Discipline vs. Teachable Moments: Defined

Our team of Safety Representatives review thousands of student email messages and files each day, and they discover more inappropriate student content than any sane mind would willingly volunteer to see. The team then notifies emergency contacts and, if necessary, local law enforcement.

It’s then up to administrators, counselors and sometimes teachers to take matters from there. Your established policies regarding student behavior will determine how you handle a lot of these incidents, but some situations offer more flexibility. Discipline as punishment is often necessary. Those more flexible situations, however, can afford a ripened opportunity for teachable moments.

Let’s use a simple example to make this topic concrete. Suppose a Gaggle Safety Representative notifies you about an incident that involves cyberbullying. Charlie has been sending insulting and threatening messages to Jack.

What does it mean to discipline Charlie? To discipline is to subject another person to a set of standards, often using punishment to correct disobedience. Based on this definition, Charlie could lose privileges, serve time in detention or even be suspended.

The goal of these forms of punishment, it seems, is behavior modification. It’s possible Charlie will relent from his abusive treatment of Jack in the future–at least online, because he knows his words are filtered and reviewed. Identifying success with a modification in behavior has appeal because it’s quantifiable. Less reported incidents can be portrayed as a success.

One might argue, however, that behavior modification does not meet the overall goal of educating students. Education does not merely mean imparting information to students. It also demands a kind of moral formation; students should also acquire a conviction and a desire to be good to others and themselves.

A teachable moment, if successful, will modify Charlie’s behavior. Beyond this, however, a teachable moment should aim to impact Charlie’s moral horizon, so his values change and he no longer has a desire to hurt Jack. A teachable moment occurs when the timing is right, and the conditions are in place for a student to learn something entirely new. Charlie doesn’t merely add information to what he knows, but rather undergoes a change in his personal set of values.

Teachable moments are, without a doubt, more difficult. They require persuasion, as you bring the student to agree freely and come to terms with a new set of standards. They need finesse, patience and sincere interest in the well-being of students.

The next two posts on discipline and teachable moments will identify the real difference between the two and offer insights into when each is appropriate.

Part 1: Discipline vs. Teachable Moments: Defined
Part 2: The Real Differences Between Discipline and Teachable Moments
Part 3: 4 Important Questions When Deciding Between Discipline and Teachable Moments

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