Careful Discipline

by Maite Galan & Tom Maguire

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When you take care of a young plant you must be constant. It needs water, but not too much. You will be on the lookout for diseases brought on by a parasite attack which will devour the young shoots. If your plant ails you will nurse it back to health. When it grows you will make sure to transplant it to a bigger pot so that it can continue to root and strengthen. You will keep an eye on the quality of its soil, adding vitamins when necessary. You can certainly feel proud of your work because you have dedicated your time and energy to breeding new life.   

In the same way that a gardener cares for nature, managing a class is a way of caring for your students. It is a day to day task, requiring small and efficient interventions to encourage quality learning and healthy development in your pupils. The aim of careful management is to give you the resources you need to maintain the balance between controlling pupils’ behaviour and fostering the growth of positive human values.  

 In another article ( we discussed the possibilities which open up in class management when the teacher decides to take effective communication in class as an outcome. In this article we suggest that a complementary objective which will help you in managing a class is to care for pupils’ self image. The article describes, through practical tips, how to attend the self-esteem of your students. 

We have found that it is more effective to sprinkle pupils frequently with one-liners rather than giving one formal talk on self-esteem,. The outcome of this is to get them thinking in positive terms about their own ability. Even right in the middle of explaining subject content you can spice up their education with these titbits of positive ‘in-formation’ from time to time: 

    - Remind your students that we don’t know the full capacity of the human brain because nobody has used their brain to full capacity. 

    - Tell your students that the most complex computer in the world is sitting between their ears – it’s the human brain. Unfortunately the brain didn’t come with an instruction manual, like Windows, so we have the pleasure of testing the limits of its capacity. 

    - Let pupils know that they are not 14, 15 or 16 years old, but several million years old. They are the product of millions of years of evolutionary survival. They owe it to those past generations to push forward the limits of human knowledge, and survival. They are the future spearheads of hundreds of generations. (A little perspective and awe work wonders for motivation.) 

Another way of encouraging students to develop a wider sense of their own worth is by expanding their ideas on what intelligence is. You can achieve this by telling pupils that in formal school education we give almost exclusive importance to two main intelligences: language and numbers, but that there are, at present, six more recognised intelligences. From time to time you can briefly describe one or two of the others:  

Spatial intelligence, demonstrated by people who excel at reading maps and graphics, who like drawing, designing, constructing, creating and daydreaming and who learn best through drawings, colours and visualising content. (Famous example: Stephen Spielberg) 

Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence, shown in people who shine in athletics, dancing, dramatic art, and handwork, who like to move around, touch and talk and use body language, and who learn best through hands on activities or movement and process information though bodily sensations. (Famous example: Lewis Jordan). 

Musical intelligence, revealed in people who are skilled at singing, recognising sounds, remembering melodies and rhythms, who enjoy singing, humming, playing an instrument or listening to music and who learn best through rhythm, melodies, songs and music. Famous example: Paul Simon). 

Interpersonal intelligence, displayed by people who understand people, are leaders, can organise and communicate, solve conflicts, and sell well, who prefer to be with and talk to people and have friends, and who share, compare, relate and cooperate. (Famous example: Teresa of Calcutta). 

Intrapersonal intelligence, recognisable in people who understand themselves, know their own strengths and weaknesses and establish objectives, who prefer to work alone, are thoughtful, follow their own interests and who work at their own pace in their own space. 

Naturalist intelligence, seen in people who understand nature and can identify plants and animals, who like to participate in natural events and who work best in ecology, biology and topics related to nature. (Famous example: Jacques Cousteau). 

Remind students that they can have several intelligences. They should learn to recognise them and give recognition to others who have different strengths. Use these descriptions not to classify your students but rather as approximations to what they can be. 

Maintaining visual contact with the whole class is another simple way of recognising students and boosting their self-esteem. You can easily achieve this by sweeping the room with your eyes while you talk. Looking at the class, instead of at individual students, while you teach content, enables pupils to feel included and caters for visual students who need frequent eye contact during communication. Sensations of inclusion, as opposed to exclusion, are keenly felt by most adolescents who have a highly developed sense of belonging to a group, as witnessed in teenage fashions. Pupils sometimes complain directly that a teacher only attends part of the class and ignores the others. In one class our students raised a similar complaint - that we always started doing participatory exercises by inviting the person in the last row on the right to start. Those on the left felt snubbed. Indeed some perceived this habit as a sign that we thought the pupils seated to our left hand were less able than those sitting to the right. We put this straight immediately by telling them that a right-handed person will naturally look to the right hand side and call on someone who happens to be seated there. As further proof we asked a volunteer left-handed pupil to step up, had her face the class and asked her to call out the name of any person in the group. She naturally looked to her left and called out the name of someone seated on that side – thank heavens! This little event was in no way trivial for the students concerned, however, – it was their own self-esteem that was in question. From then on we were careful to start equally at the back left as well as the back right, even though it felt unnatural. Self-esteem issues are paramount in a class with adolescents and taking account of them will increase your rapport with students and facilitate management. 

There’s one simple event that fills us all with self-recognition – the sound of our name. Learn your pupils’ names and address them usually by their name. Simply using their name is enough to boost recognition and self-esteem, you don’t need to add any other adjectives, indeed with teenagers you may put your foot in it if you overdo praise. Naming is praise enough. You can use names to your advantage in disciplining, too. The experienced teacher can use name-dropping to curb unwanted behaviour. If a pupil is misbehaving drop his name in the lesson and carry on: “As Tony can see we are now moving on to exercise 6.” In this way you focus Tony’s attention on the exercise and you avoid spotlighting his unwanted behaviour. The class pays attention to the exercise, too, since Tony’s misbehaviour  is of little interest to them – except if you highlight it.  

Self-esteem, of course, has its roots in a belief in yourself. The power of  teachers as carers is well illustrated by the famous story of a group of children who were tested and found to be average learners. The group was then subdivided into two random subgroups. One subgroup had a teacher who was told that the pupils he was taking were “gifted”. The teacher of the other subgroup was told that his pupils were “slow learners”. The assessment of the two groups at the end of the year showed that the majority of the group which had been arbitrarily named as “gifted” obtained higher scores than they had previously, while the majority of the supposed “slow learners” scored lower then they had before. (see Rosenthal’s research:: 

One conclusion we can draw from this experiment is that the majority of children in the two subgroups conformed to the beliefs their teachers had about them, not to their real capabilities. This is a startling example of the power of the educator’s beliefs to enable or disable their students, because the educator’s belief became the student’s reality. 

In his book “Changing Belief Systems with NLP”(1990) Meta Publications, (ISBN 0-916990-24-9), Robert Dilts uses Neuro-linguistic Programming to throw some light on the confusion between beliefs and reality by defining beliefs as generalisations. More exactly, according to Dilts they are generalisations about the connection between different experiences.    

For example, you are going to work one morning when suddenly a black cat crosses your path. You think it a little unusual but carry on to work where, unusually, you have the most awful day. This double sequence of events, seeing a black cat in the morning and having an awful day at work only has to happen to most of us three times and we’ll start believing that there is a causal relationship between the two events. From then on we’ll begin to expect to have a bad day at work if a black cat suddenly crosses our path on the way there because we have generalised the relationship between the two experiences into a reality when in fact it is a coincidence. The important point is that it is we ourselves who forge the connection between the two experiences. It is a mental construct. That is the nature of belief : we construct it in our minds. (The positive angle, of course, is that we can also learn to deconstruct, or change, it.) 

Dilts says that beliefs can be systemised in five levels. He gives the example of the beliefs of a poor speller. Teachers can induce pupil beliefs about poor spelling ability by interpreting it in five different ways 

    - Environment: “You don’t spell well because you can’t concentrate in this noisy  atmosphere.”

    - Behaviour:   “You don’t put effort into concentrating so you misspell.”

    - Capabilities: “You need to develop a visual spelling strategy.”

    -  Beliefs:         “Spelling is not as important as creative writing.”

    - Identity:            “You are a poor student.” 

Dilts invites us to view beliefs not as an isolated occurrence but as one level of the system. For example, the connection between Belief, Capabilities and Behaviour is that the function of beliefs is to activate capabilities and behaviours. The student above is encouraged to improve his spelling strategies and make an effort to spell correctly by his belief that in this way he will be better able to express himself creatively. If you can give the learner a strategy for attaining the new capability, such as Dilts’ insight that good spellers visualise words when  spelling, then you will help the learning process even more. In the same way enhancing a learner’s Environment through supportive feedback will also underpin his chances of believing long enough in himself to allow change to take place, despite temporary failures. Belief is a construct and can be analysed as part of a system. It affects and is influenced by the other levels of the system. It is not to be confused with reality. 

As teachers this information is important in two ways. First it underlines the power of inducing in a students positive beliefs about their capabilities and secondly it points towards the way to help students defend themselves against negative beliefs by teaching them how beliefs are generated.   

The impact on the student of an isolated analysis will range widely depending on the level chosen, from the Environmental : “I can’t spell because of the surrounding  noise.” to the Identification: “I am not intelligent”.  Depending on the level of analysis the teacher chooses s/he will induce an enabling, or disabling, belief in the student about their spelling capabilities. Perhaps the balanced solution would be to concentrate on capabilities and show pupils how to develop better strategies. This would be positive. However, teachers can go much further and teach students how beliefs work and how to handle them. This would be excellent care and excellent management. 

Sometimes the cause of a learning or discipline problem is that we, as teachers have not led properly. This breakdown in management may cause pupils to lose their sense of purpose and meaningfulness during the class. It may also encourage the more restless students to impose their direction on the class. This is a recipe for confrontation since it is unlikely that the teacher’s aims will coincide with those of an unruly student. Careful management requires careful preparation. You are called to lead the learning situation while you are in charge of the class and  in order to do that efficiently you must know what you want. This is a way of caring for yourself because it will enable you to resolve many management problems directly and with little hesitation. 

Here is a scheme which we find helpful in clarifying teaching goals. You can start by applying it to one class and you’ll quickly learn to turn it to your advantage:    

1. Define the context of your outcome : 

    - Where do you want your outcome? 

    - When do you want your outcome? 

    - With whom do you want to achieve your outcome? 

2. State your outcome positively : 

    - What is your aim in this class? 

3. Contrast your outcome with your experience : 

    - What will you be doing when you achieve your outcome? 

    - What will you feel when you achieve your outcome? 

    - What will you be thinking when you achieve your outcome? 

    - What would be a demonstration of your outcome?

4. Ecology : Will this outcome benefit me? 

    - What are the advantages of your outcome? 

    - What are the disadvantages of your outcome? 

In order to incorporate your outcome into your routine visualise yourself trying out different behaviours to achieve it. In practice remember to keep your behaviour flexible until you do achieve it. 

We began this article with a gardening metaphor of caring. We would like to leave you with a short quiz on care, found on an e-group list:

The quiz: 

Name the five wealthiest people in the world.

Name the last five football league champions.

Name five people who have won the Nobel prize.

Name the last six Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.

 How did you do?   

Few us remember well yesterday’s headlines.  These people are high achievers, the best in their fields.  But achievements are forgotten.  Awards die with their owners. 

Now try a different quiz.  See how you do on this one: 

Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.

Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.

Call to mind some people who have made you feel special.

List a few teachers who aided your journey through school. 

The lesson is that the people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards.  They are the ones that care.  

That is just a suggestion of the power of care to help you manage in class.

So, take care. 


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Maite Galán has a degree in Philology. She works as a language teacher in a high school and has 26 years teaching experience in Spain and France. She is a consultant for McGill University, Canada, in reading material for foreign language students.

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Tom Maguire has a BA (English), M-ès-Lettres (French) and Philology degree (Spain). He has 29 years experience in TEFL in France and Spain. At present he teaches EFL in a Spanish State high school near Barcelona and is participating in a pioneering Catalan website to give academic support to students, teachers and parents ( He is interested in using Neuro-linguistic Programming (Nlp) to enhance Learning to Learn. He is a Master Practitioner in Nlp and manages a listserv for those interested in Nlp in Education.

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