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A Principal's Guide to Effective School Discipline


Most administrators spend a large portion of their time dealing with school discipline and behavior. While there is no way you can eliminate all your student behavior problems, there are steps you can take to ensure that your discipline program is seen as effective and efficient. As an administrator there are several things you can do to not only detour poor choices and bad student behavior, but to promote a positive atmosphere with minimal disruptions in the learning process.

Create a Plan for Teachers to Follow

Boy (9-11) with father and female teacher, sitting at desk in classroom
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It is important that you let your teachers know what your expectations are as far as classroom management and student discipline. Your teachers should know what kinds of discipline issues you expect them to handle in class and what issues you expect them to send to your office. They should also know what consequences are acceptable for them to hand out when dealing with smaller student discipline problems. If you require a discipline referral form, your teachers should know how you expect them to fill it out and what kinds of information you are looking for. A clear plan should be in place for how a major discipline issue that occurs in the classroom should be handled. If your teachers are on the same page as you when it comes to school discipline, then your school will run smooth and efficient.

Support the Teachers

Your classrooms will run much smoother if your teachers feel like you have their back when they send you a discipline referral. Establishing trust with your teachers enables better communication, so that you can provide some constructive criticism with a teacher if it becomes necessary. The truth is that there are some teachers that abuse the discipline process sending every student who is even slightly out of line to the office. While these teachers are frustrating to deal with you should still back them to some degree. You never want a student to feel like they can play the teacher against you or vice versa. If a situation occurs where you feel like a teacher is sending to many referrals, then fall back on the relationship you have with them, explain the pattern you are seeing, and go back over the plan that you expect your teachers to follow.

Be Consistent and Fair

As an administrator you should not expect every student, parent, or teacher to like you. You are in a position where it is virtually impossible not to ruffle feathers. The key is earning respect. Respect will go a long ways in being a strong disciplinary. A lot of respect will be earned if you can prove to be both consistent and fair in your discipline decisions. For example, if a student commits a certain discipline infraction and you give out a punishment, then that punishment should also be given to the next student who commits that infraction. The exception to this is if the student has had multiple infractions or is a consistent discipline problem, then you may have to up the consequences accordingly.


The single most important thing to do during the entirety of the discipline process is to document. Documentation should include information such as the student name, reason for referral, time of day, teacher’s name who is referring, location, and actions taken. Documenting has several benefits. The documentation process provides protection for you and the teachers involved should a particular discipline case ever render legal action. By documenting every discipline case that you see, you can see patterns that form in the discipline process. Some of these patterns include which students are seen the most, which teachers refer the most students, and what time of day the majority of discipline referrals occur. With this information you make changes and adjustments to try and correct problems the data shows you.

Be Calm, but Be Stern

An advantage of being a school administrator is that when a student is sent to you on a discipline referral you are generally in a calm frame of mind. Teachers sometimes make rash decisions because the student has provoked them in some way and sending them to the office allows a third party to deal with the situation. Sometimes this is necessary especially when a teacher recognizes that they may be too emotionally vested when dealing with a particular student. Sometimes a student needs time to calm down as well. Feel out the student when they come into your office. If you sense that they are tense or angry, give them a few minutes to calm down. They will be much easier to deal with after they are calm. It is equally important that you are stern. Let them know that you are in charge and that it is your job to discipline them if they make a mistake. As an administrator you never want a reputation of being too soft. You want to be approachable, so don’t be too hard-nosed. Be calm, but stern and your students will respect you as a disciplinarian.

Know your District Policies and Pertinent State Laws

Make sure you always follow your school district’s policies and procedures. Never act outside of these guidelines that are set for you. They are there to protect you and if you don’t adhere to them you could lose your job and face legal action. Always check pertinent state laws especially in cases involving issues such as suspension or search and seizure. If you ever run into something you’re not quite sure about, you should take the time to talk to another administrator or contact your district’s attorney. It is better to be safe than sorry.

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