An eye for an eye. A widely known expression, this is the idea that when one individual wrongs another, reprisal must be made and the offender penalized to a similar degree. This concept is all too often evidenced in our school systems today. It is no foreign concept that certain students will break rules, refuse to obey authority figures, or behave inappropriately or irresponsibly.  Depending on the severity of the offence, varying repercussions result. Of course, all schools are different, but punishments ranging from detention to verbal lashings coupled with harsh punishments such as suspension or expulsion are quite commonplace. But what effect is this having on students? What are we inadvertently teaching them?

The following blog consists of an overview and personal response to an article in Communiqué, an official publication of the National Association of School Psychologists. The article is titled, Promoting Safe Schools and Academic Success: Moving Your School From Punitive Discipline to Effective Discipline, and written by Rivka I. Olley, Andrea Cohn, and Katherine C. Cowan. The article may be found on the ERIC database (via the U of L library). After briefly examining the effects of punitive discipline versus alternative discipline, the article then proceeds into a variety of initiatives targeting the implementation of positive discipline strategies. In essence, my goal is to relay the importance of doing our best, as educators, to help each individual student to succeed, no matter their past or present, and to advance this objective to be applied as a school-wide policy, giving each student a future. Part of helping each individual student succeed, is re-evaluating our methodology, in this case replacing punishment with alternate effective approaches to discipline and attending to those whom the system is rejecting. Believe in each student. Replace punishment with hope.

Promoting Safe Schools and Academic Success: Moving Your School From Punitive Discipline to Effective Discipline begins by giving an overview of both punitive and alternative discipline.  Olley, Cohn, and Cowan state that in order for schools to be safe and supportive learning centers, effective discipline is a must (2010). Seeing as how a large number of schools presently rely on punitive discipline, they argue that there is a better way. School leaders are slowly opening up to the evidence that psychologists have been gathering for some time now: “Purely punitive discipline is ineffective at best and often even counterproductive, denying students vital learning time and undermining the overall school climate” (Olley et al., 2010, p. 1). In fact, evidence shows that drastic punishments such as suspension and expulsion fail to bring about reformative action within students’ lives.  It does, however, as stated in the article (2010), bring about additional behavioural issues, decreasing grades, and heighten dropout rates as well as cases of juvenile delinquency and imprisonment.

School psychologists are strongly encouraging educators to implement positive discipline methods. In fact, Olley, Cohn, and Cowan state that when “caring environments with high expectations for student academic engagement and success that allows for intellectual, social, emotional, and physical growth (are created), student behaviour problems decrease and at the same time academic achievement increases” (2010, p. 1). As a result schools are beginning to embrace alternative discipline methods. Some suggested methods of doing so include:

·         Reinforce existing positive behaviour and self-discipline, and model and teach those students lacking in these areas what they consist of,

·         Discern the reasoning behind a students’ negative actions,

·         Nip negative behaviours in the bud before they can escalate,

·         Lay down consequences that are compatible  with the negative  behaviour, and

·         Ensure that students are exposed to necessary instruction needed in order to accomplish academic advancement (Olley et al., 2010).

Even though one’s school may adhere to punitive practices, individual teachers can make a difference. The article gives extensive approaches of getting school administration and staff onboard, navigating toward effective discipline and away from destructive punitive discipline. Educators may advance positive discipline strategies from the inside by communicating the benefits of positive discipline, collecting and informing others of school specific data, sharing what works for other schools (prevention programs, positive disciplinary actions, classroom management tips, etc.) (Olley et al., 2010). Because all educators much prefer learning to take place during school hours, as opposed to non-productive disciplinary action, once they see the benefits of alternative discipline for all involved parties, they will undoubtedly become committed to the cause.

I agree with Olley, Cohn, and Cowan 100%. If there is a part of the school system that is hurting our students, it is our duty to change it. Even if we are the only ones that see it’s destructiveness. I attribute my belief in the alternative discipline system to increased awareness and facts. I can also personally attest to having seen punitive discipline backfire in my own life as a student. One example of failed punitive discipline is as follows: In junior high, two of the class clowns tripped another classmate so that he fell directly into a mud puddle. This poor young man was dripping and dirty and laughed at for the remainder of the day. This was not the first time he had been bullied by these particular students. The teacher, deciding to teach the culprits a lesson, had the class congregate outside around the mud puddle. He then commanded the two young men at fault to lie down in the puddle while the others laughed at their expense. The class waited for quite some time before one of the boys complied. The other refused and was suspended pending an apology to both the student and the teacher. He never returned to school.

What was the cost of my former teacher’s punitive actions? Among other costs, first of all, much time, which could have been spent in academics, was wasted by the whole class. Second, he extended the notion that it’s okay for those in authority to be bullies. Third, he destroyed the second young man’s academic future. Yes, the teacher’s punitive discipline ensured that this particular offence would not be repeated, but it also ensured a loss of respect from his entire class body.

It is a proven fact that punitive discipline is counterproductive. An extensive study done on the topic supports Olley et al., in that:

           Frequent use of suspension has no measurable positive deterrent or academic benefit     to either the students who are suspended or to nonsuspended students. As this research shows, disciplining elementary and middle school students with out-of-school    suspension predicts future suspensions and contributes to students’ poor academic performance and failing to graduate on time. Out-of-school suspension is ineffective            because it fails to address issues that cause students to misbehave (Mendez, 2003, p. 25).

These concepts have been studied at large and are strongly supported by such researchers as Russell Skiba and Karega M. Rausch (2006).

Furthermore, punitive discipline sends underlying messages. A students’ discernment of a punishment often brings about feelings of oppression, powerlessness, anger, rejection, humiliation, inadequacy, worthlessness, hopelessness, etc (Bailey, 2003, p. 54). Repeated exposure to these settings can cause students to make negative decisions regarding their self-worth, which could stay with them throughout their lives, effecting their every decision.

As a budding teacher, I desire to bless my students with effective discipline. I wish to teach them self discipline and to see the cause and effect of behaviour within themselves. I want to reinforce and enrich my students’ self-value, not tear it down. My ambition is to use effective discipline practice, as Olley et al. state, to “define positive behavioral expectations; teach, model, and reinforce specific skills; employ logical, appropriate consequences for misconduct; and use sanctions as a learning opportunity”(2010, p.2).

It is only natural that we, as educators, fall back on the techniques we have been exposed to in our own schooling experience, but we must bring a conversion about in this regard. If we, the teachers of today, fail to abort punitive discipline we continue the cycle, destroying more students’ lives and inadvertently ingraining tomorrow’s teachers to use the same methods. It is in our hands to stop this punitive behaviour that is destroying our students’ futures. As a saying (attributed to Ghandi) states, an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.


Bailey, Becky Anne. (2003). There’s got to be a better way: discipline that works. Oviedo, FL: Loving Guidance, Inc.

Mendez, Linda M. Raffliele. (2003, autumn). Predictors of suspension and negative school outcomes: A longitudinal investigation. New directions for youth development, 2003, (99).

Olley, Rivka I., Cohn, Andrea and Cowan, Katherine C. (2010, September). Promoting Safe Schools and Academic Success: Moving Your School From Punitive Discipline to Effective Discipline. Communiqué: National Association of School Psychologists, 39, (1).

Skiba, Russell and Rausch, Karega M. (2006). Children’s Needs III: development, prevention, and intervention. School disciplinary systems: alternatives to suspension and expulsion. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.


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