Five Discipline Strategies That Preserve Dignity

Five Discipline Strategies That Preserve Dignity

The Responsive Classroom approach is based on building a positive community of engaged learners. In order to do so, it is essential to uphold the dignity of all students. It is hardest, but most necessary, to do this when a student misbehaves. There are five Responsive Classroom practices you can use to preserve dignity in these situations by turning moments of misbehavior into opportunities for connection and growth.

Authoritative Leadership

An authoritative leadership style is rooted in the belief that students want to do what is right. Rather than rely on punishment or rewards, which can cause students anxiety and stress, an authoritative leadership style supports students in learning socially responsible behavior. Authoritative leaders aim to support a positive learning community for all students. Here’s how you can implement an authoritative leadership style in your classroom:

  • Be firm, kind, and consistent.
  • Believe in the good of students.
  • Establish shared rules and a consistent and thoughtful classroom structure.


Teacher empathy results in students feeling seen, heard, and validated while still taking responsibility for their own actions. Building connections with, and being empathetic toward, students creates the foundation for discipline with dignity. Try the following to build your empathy in preparation for situations where a student misbehaves:

  • Get to know students—both what makes them shine and what sets them off.
  • Look for the reason behind their behavior.
  • Consider that even adults tend to misbehave when they are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.
  • Consider why you may have driven over the speed limit, used your cell phone during a time when it was inappropriate to do so, or missed a deadline . . .

Teacher Language

The words, phrases, tone, and pace that teachers use in speaking with students can build a strong, positive learning community. When speaking with students, try the following:

Logical Consequences

When a student misbehaves, giving the student a logical consequence allows them to fix and learn from their mistakes while maintaining dignity. Consider the following when implementing logical consequences:

  • Ensure physical and emotional safety by first stopping the misbehavior.
  • Focus on the behavior, not the student’s character.
  • In conversation with the student, focus on the damage done and help them see the consequences of their action.
  • Brainstorm ways to make a different choice in the future and how this can be an opportunity for growth.
  • Offer consequences that are respectful, related, and realistic by employing one of three logical consequences:
    • Loss of privilege
    • Break it, fix it
    • Space and Time (for middle school) or positive time-out (for elementary school)

Check Your (Unconscious) Bias

Our reactions to misbehavior and discipline tap into our previous experiences and biases. It is important to recognize that we all have unconscious biases and to check on them in situations where emotions may be running high by doing the following:

  • Question yourself and your behaviors—are you acting on past experiences instead of considering this particular student and situation?
  • Commit to the ongoing work of recognizing and questioning your biases.
  • Make it routine to know your students and help them get to know each other.
  • Ensure that discipline is fair.

Overall, approaching discipline with care, respect, and a desire to see the good in students allows every member of your learning community to participate in discipline with dignity. As pointed out in Seeing the Good in Students, you can set students up for success by making it clear that “mistakes are a natural part of the learning process, and that we all sometimes make mistakes, no matter how hard we try to follow the rules” (68). Make your discipline process an invitation for growth.

To learn more about any or all of these practices, check out the following resources:

Kate Conway is the leadership curriculum and instructional designer for Responsive Classroom.