Assertive Discipline
The Solution in the Classroom?

web site analytic

What is Assertive Discipline?

Lee and Marlene Canter introduced the concept of assertive discipline in the 70's as a tool to assist educators in running an organized classroom environment where the teacher is in charge. At the time, they found that many teachers were finding themselves unable to control undesirable behavior occurring in their classrooms.

They developed an easy to learn, common sense approach to help teachers to become in charge of their classrooms and to positively influence their students' behavior. It has become the most widespread discipline tool used in classrooms and has evolved over time from an authoritarian approach in the 70's to a more democratic and cooperative approach today.

In their approach, they believe that the teacher has the right to decide what is best for his students and to expect them to comply with the rules. They believe that students should not prevent teaching or keep other students from learning. According to them, in order to create and maintain an effective and efficient learning environment, student compliance is imperative. In order to obtain this, teachers have to react assertively and not aggressively or non-assertively. This is the whole concept of assertive discipline.

Why Use Assertive Discipline?

Assertive teachers build positive, trusting relationships with their students and teach appropriate classroom behavior to those who don't show it at present. They are demanding, yet warm in interaction, supportive of the youngsters, and respectful when addressing misbehavior. Assertive teachers listen carefully to what their students have to say, speak respectfully to them, and treat everyone fairly (not necessarily equally).

Sounds like the perfect teacher to me, or at least the kind of teacher I would have liked as a student... If I think like this, I'm ready to bet that students with assertive teachers probably see this too. ;)

More importantly maybe is that research has shown that teachers dramatically improve student behavior when they use the skills as prescribed. Assertive teachers reduce the frequency of disruptive behavior in their classrooms, greatly reduce the number of students they refer to administrators, and dramatically increase their students' time-on-task. It has been demonstrated that student teachers trained in assertive discipline are evaluated by their master teachers as more effective in classroom management.

Research conducted in school districts in California, Oregon, Ohio, and Arizona has shown that an overwhelming majority of teachers believe that assertive discipline helps to improve the climate in the schools and the behavior of students.

Research has confirmed the success of the program when teachers use the skills properly. Numerous research studies have shown that teachers need to teach students the specific behaviors that they expect from them. Student behavior improves when teachers use positive reinforcement effectively, the pairing of positive reinforcement with consistent disciplinary consequences effectively motivates students to behave appropriately.

Research has demonstrated that it works and it's not just a quick‑fix solution. In school districts in Lennox, California, and Troy, Ohio, teachers who were trained 10 years ago still use the program effectively. The program works because it is based on practices that effective teachers have followed instinctively for a long time. It's not new to have rules in a classroom. It's not new to use positive reinforcement. It's not new to have disciplinary consequences.

How to Use Assertive Discipline?

1. Dismiss the idea that misbehavior can have acceptable reasons.

2. Decide which rules you want to implement in your classroom. Decide on about 4-5 rules that are specific and easily understood by your students.

3. Determine negative consequences for noncompliance to your rules (you need to provide a consequence every single time a student misbehaves). Choose 3-6 negative consequences (a "discipline hierarchy"), each one is more punitive or restrictive than the previous one. These consequences will be administered if the student continues with the misbehavior. The Canters recommend to not continue punishing if talking with the student helps to defuse the situation.

4. Determine positive consequences for appropriate behavior. For instance, together with verbal praise, you could also include raffle tickets given to students for proper behavior. Students write their names pieces of paper and drop them into a container for a daily prize drawing. This always gives students a reason to improve as he has a chance to win the prize draw. You could also give out notes of praise to be shown to their parents. You can also use group rewards. For instance, a marble can be dropped into a jar for each predetermined interval that the class as a whole has been attentive and respectful. When the jar is full, a special event is organized. Some assertive teachers have been known to write a letter of the alphabet on the board for each period of good group behavior. When the letters spell "Popcorn Party" (or any other activity), that event is held.

5. Organize a meeting during which you inform the students of the program. Explain why rules are needed. List the rules on the board along with the positive and negative consequences. Check for their understanding and review regularly.

6. Get your students to write the rules and take them home to be signed by their parents and returned (this is optional, it depends on age of students, language of parents, etc). Attach a message explaining the program and requesting their help.

7. Implement your program immediately.

8. Become skilled at using other assertive discipline techniques:

  • Communicate your displeasure with a student's misbehavior, but also make sure to tell the student what to do. For instance: "Joshua, stop talking and pass your paper forward." Now that the student has been given a direction, you can either reinforce him for compliance or punish him for noncompliance. Add emphasis to your directions by using eye contact, hand gestures, and the student's name.

  • Recognize and quickly respond to appropriate behavior. It will encourage the students to display the desired behavior more often. Be aware that some of your students may prefer to be reinforced quietly or non-verbally to prevent being embarrassed in front of peers.

  • Learn the "broken record" technique. Continue to repeat your command (not more than 3 times) until the student follows your directions. Don't get sidetracked by his excuses. If your command is not followed, you could give the student a choice. The choice is: either he follows the command or he faces the consequence for his misbehavior. If you have to implement the consequence, make it clear to the student that he is the one who made the decision. The consequence should be administered quickly and in a calm, matter-of-fact manner. You should move through your list of negative consequences until the student complies.

  • Learn the "positive repetitions" technique. This is a disguised way of repeating your rules so that all students know what to do. Repeat the directions as positive statements to students who are complying with your commands. For instance, "Mike raised his hand to be acknowledged. So did Luke and Mark".

  • Use "proximity praise". Instead of focusing only on the misbehaving students, praise students near them who are doing the correct thing, in the hope that the misbehaving students will then model that appropriate behavior. Your comments can be specific and obvious for younger students, but you should be more subtle with adolescents.

  • Use proximity control by moving towards misbehaving students (younger kids) or invite adolescents into the hallway to talk to avoid embarrassment in front of peers.

  • If your students don't presently possess a desired classroom behavior, teach it to them. It will involve more than giving commands, you will need to teach and roleplay to promote responsible behavior.

    Click here to go from Assertive Discipline to
    Child Discipline

    Click here to go from Assertive Discipline to's home page