Week 4.3: Student-Led Discipline

Every 3rd week of each month, I write a post about classroom discipline. Why? Because how a teacher handles classroom discipline is a LIFE AND DEATH ISSUE!!! We should talk about it all the time!

Anyway, I have mentioned in previous Week 3’s that well-behaved students sometimes get involved with less well-behaved students in the classroom. I have seen arguments break out in a class because one student is acting up and other students are trying to do the teacher’s job. My two-directional brain often wants to congratulate the well-behaved kid on knowing the rules, while at the same time, tell them they should only worry about their own actions and leave everyone else alone. And neither of those responses address the original student’s issue. What to do?


Frankly, there is only so much the teacher can or should do with student-led discipline. I advocate for taking a side route in these circumstances, rather than a direct approach. Think about how you want students to act in your class – individually, as a team, or another way? This is specifically for classroom discipline, not for how you want them to act all the time. Even students who take the rules seriously know it is “not cool” to “betray classmates” by taking the teacher’s side in classroom discipline issues. It is so easy to fall into that “attitude” mindset with your students, and join in the discussion on who is acting better than who. Resist!!! Don’t respond at all – instead, redirect back to the lesson as quickly as possible – it reminds the students that discipline is not actually the focus of school. School is for learning. I know, right?

You’re likely going to read the following examples and channel a ‘90’s 8th grader: “Duuuuhh…”

Things a teacher SHOULD NOT do:

  1. A student is talking out of turn, and another student says “Shhhh!” The teacher says, “Exactly, shhhh, you shouldn’t be talking right now.”
  2. Two students are doing small group work and get into an argument over how the assignment should be done. The teacher walks over, listens, and says “You need to learn to work together” or “XXX is right.”
  3. A student is acting up, and their friend jokingly imitates the teacher, something like, “You’re breaking classroom rule #3, you’re going to get a detention!” The teacher gets offended that the student is imitating their disciplinary voice.  


Things a teacher CAN TRY INSTEAD, using the above examples:

  1. The teacher ignores the conversation unless it continues after the “Shhhh.”
  2. The teacher asks questions about each student’s suggestion and helps lead the students to a compromise or new idea.
  3. The teacher smiles in the direction of disturbance, but waits to see if the students are finished with their conversation. If they are, the teacher moves on with the lesson. If not, the teacher quickly comments, “Let’s get back to it,” or a similar statement.

You get my drift here – remember that the teacher is always the calm at the center of the storm. Students bring enough drama with them without the teacher adding any more! Discipline, even though it is so important to a well-run classroom, is never the focus of a lesson. The quick rule for teachers, with student-led discipline, is to lead every discussion back to the lesson’s goals. Have fun trying this – I hope it makes your life easier!


Have your own teaching scenarios that have worked well? Please post or email to teachingismadhard@gmail.com.

Here are a few more resources to look at:



Next week! “Mentors”

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