Discipline: Teacher Focused vs Student Focused

Discipline can be filtered into two trains of thought: teacher focused and student focused.

Teacher focused Student focused
What is it? Punishment An opportunity to teach behavior to a student currently deficient and not meeting expectations
Who “does” it? Administration All educators who come in contact with the student
What is the foundation of it? Rules Relationships
Behavior is… a choice, therefore punishment serves as encouragement/deterrent to choose wisely learned, therefore must be taught, modeled, re-taught, and supported
Teacher becomes frustrated when… administration does not impose punishment and/or immediately correct the behavior student learning curve takes more time and resources than anticipated

What is it? Pretty straight forward. Teacher focused educators believe discipline is about punishing kids for their behavior, and removing them from class makes it easier to teach their content.
Student focused educators believe their jobs are to teach kids (Math, Art, Science, Spanish, Behavior, etc.), and that is challenging to do if students are removed from their instruction.

Who “does” it? Teacher focused educators believe discipline is handled by administration. Therefore, anytime it’s needed, teacher focused educators send kids to the office.
Student focused educators believe they–and everybody who comes in contact with kids (other teachers, administration, extracurricular supervisors, custodians, office staff, lunch crew, bus drivers, etc.)–have a role in supporting positive student behavior. Therefore, when it’s needed, they work collaboratively with colleagues to provide support, redirection, or guidance as appropriate.

What is the foundation of it? Teacher focused educators are committed to rules. They work diligently to protect them, and may become adversarial with those who break them. Teacher focused educators believe that following rules makes it easiest for them to teach their content.
Student focused educators are committed to kids. They reach out to those who exhibit a need for support to meet expectations, and tend to make positive connections with them. Student focused educators believe their best leverage in student learning is a strong relationship.

Behavior is… Teacher focused educators believe behavior is a choice. Rules make clear what the expectations are, and punishments will achieve rule obedience.
Student focused educators believe behavior is learned, just like academic skills. And just like academic skills, proficient behavior can take time, practice, and supportive teaching.

Teacher becomes frustrated when… Teacher focused educators feel punishments should match how upset they were with the student’s infraction, and that the behavior should be immediately corrected by administration. If either of these do not occur, they may feel unsupported.
Student focused educators are dedicated to student learning, and may feel emotional exhaustion from a commitment to students with high behavioral needs.


Scenario: Today we’re working on quadratic equations. A student doesn’t correctly complete them. I see him struggling, and I give him an ultimatum: “Get this next problem right or I’ll send you to the office.” He gets the next problem wrong, and I feel grossly disrespected and cite the student for insubordination. I send the student to the office, and am fully expecting at least a couple day hiatus from my classroom for him. When he returns, I expect him to be proficient in quadratic equations. If these do not occur, I will not feel my administration is supportive of me.

In my entire career, I have never witnessed or heard of this experience as it pertains to academic skills; however, this can be a pretty typical response when it comes to behavior. In the above scenario, we tend to pull kids closer to us, offering help before or after school, or during lunch periods. We reach out to peers for different ways to expose the material of quadratic equations. We find various resources and implement different strategies. We monitor progress, expecting incremental improvements over time and set benchmarks. We bond with the student beyond the general classroom setting. Yet, when it comes to behavior, we tend to push students away, exiling them and expecting immediate proficiency upon return to us.

If we view our jobs as teaching quadratic equations, that will most easily be done by removing the kids who don’t already know them or won’t catch on quickly. But if we view our jobs as teaching kids quadratic equations, that can only be done with kids in front of us. We don’t send kids to a magic room in the office that teaches quadratic equations to full proficiency by holding them there for a couple days. We dig deeper, work collaboratively with colleagues, and create valuable connections with our kids beyond the universal setting, striving toward a shared goal. The same should hold true for behavior.




  1. Love this piece. I read the anecdote about Quadratic equations first and was thinking “whaaaattt”. Sam, you did a fine job of illustrating the illogical nature of the manner in which discipline is traditionally handled in classrooms and schools. I think about the way I discipline my kids at home. Of course I’m firm about expectations, but they always know I love them! Our students need to know this too!

    March 15, 2015
    • Sam LeDeaux said:

      Agreed! Thank you for the read and the contribution, Donald!

      March 16, 2015
  2. Tom Whitford said:

    Excellent post Sam! I’ve missed connecting with you. I remember having a great conversation with you a couple of years ago at #edcampChicago. I’ve wanted to share this same reflection many times but I’m not sure I could have phrased it as well as you. Relationships and learning are absolutely the key and they are more effective when happen together. Why send the student off to build a relationship with the principal, assistant principal or dean?

    March 15, 2015
    • Sam LeDeaux said:

      I think we connected 2 springs ago at #EdCampChicago at Wood Dale. Our district is actually hosting this spring. Hope all is going well with your new gig. Look forward to catching up!

      Thank you for reading and sharing, Tom!

      March 16, 2015
  3. Jim Roy said:

    I, too, want to thank you for this post. Something tells me you’ve heard about choice theory and William Glasser. If not, you and Glasser would be great friends. I hope you will check out The Better Plan blog at thebetterplan.org.

    March 15, 2015
    • Sam LeDeaux said:

      Thank you for reading and sharing, Jim. I will check out your blog!

      March 16, 2015
  4. John said:

    But, at what expense? You mention nothing about the other students in the classroom whose learning suffers because one student continuously requires the “redirecting” you describe. Of course, this issue is a sliding scale. As students become older, they should be aware of the coupling between actions and consequences. At the point of graduation, we must prepare them for the harsh reality that life gives very few second chances.

    March 16, 2015
    • Sam LeDeaux said:

      Good point, John! There certainly is a larger discussion to be had if our kids do not positively respond to our fullest efforts of differentiation. Thank you for the read and for sharing!

      March 16, 2015
  5. Daniel Scott said:

    Nice visual with the chart along with the details following. As a teacher, I’ve seen sometimes students quickly passed on to admin. One can see how admin feel when it happens time & time again. Tom’s right. The relationship would need to improve with us and the student, not so much the admin for this reason. “Discipline with Dignity” (Curwin & Mendler) and “Unconditional Parenting” (Alfie Kohn) have helped me from year one. Thanks again for your thoughts!

    March 17, 2015
    • Sam LeDeaux said:

      Yes, I have yet to hear an educator wish they had worse relationships with their students 🙂

      Thank you for reading, contributing, and sharing the resources, Daniel!

      March 17, 2015
  6. Rob said:

    Effective discipline comes down to answering “What do I want from this interaction: results or revenge? ” We know how the effective teachers and admins will answer that question.

    March 18, 2015
    • Sam LeDeaux said:

      I’ve never heard it put that way. Love it!

      Thank you for reading and contributing, Rob!

      March 21, 2015
  7. Annomous said:

    Most teachers are not like this at all. Untrue for my school.

    May 15, 2017

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