behavior and a common purpose. After reviewing current approaches to discipline I present the Responsible Thinking Process (RTP) as an alternative.
The reason that RTP is difference from other approaches to school discipline is because RTP is based on a radically different understanding of behavior. This understanding is articulated in the theory Perceptual Control Theory (PCT). As an application of the principles of PCT, RTP offers a revolutionary way of conceptualizing the social problems that occur in school settings. In the second part of the paper, therefore, both RTP and PCT are outlined.
Discipline problems in schools are a constant source of concern for educators. Primarily, schools are institutions where the youth of society are expected to acquire skills and knowledge that will help them become responsible contributors to society as adults.
Teachers in schools are trained to help students learn what it is they need to know. Traditionally, and perhaps still currently, the majority of a teacher's role has been to help students learn the material that is presented as a curriculum. Increasingly, however, teachers have also been expected to come up with solutions to the pervasive problem of maintaining discipline.
This expectation means that the time teachers spend on their primary role of curriculum delivery is eroded and it also means that, in many cases, they are expected to step outside their area of expertise and to develop additional skills to manage behavior problems.
Currently there is much information available on the state of discipline in schools and there is a wide range of solutions being offered. In this paper I will firstly review the current state of school discipline problems and then outline the major approaches being offered at the moment as solutions to this problem.
In summarizing these approaches I will highlight a fundamental common assumption that is perhaps masked by their apparent differences. Following this, I will outline the Responsible Thinking Process as an alternative way of conceptualizing behavior and behavior problems.
The Current State of Discipline Problems in Schools
Discipline problems in schools are perhaps the single greatest cause of concern for educators in schools today. Discipline is consistently identified as a serious school problem in public opinion polls (Stickel, Satchwell, & Meyer, 1991) and some authors believe that school discipline in the United States has not change greatly since Jefferson (Bear, 1998). This situation is concerning due to the pervasive effects of discipline problems for both students and teachers (Cameron, 1998).
Ineffective discipline affects all aspects of education (Clegg, 1984). Students who misbehave in school tend to drop out of school prematurely and are at greater risk for drug and alcohol use than are students who don't misbehave (Gottfredson, Gottfredson, & Hybl, 1993).
Misbehaving students also engage in delinquent behaviors more than their peers (Gottfredson, et al., 1993). Also, the education of both the misbehaving students and their behaving peers is disrupted (Clegg, 1984) and this may explain, at least in part, why there is a positive relationship between the behavior of students and exam success (Rutter, Maughan, Mortimore, & Ouston, 1979).
Teachers are also affected by misbehaving students in terms of the stress they experience while attempting to teach. Hart, Wearing, and Conn (1995) report that teachers rate student behavior stressors as more stressful than organisational stressors.
Current Approaches to Reducing School Discipline Problems
In this paper I have grouped approaches to school discipline in three broad categories.
The first approach is the behavioral approach which includes any discipline program that is characterised by a focus on environmental variables.
The second approach is the social-cognitive approach. This term includes all those approaches that deal with internal features of individuals such as goals and processing style.
The third approach is the systemic approach and this category includes those programs that consider the relationships and systems that the individual is part of to be paramount.
Behavioral. The behavioral approach relies on the use of external variables to promote acceptable behavior in class (Martin & Pear, 1992). In this approach, teachers manipulate environmental contingencies by using reinforcers, punishers and processes of shaping and extinction to manage the behavior of the students in their class (Jones & Jones, 1995).
Teachers using behavioral strategies would use a variety of positive reinforcers such as praise, stickers, and free time to promote desirable class behavior such as compliance and on-task behavior (Donnellan, LaVigna, Negri-Shoultz, & Fassbender, 1988). Additionally, these teachers would use some form of penalty such as reprimands, demerit points, or time out in order to reduce undesirable behavior (Martin & Pear, 1992).
Token reinforcement systems or token economies combine many of the strategies mentioned above into one coherent classroom management plan (Jones & Jones, 1995). In this procedure, the teacher decides on a behavior or number of behaviors to be reinforced and dispenses tokens when these behaviors occur.
The students keep these tokens and are able to trade them in at a later date for reinforcing items or activities. This approach has the advantage of being able to be used with the whole class and penalties for undesirable behavior can be introduced in the form of fines (Martin & Pear, 1992).
A whole school approach to discipline based on behavioral techniques was developed by Lee Canter (Canter, 1976). Canter's (1976) Assertive Discipline program instructs classroom teachers on how to set clear limits, establish consequences, follow through consistently and reward appropriate behavior.
In this program the teacher assumes responsibility for managing the behavior of the student (Benshoff, Poidevant, & Cashwell, 1994). Research into the effectiveness of this approach has provided inconclusive findings and has been described by some authors as unsophisticated (Benshoff, et al., 1994).
Behavioral techniques appear to be used widely in educational settings with schools reporting a wide range of incentives and rewards and sanctions and punishments (Rutter, et al., 1979).
A report by the Scottish Office Education Department also lists strategies such as warnings, rebukes and punishment exercises as being commonly employed by teachers (Scottish Office Education Department, 1992). In Hong Kong secondary schools, Kwok (1997) found that the most common forms of discipline measures used by discipline teachers were recording demerits, verbal warnings / reprimands, meetings with parents, and detentions.
Rutter et al. (1979) report that generally punishment is used more frequently than rewards and yet punishment has only a weak association with measures of student behavior, attendance, examination success, and delinquency. In fact, at times, a negative correlation was reported between student behavior and frequent disciplinary interventions (Rutter, 1980). The link between rewards and the outcome measures mentioned above was more consistent however, with all form of reward tending to be associated with better outcomes (Rutter, et al., 1979).
Social-Cognitive. The social-cognitive category covers all those approaches that place emphasis on the cognitive processes of the individual. In this approach it is assumed that if the student is misbehaving it is because of a problem with interpersonal problem solving skills (e.g., Goldstein, 1988), or need satisfaction (e.g., Glasser, 1986), or information processing ability (e.g., Dodge, 1980). Rather than reinforce or punish the student therefore, the student's internal processing is addressed under the assumption that if the student processes things differently he or she will then act differently.
Balson (1988) draws heavily from the work of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs and claims that all human behavior is goal directed and purposeful and the key to modifying a student's behavior is to discover what the goal behind the behavior is and to prevent the student from achieving it. In a similar way, Glasser (1986) claims that "what students (and all of us) do in school is completely determined by the pictures in their heads" (p. 39). These pictures are based on five basic needs that we have and Glasser (1986) maintains that if teachers provide an environment where students can satisfy their needs then there will be no discipline problems. Numerous other authors echo the concept of basic needs with wide variations in the number and type of needs being proposed (Jones & Jones, 1995).
Poppen, Thompson, Cates, and Gang, (1976) report using techniques from Glasser's (1965) reality therapy to improve the behavior of disruptive students. In this study six fourth and fifth grade students were selected because their teachers regarded them as having serious behavior problems.
Three conditions were used in which the teacher either responded to the target student's desirable behavior, the target student's undesirable behavior, or the target student's undesirable and desirable behavior.
Poppen et al. (1976) report that for all students desirable behavior increased and undesirable behavior decreased and they therefore concluded that reality therapy strategies were an effective way of dealing with student behavior problems.
Furthermore, Poppen et al. (1976) noted that involvement activities alone such as giving the student individual attention were effective in increasing the frequency of desirable behavior. Similar effects on student behavior have been reported using a whole school approach based on reality therapy ideas (Grimesey, 1990).
Goddard and Cross (1987) report the results of an eight session social skills program designed to help students deal effectively with such issues as teasing and bullying. The sessions were thirty minutes long and were held once a week. Five fourth grade boys participated in the program and all boys demonstrated improved social skills within the sessions. Additionally, these improvements generalised to the classroom environment (Goddard & Cross, 1987).
Constructivism is a relatively new approach to education that falls into the social-cognitive category. Constructivists view learning as an individual event with each individual constructing their own meaning from the external reality. In this sense, the mind serves to mediate between the learner and the external reality (Jenkins, 1996). According to this approach learning is an active and individual process and must be useful to the learner (Jenkins, 1996).
A learner within the constructivist approach is viewed as being internally motivated. There is once again a reference to the internal goals or needs of the individual. Consequently, Jenkins (1996) maintains that the key to controlling student behavior is "to get them to behave differently so that their perception of school as a need satisfying place changes" (p. 111). This approach emphasises need satisfaction but also builds in positive reinforcement and time out to manage student behavior (Jenkins, 1996).
Systemic. The systemic approach is once again a blanket term that covers a range of strategies and techniques based on the idea that the individual operates within one or more systems and their behavior can only be understood with reference to that system.
While this approach recognises that individuals perceive the world differently, it also emphasises the different systems that the individual functions in (Ayers, Clarke, & Murray, 1995). Because the individual is part of a system, changes in one part of the system will affect other parts of the system (Ayers, et al., 1995). To impact on a student's behavior, therefore, means instituting some change in one or more of the systems the student is functioning in.
Morrison, Olivos, Dominguez, Gomez, and Lena (1993) reported on a systemic approach to school discipline problems adopted by a school in California. The program was designed to provide a way to respond quickly and effectively to children with chronic behavior problems in order to bring about change for that child (Morrison, et al., 1993).
The key beliefs and assumptions of this program included the ideas that students are capable of appropriate behavior, it is in their best interests to behave appropriately, and students have no choice in this program but to behave appropriately. Also, it was believed that when important adults in the student's social system work together, significant and positive changes in the student's behavior will occur.
The program essentially consisted of convening meetings with a variety of people from the child's home and school environments. The meetings were designed to explore solutions to the child's behavior problems using a systemic framework. Over two and a half years this program was run with 30 families and 67 percent of students met their objectives (Morrison, et al., 1993). The authors reported that this program was least effective with severely dysfunctional families and families in crisis (Morrison, et al., 1993).
Summary. Despite the apparent differences in current approaches to managing behavior problems in schools today, a single common thread can be identified. The assumption behind the study of behavior that is reflected in current behavior management programs is the same assumption that is the foundation upon which research in the behavioral sciences rests.
This underlying assumption is presented as a causal model of the relationship between the organism and its environment. In this model it is accepted that variations in identified variables cause variations in response variables
(Marken, 1997). The identified variables are known as independent variables or IV's and the response variables are known as dependent variables or DV's. These IV's could be thought of as "causes" or "stimuli" and the DV's could be thought of as "effects" or "responses". In the behavioral approach the identified variables might be the particular schedule of reinforcement the child is on and the response variable might be the amount of time spent on task.
For the social-cognitive approach the identified variable might be the child's social goals and the response variable might be the child's ability to share. With the systemic approach the identified variable might be the kinds of relationships the child has and the response variable might be the child's compliance.
Upon examination, this underlying assumption becomes evident in each of the three approaches discussed above. The behavioral approach is perhaps the clearest example of this causal model with behavior being acknowledged as a function of external variables (Skinner, 1953). From this basic tenet a behavioral technology has emerged which has had an enormous impact on the school system. Many of the results of this technology have been described above with the most common possibly being positive reinforcement and time out (Martin & Pear, 1992).
The relation between the underlying model of causation and the social-cognitive methods is perhaps more obscure yet a moments investigation reveals that the relation exists. Glasser's (1986) approach to improving discipline in schools is to teach that we have needs and pleasant memories in our heads that determine all that we do.
Additionally, many interpersonal problem solving skills programs are based on an assumption that it is children's inadequate problem-solving skills that result in the inappropriate behavior that we observe (Goldstein, 1988). The methodology behind these approaches is clear: if we can somehow alter the individual's cognitions then we will see concomitant changes in the individual's observable behavior.
Similarly, the systemic approach considers the systems that the individual is involved in as impacting on the behavior that the individual produces. The purpose of this approach, then, is to alter in some way the systems the individual is involved in so that the individual's behavior may change (Morrison, Olivos, Dominguez, Gomez, & Lena, 1993). While this approach acknowledges the reciprocal nature of many interactions, for the purposes of intervention it appears that the IV-DV model is adopted.
To describe the situation another way, in all of the above approaches the focus of the program is changing behavior. Whether the program looks at behavior being caused by the environment, or internal factors, or relationships, the underlying assumption is that behavior is caused by something. The task of educators then is to identify the causes of behavior (environmental factors, goals/needs/motivation, or relationships) and to change these causes so that the educators will see the students acting in ways the educators desire.
In the next section I outline an alternative way of conceptualising behavior to the one that has been presented thus far. The model presented is described as a theory called Perceptual Control Theory (PCT). The principles outlined in PCT have many implications for the way people interact in social settings. Following an outline of PCT I describe an application of PCT in the form of a school wide discipline program.
Perceptual Control Theory
An outline of the Perceptual Control Theory model. In Perceptual Control Theory behavior is not seen as being caused. Rather than conceptualising behavior as the end of a causal chain, Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) proposes that behavior is a seamless process of specifying, creating, and maintaining desired experiences. PCT is an explanation of the observation that people are able to keep variable aspects of their perceived environments constant despite random environmental influences which would otherwise affect these variables (Powers, 1973). In other words, PCT is not an explanation of the way that behavior might be caused it is an explanation of the process of control.
As a person drives a car along a road, for example, the car largely maintains a constant position in the lane on the road. This constancy occurs despite the influences of other drivers, the wind, and the conditions of the road. Similarly, a teacher in a classroom could be observed to keep the noise level of the class relatively constant despite the influences of the students, or other teachers, or workers outside the class. In each of these two examples, if the person didn't act in some way then the position of the car would vary widely across the road and the noise level in the class would show large and sustained fluctuations.
Powers (1973) noticed that a person's actions are designed to oppose the effects of various environmental influences. A driver turns their hands to the left or the right and a teacher might frown, or close the window, or stand beside a student. Each of these actions is difficult to understand in isolation. When the aspect of the environment that the person is keeping constant is revealed, however, the meaning behind the person's actions becomes clearer.
If behavior is conceptualized in this way, it no longer makes sense to talk of singular causes of action. The chattering student did not cause the teacher to frown. Rather, it was the simultaneous effect of hearing the student chatter and also desiring a particular noise level that resulted in the frown.
Powers (1973) went on to conclude that if a person is to keep some aspect of their environment constant, then they must allow their actions to vary in whatever way they need to. If Powers' (1973) observations are correct, then it is not the case that we control our actions. Instead, actions must be allowed to vary so that the environment can be experienced in the ways we have specified it is to be experienced.
If a person is to keep their car in a certain position on the road, then they have to be prepared to move their hands in whatever way they need to so that the view coming in through the windscreen is the way they have specified it must be. It would be impossible to specify beforehand how one's hands should move on the steering wheel unless the effects of the environment could be predicted precisely. If sensory information then is considered to be the person's input, and actions are considered to be the person's output, Powers (1973) is proposing that it is the nature of living things to control their input and not their output.
PCT outlines how a system might be organized to control sensory input rather than motor output. The control loop involves a reference perception ( r) that specifies the state to which a perceptual signal (p) must be brought. The comparator (c) compares the difference between p and r and generates an error signal ( e) based on this difference. The error signal enters an output function (o) that converts a small neuronal signal into muscle tension.
At this point actions ( a) are affecting a controlled variable ( cv) which is a variable in the environment that the control system is maintaining in a steady state. Also affecting the cv, at the same time, is an environmental disturbance (d). The effects of both a and d contribute to the current state of the cv which enters the input function (i) as sensory information and is converted into a neuronal signal where it becomes the current state of p. Since muscles don't respond by the same amount each time they receive a given signal, the only behavior that can be attributed entirely to the individual and not also to its environment consists of the signal that leaves the nervous system and enters the muscles (Powers, 1979).
In the classroom example mentioned above, r would be the noise level that the teacher has specified he or she wants to hear. The noise level that is currently being heard is p. The difference between the noise level that is being heard and the noise level that is intended to be heard is e. Frowning, then, would be the actions (a) that are used to oppose the effects of d (which might be students talking) in order to restore the cv (noise level) to its intended state.
An important feature of control systems is that everything occurs simultaneously (Bourbon & Powers, 1993). As e changes, for example, so p begins to change. Also, it is important to remember that it is not a (the actions) of the system that is specified, but p (Powers, 1973). The observation by Powers (1973) that in order to model human behavior, p needed to be controlled and not a, is the core of PCT and seriously challenges current psychological theories of behavior. As was mentioned above, living control systems are neuronally organized to control perceptions, not actions (Powers, 1973).
Differences between PCT and other psychological theories. PCT is different from other psychological theories in a number of ways. Firstly, PCT is not a theory about the prediction and control of behavior.
A model such as Crick and Dodge's (1994) social information processing model, for example, is used to explain a particular pattern of behavioral responses.
Powers (1973) developed PCT, however, to explain the way the brain must be organized in order for any behavior to be possible. Whereas other theories explain what is occurring in various situations, PCT describes how behavior occurs. At this level exists a difference in conceptualising what behavior actually is and what it is that needs explaining.
Current psychological theories are attempting to explain the factors determining observable actions. In this sense, behavior is seen as the product at the end of a long causal chain (Marken, 1988). PCT, on the other hand, is attempting to explain the phenomenon of control. Control in this sense refers to the ability to achieve stable results in a constantly changing environment (Marken, 1988).
PCT is an explanation of how it is that living things are able to achieve consistent results in varying environmental conditions. Whereas current psychological theories see behavior as a product to be explained and controlled, PCT conceptualises behavior as the process of control.
A second important difference between PCT and other psychological theories concerns the methodology used. Typically, current psychological theories are word theories that describe externally observable behavior. With current methodology the term "model" is generally used to refer to descriptions of observed relationships (Bourbon & Powers, 1993). In PCT, the term model is used to mean "a precise quantitative proposal about the way some system operates in relation to its environment" (Bourbon & Powers, 1993, p. 51).
A model in this sense is generative. Whereas in conventional psychology testing models generally refers to a comparison of verbal descriptions (Bourbon & Powers, 1993), in PCT the criterion for testing the model is whether or not it behaves like the phenomena it is supposed to be modeling. Bourbon and Powers (1993) maintain that if a model cannot work in the simplest of circumstances then there is no chance that it will successfully predict more complex phenomena. The PCT model then, is able to reproduce in real time the process of control that PCT theorists call behavior (Powers, 1973).
Another fundamental methodological difference concerns the variables studied in psychological research. In conventional research an independent variable is manipulated, and changes in a dependent variable are measured (Marken, 1997). This research method is not flawed per se, but it is being misused when conclusions about individuals are made based on the results obtained from group data (Runkel, 1990).
Dodge, Lochman, Harnish, Bates, and Pettit (1997), for example were able to identify four different types of aggressive styles in a group of 585 boys and girls. The four types were reactive, proactive, pervasive and non-aggressive. Each type was identified as having a characteristic cognitive processing style. While this research may add to our understanding of aggression at a group or population level, it is of little help in understanding the aggressive nature of any particular individual.
The conventional research method is appropriate for estimating population parameters, however, these parameters give no information regarding the functioning of any particular individual within that population. PCT, on the other hand, is interested in investigating fundamental properties of living things and, therefore, most of this research is conducted with individuals.
To understand conventional research from a PCT perspective, the independent variable could be thought of as d (environmental disturbance), and the dependent variable could be thought of as a (actions). According to PCT, however, variations in a can only be understood if the cv (controlled variable) is identified (Marken, 1988). Methodologically then, PCT researchers are interested in cv's as it is only when these variables are identified that an individual's actions may be understood (Marken, 1988).
It is perhaps the way in which actions precisely oppose the effects of environmental disturbances that resulted in the conclusion that behavior is a function of environmental variables. When d is varied, systematic variations in a will be observed. This led some researchers to arrive at a stimulus-response model of causation similar to the kind that predominates in the physical sciences. The reason that a covaries with d however is to maintain the cv in a desired state and this point is only recognised by PCT
Extending the basic closed causal loop. While the closed causal loop is the basic unit of PCT, Powers (1973) puts forward a hierarchical model of these loops in order to account for the complexity of human perceptions. Each level receives perceptual signals from the levels below and the type of perception at any level is determined entirely by the perceptual input function ( i) at that level (Powers, 1989).
Currently eleven perceptual levels are proposed: intensity, sensation, configuration, transition, event, relationship, category, sequence, program, principle, and system concept (Robertson & Powers, 1990).
The control loops are proposed to be arranged hierarchically such that the input is received from the level below and the output sends a signal to the level below (Robertson & Powers, 1990).
The output signal becomes the reference signal of a control loop at a lower level so that the output doesn't tell the lower level how to act but rather what to perceive. Hierarchical control loops, therefore, control their perceptual signal by varying the reference signal of the level below (Powers, 1989).
Social interactions between living control systems. The nature of living things outlined by PCT raises some interesting implications for the types of interactions that may occur in social contexts. Basically, PCT is proposing that as control systems, we are designed to act on our environments in order to experience them in the way that we have internally specified they must be experienced.
To do this we allow our actions to vary in any way they must, so that what we are sensing is the way we want it to be. In other words, we are constantly seeking to achieve goals that are perceptual and not physical.
It is going to be the case then, that when living things share an environment, as an individual acts on its environments in order to experience what it has specified must be experienced, it will, from time to time, interfere with the way other individuals are attempting to experience the environment.
Powers (1998) describes this as the basic problem of social living: people interfering with the goals of other people. With people in a social group, for example, as person A acts to experience the environment in a particular way, person B will be doing the same. At times, then, A's actions will interfere with B's goal attainment and B's actions will interfere with A's goal attainment. When this occurs, A will experience B as a disturbance and will attempt to cancel B's effects. Similarly, B will experience A as a disturbance and will attempt to cancel A's effects.
This situation can be easily modeled in PCT in terms of people having different r's. In a classroom for example, a teacher may wish to hear a low level of noise whereas a student may intend to hear loud laughter. As they both act on their shared environment to experience what they intend to experience they will each interfere with the goals of the other. Situations such as this are the beginning of interpersonal conflict.
Because other people are typically in the environments we sense, it is likely that in many cases we will specify goals relating to how we wish to be experiencing at least some of these other people. Since all we have access to with other people is their observable actions, this generally translates into some specification about how the other person must act. Fundamentally, this is the predominant issue in schools today. Each of the current approaches to behavior management that was described above outline in various ways, different strategies educators can employ to experience students acting in the way they prefer them to act.
Powers (1998) asserts that for people to understand and accept PCT they must answer the question 'Am I prepared to give up the idea that I can make other people behave as I want them to behave?' in the affirmative. As Mr Brown, for example, specifies how Kerry must act and as he acts on Kerry to experience what it is he has specified, it is almost inevitable that the way he is requiring Kerry to act will interfere with some of Kerry's individual goals (Powers, 1998). As Kerry senses that the way she is acting is disturbing goals that she has, she will attempt to vary her actions in order to make what she is sensing be the way she has specified it must be. At this point, she will disturb what Mr Brown is intending to experience and Mr Brown then will begin to take corrective action.
The situation where people who specify how others must act are likely to have their goals interfered with by those other people is called countercontrol and was first discussed by Skinner (1953). Countercontrol is possible whenever one person specifies how another person must act. Whether or not countercontrol occurs is determined entirely by the other person but the possibility of countercontrol remains for as long as the first person continues to specify the actions of the other.
The points mentioned above encapsulate the understanding behind the Responsible Thinking Process (RTP). People in schools are acting on their environments to experience them in the way they intend. At times, some people will disturb what it is that other people wish to sense. This is an inevitable consequence of control systems sharing the same environment. RTP, therefore, is not an attempt to eliminate these disturbances but it is an attempt to minimise them and also to provide a way of peacefully resolving them when they do occur.
One of the biggest problems in schools, however, that RTP does seek to eliminate is the extent to which educators specify the way that students must act, because this sets up a countercontrol situation. Skinner (1953) claims that once people know that their actions are being controlled, many of them will find this aversive and will seek to injure or hurt the person doing the controlling. Perhaps much of the vandalism, violence, and conflict currently occurring in schools, is, at least in some cases, the kind of consequence to counter control that Skinner (1953) alluded to. If this is the case then current approaches to behavior management may be part of the problem rather than the solution. This is the situation that RTP seeks to address.
The Responsible Thinking Process: An Application of Perceptual Control Theory
Overview of the Responsible Thinking Process. The basic assumption about schools behind the Responsible Thinking Process (RTP) is that the fundamental purpose of schools is to maximise student learning outcomes. Because of this, students should be able to learn in safety while they are at school. RTP, then, is basically used to handle disruptions to student learning. A second assumption behind RTP is that people will strive to achieve goals that are important to them and that they can succeed at. The task of RTP then is to help all students experience success at school within the kinds of activities and pursuits that the school environment has to offer.
Much of what is discussed below may sound similar to some of the current approaches to student discipline that were mentioned earlier. It will be important to bear in mind that, in many cases, the only difference is a difference in the attitude of the teacher.
Because of the principles of PCT, the teacher at no stage attempts to control the actions of the student as this would establish the possibility of countercontrol and conflict. In this way, RTP is not a discipline program that considers the behavior of an individual as a response to particular events or as being caused by particular events. RTP recognizes that when individuals behave they are controlling their experiences. That is, they are creating certain effects in the environment. It is these effects or experiences that are the focus of an RTP program, not the individuals behavior.
When a disruption occurs in class it is recognized that, at this point, the student is acting on his or her environment in order to experience it in the way he or she has specified it must be experienced.
Rather than try and change the student's actions, the teacher asks a series of questions:
What are you doing?
What are the rules?
What happens when you break the rules?
Is that what you want to happen?
What do you want to do now?
What will happen if you disrupt again? (Ford, 1997)
These questions are asked sincerely and curiously in an attempt by the teacher to discover whether the student wants to participate in the activities of the class or whether they need to leave. In the classroom, this is the extent of trying to discover what the student's goals might be. In RTP it is recognised that classrooms are environments where specific learning tasks occur (Ford, 1997). For this reason, only certain goals can be realized in a class.
If a student has a goal of hearing lots of laughter from peers then achieving this goal will interfere with the core business of the classroom. As the student attempts to achieve this goal it is likely that he or she will prevent others in the classroom from achieving their goals of learning or teaching.
If the student disrupts again, the teacher simply says:
I see you have chosen to leave (Ford, 1997).
At this point, the teacher writes out a referral form describing the two disruptions and gives the form to the student who then leaves the class and goes to the Responsible Thinking Classroom (RTC).
The questions in RTP are not being asked in an attempt to convince or persuade the student to act differently. The procedure can be followed, in fact, whether or not the student cooperates or whether or not they even answer the questions. The only purpose in asking the questions is to provide the student with an opportunity to reflect on their actions and the consequences of these actions so that they can evaluate for themselves whether they want those consequences or not. If at some point the student begins to argue or fails to answer the questions being asked by the teacher, the teacher simply asks:
Do you want to work at this or not? (Ford, 1997)
If this student continues to be uncooperative the teacher says:
I see you have chosen to leave. (Ford, 1997) and the same referral procedure described above is followed.
The Responsible Thinking Classroom. When children leave the classroom they go to the Responsible Thinking Classroom (RTC). Ford (1997) recommends that this room be staffed by a full time teacher. The room is regarded as a classroom because this is also a room where student learning outcomes are maximised. In this room, students are learning to resolve the difficulties they are having and to solve social problems in non-disruptive ways (Ford, 1997).
Upon entering the room, the student presents their referral form to the RTC teacher who records the students name and also the date, time, and the class they came from. The student then takes a seat. The RTC is arranged with carrels around the walls and some desks in the middle of the classroom.
In the RTC there is no requirement on the student to do anything except to not disrupt (Ford, 1997). The student sits at the desk until they wish to go back to class. Leaving this decision up to the student is again based on PCT principles.
If the teacher specified how long the student should be in the RTC and when they should go back to class this may conflict with the student's own internal goals. By waiting until the student indicates they are ready to go back to class there is a greater chance that the teacher will not be a disturbance to the student but will be able to help the student in ways that the student finds meaningful. When students indicate to the RTC teacher that they would like to go back to class, they are required to complete a plan that helps them develop strategies they will use to solve any further difficulties they have (Ford, 1997).
When they have completed this plan they discuss this plan with the RTC teacher. The plan basically follows a similar format to the questions that the student was asked in class.
After the RTC teacher is satisfied with their plan the student then has to negotiate the plan with the teacher from the area he or she disrupted in. Essentially, during the negotiation process, the teacher and the student discuss the likelihood that the plan will succeed. Once the plan has been negotiated the student returns to class.
Since one of the purposes of the RTP is to help the student have successful experiences at school, the student only attends the RTC for the class period he or she disrupted. In a secondary school, for example, if the student disrupted in English he or she would be in RTC for English but would attend all other classes. Ford (1997) makes the point that to keep a student out of areas where they are currently succeeding in order to induce them to cooperate in areas where they are currently less successful does not make sense. A strategy of this kind would belong in a different program.
This would be a program that subscribed perhaps to a behavioral approach with the thinking being that exclusion from class could be regarded as a punishment or time-out from reinforcement and this would lead to a reduction in disruptive behavior. This kind of strategy is not appropriate in a program based on PCT.
Intervention teams. Since RTP first began in 1994, some statistics from individual schools have been calculated. It seems to be the case, for example, that in RTP schools, 95-98 percent of students who visit the RTC will want to go back to class on the same day they arrived in the RTC (Bourbon, 1998). It also seems to be the case that a small number of students will make up the majority of the referrals to the RTC.
Typically, between 2-5 percent of students can be expected to account for over 30 percent of all referrals to the RTC (Bourbon, 1998). The situation where a small percentage of students make up the bulk of the discipline referrals does not appear to be specific to RTP schools. Schneider and Burgos (1987) reported that four percent of the students in the school they were investigating accounted for 31 percent of the office referrals.
In RTP schools it is accepted that this small percentage of students will need a great deal of support in order to experience success at school. These students are identified either by frequent visits to the RTC or by sitting in the RTC and not making a plan or by going home and not wanting to return to school.
When they are identified an intervention team is convened (Ford, 1996, 1997). The intervention team is made up of the RTC teacher, the administrator, the student's class teacher, the student's parent(s) and any other personnel that may have information pertaining to the student's educational experience such as guidance counsellors or learning support teachers.
The purpose of this meeting is to establish what the student might be controlling for and to determine the level of support the school is able to offer this student so that they might begin to experience more success at school. At no stage in this meeting do team members spend time discussing strategies they could employ to change the way the student is acting. The support the team decides on is offered to the student and then reconvenes at a later date to evaluate how helpful the support has been for the student.
Whereas most discipline programs in schools are concerned with changing student's behavior, RTP is not. With the principles of PCT as a framework, people in schools who implement RTP recognise that trying to change the behavior of another living thing invites countercontrol and conflict.
People who understand the principles of RTP focus on the effects a particular student is having on his or her environment rather than any specific behavior this individual may be exhibiting. RTP is about helping students learn how to get along with others in a school environment when they are ready to learn it.
Superficially RTP may seem like many other discipline programs around however when understood fully, RTP is as different from other discipline programs as success is different from failure.
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