University of Cambridge

Five Signs of an Ineffective School Discipline Program

StudentDiscipline issues are the biggest barrier to a school-wide focus on teaching and learning.  There is little doubt among education professionals that safe and orderly learning environments are a pre-requisite of effective schools. Likewise, schools laden with disruption, violence and an unstable atmosphere significantly hinder student learning and achievement. Is your school doing everything possible to create a safe learning environment for students? In order to help determine this, here are five signs that your school’s student behavior management program may be ineffective.   

Sign#1: Little or No Involvement/Communication with Families

In today’s busy society, schools must make a focused effort to include parents in the communication chain. When students are disciplined for poor behaviors, every effort must be made to notify the parents immediately, informing them of the school’s response to such behavior. At the beginning of each school year, parents and students should be educated regarding the student code of conduct and school policy surrounding infractions that occur. Failure to establish the lines of communication results in a loss of opportunity to truly understand the student’s background as well as needed support from the home to deter future behavior problems. Failure to communicate may also encourage a more negative response to the school from parents when something more serious occurs.   Parental involvement and support in school activities is also important. However, schools serving lower socio-economic areas will be challenged, as parents of children in these areas are working harder just to make “ends meet” and have little time to be involved with the child’s education. Also, schools in more poverty prone areas tend to receive little or no financial support from parent donors. Nevertheless, such schools should still aim to blanket these parents with as much information as possible. A good faith effort goes a long with way in obtaining future cooperation with parents when it is absolutely required.  

Sign#2: Lack of incentives to promote positive behavior

School-wide discipline is more than simply establishing rules and consequences for problem behavior.  A comprehensive and effective school-wide discipline program takes preventative measures, which include a positive behavior support component that is designed to demonstrate, promote, and reinforce, positive student behavior.  This approach places major emphasis on the creation of an atmosphere that is predictable and safe, where successful student learning and academic achievement can flourish. Believe it or not, some students, while having a sense of what’s right and wrong, still may not understand what “good” behavior actually is until it’s modeled for them. What better model could be provided for them in the school environment than other students (their peers) who are demonstrating and being rewarded for these good behaviors?   Schools that have been successful in implementing school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports have found

  • Increases in attendance,
  • Student reports of a more positive and calm environment,
  • Teacher reports of a more positive and calm environment, and
  • Reduction in the number of behavioral disruptions (Safe, Disciplined, and Drug-Free Schools Project, 2000).   

  Sign#3: No systematic data-based decision-making procedures

Without systematic, data-based decision-making procedures, the implementation of a school discipline system is prone to failure. Proper planning of a school-wide discipline program requires reliable data that allows school administrators to strategically target student behaviors, establish preventative measures and effectively identify and provide appropriate interventions for students who exhibit these behaviors.”[Schools require] the information essential to solving problems, selecting appropriate interventions, and providing better support for student learning (Nakasato, 2000). Incident data can also be used to assess the effects of interventions (Flannery, 1998).   Many types of incident reporting are also required by districts, states, and the Federal Government. Well designed incident reporting systems will save time, a limited resource, when schools and districts are required to complete these reports.”   

Sign#4: Lack of strict enforcement of rules

Without a strong commitment from administrators, teachers and staff, having a well constructed school-wide discipline plan on paper means nothing. At the beginning of each school year, students should be thoroughly informed of the school-wide student code of conduct, which should clearly display a list of behavioral expectations. The code of conduct should provide a list of negative behaviors and their consequences. However, it should likewise display a list of positive or acceptable behaviors that will be rewarded. This initial communication to students (and parents), whether it occur at an open house, classroom meeting or parent conference should occur before or on the very first day of student attendance. Administrators should assign top priority to making sure that all members of the faculty and staff are well versed in the contents of the student code of conduct. Additionally, this education process needs to occur each year, even for veteran staff members.  If the faculty does not know the code of conduct, how will they be able to enforce it? Not understanding the student code of conduct only leads to arbitrary and possibly legally indefensible punishments as well as contributes to a less predictable and unstable school atmosphere.   Finally, each member of the faculty and staff should commit to maintaining a resolute determination to follow-through with enforcing the rules. Each member of the faculty and staff should see themselves as the most important link in the chain of student achievement. One weak link can break the entire chain. Therefore consistency among all faculty and staff is required for a successful school-wide discipline program.   Sign#5: Cumbersome and Disorganized Processes

A well written school-wide discipline program can also be ineffective if procedures cannot be executed in a timely and organized manner.   This “process” component generally lies on the shoulders of the school administration and office staff. In a typical school environment, a teacher responds to a classroom discipline incident by completing a form which identifies the student and provides the details of the infraction. This form is then hand-delivered to the administration, usually to an administrator’s mailbox where the administrator retrieves it and initiates a response to the student and parents. After the response, the administrator must make sure the teacher is notified of the response and must file the form.   While some schools are generally effective with this process, there remains much room for improvement, especially with response time. As general rule, a shorter response-time preserves the integrity and impact of the consequence. Why is this true? A delayed response not only gives the student more of an opportunity to continue the misbehavior before the correction takes place, but can psychologically diminish the effectiveness of the applied consequence. In the student’s mind, a delayed response-time implies that the infraction was not that serious. Furthermore, teachers, who are the front line workers, do not perceive that they are receiving the administrative support they need when the response time is delayed.   In Conclusion:   Without a well written and properly executed school-wide discipline program, a school’s number one goal of student academic achievement cannot be met. Now, more than ever, a plethora of tools and knowledge exist that can assist schools in taking dramatic strides in reaching their academic achievement goals.  If you would like more information regarding how your particular school can achieve more, please visit or send a message to   About Us   William Shoap is a 13-year public school educator holding positions in teaching, school administration and district level administration. William has remained committed to enhancing the public school education environment not only through his various roles, but has more specifically worked to develop and adopt technology solutions to reduce costs and create efficiency. In doing so, he has also acted as a project manager in the implementation major programs in school district Human Resources departments as well as school-based environments serving school administration, faculty, staff and students.   Richard Golko is a career technology consultant and engineer. He has served small, medium and enterprise-level companies since 1992. Clients include Cargill, Inc. in the United States and CEFAS in the United Kingdom. Richard is a Microsoft Partner and is fully up-to-date in cutting edge software architecture and development through the entire project lifecycle.     Richard also has a keen interest in helping young people make better decisions which affect their futures. He wrote a full-featured goal setting and achieving course with accompanying software called Achieve It! He has presented the course to individuals and to corporate teams for the YMCA.    Contact Information

William Shoap
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