School discipline has always been a top concern for teachers
and educators. In recent years, there has also been an increasing
emphasis on the role of counselling in the education process
at all levelsprimary, secondary and tertiary. In the
context of education, discipline is specially concerned with
promoting behaviours that conform to teacher expectations
and/or change behaviours that do not (Hoover, 1997). On the
other hand, counselling is a short-term, interpersonal,
theory-based, professional activity guided by ethical and
legal standards that focuses on helping individuals to resolve
developmental and situational problems (Gladding, 1992).
Discipline is often associated with punishment aimed at correcting
behaviours whilst counselling denotes the presence of a helping
relationship characterised by warmth and acceptance. The two
processes are quite different, but they have similar goalsto
bring about behavioural change. Many have argued that discipline
and counselling are incompatible with each other. They say
concepts like discipline, control,
sanctions and punishment have no place
in the vocabulary of caring people like school counsellors.
They are concerned that if teachers have to play the conflicting
roles of the disciplinarian and the counsellor concurrently,
they may end up being effective in neither. Are discipline
and counselling incompatible practices? Is it true that the
twain shall never meet?
If we try to understand both concepts in a holistic manner,
discipline and counselling are certainly not incompatible.
In its holistic form, discipline involves much more than the
mere meting out of punishment. In fact, there are three aspects
of disciplinedevelopmental, preventive and corrective.
The developmental aspect of discipline involves instruction,
training, inculcation of values and setting of standards for
acceptable behaviours. In the context of classroom management,
Kounin (1970) concluded that effective teachers differ from
ineffective teachers not in the way they respond to the students
misbehaviours, but in how competently they organise and manage
classroom activities. If the teacher makes an effort to create
a tension-free atmosphere in the classroom, presents the instructional
materials in a lively and interesting manner and demonstrates
a passion and enthusiasm for the subject matter, the students
are likely to be interested and attentive. When students are
meaningfully engaged in learning tasks, they are unlikely
to pose disciplinary problems.
The preventive aspect of discipline is characterised by limit
setting and the laying down of ground rules. If students are
fully aware of the boundaries of what is considered acceptable
or unacceptable behaviours and the consequences of breaking
the rules, they are more likely to abide by the rules. Thus
to function smoothly, classrooms need clearly defined rules
so that students know what to expect and what is expected
of them. Weinstein (1997) described four principles to keep
in mind when establishing classroom rules. First, the rules
must be reasonable, necessary and seen as fair. This means
that the rules should be appropriate for the age and grade
level of the students. Rules that are appropriate in the secondary
school may come across as absurd and unreasonable when applied
to undergraduates in the university. Second, the rules should
be clear and comprehensible. When rules are concrete and specific,
they will not be subjected to the personal interpretation
of the students. Third, the rules should be consistent with
instructional and learning goals. For example, if a teacher
is too concerned with having an orderly, quiet classroom when
conducting group activities, it would be difficult for the
students to engage in meaningful, collaborative learning.
Fourth, classroom rules should be consistent with school rules.
If instructors in the classroom try to enforce rules that
contradict the general rules of the institution, the students
will become confused.
The corrective aspect of discipline involves the use of teaching
strategies and intervention procedures to promote acceptable
behaviours and change undesirable behaviours. The type of
interventions needed depends on the seriousness of the problems
presented. Most minor behavioural problems in the classroom
such as inattentive and disruptive behaviours can be corrected
with non-verbal cues like a hand signal or a warning look.
When dealing with more serious problems like aggression and
bullying, there may be a need to mete out appropriate punishments.
Whilst conveying the message that a person has to bear the
consequences of his wrong behaviour, the punishment also serves
as a deterrent to prevent further offences. All these three
aspects of discipline contribute to the ultimate goal of disciplineself-control.
If students are motivated to learn, know the ground rules
and exercise self-control, there will be very little need
for classroom discipline.
However, when discipline problems do arise, mere meting out
punishment alone may not be enough. This is because punishment
only serves as a deterrent but does not necessarily change
behaviours. In fact, repeated punishments for the recalcitrant
student may leave him embittered and angry, and even antagonistic
towards the school authority. This is where counselling can
come into play. Wolfgang (1999) has conceived the Three
Faces of Discipline, an approach to behaviour management
which integrates the philosophy and theory of counselling
with that of discipline. He called these three approaches
the Relationship-Listening Face (a therapeutic
process), the Confronting-Contracting Face (a
counselling process) and the Rules and Consequences
Face (a controlling process). These three faces may
be placed on a power continuum from minimum to maximum use
of power. The continuum reflects the level of autonomy and
control given to the student to change his own behaviour or
the aversive actions used by the teacher to get the desired
change in the students behaviour and re-establish order
in the educational setting.
According to Wolfgang (1999), the Relationship-Listening
Face of discipline is a therapeutic process that involves
minimum use of power. The student is viewed as having the
capability to change his own behaviour. If he misbehaves,
it is because of inner emotional turmoil or a feeling of inadequacy.
Allowing the student to talk it out will help
him develop insights and become more purposeful in his behaviour.
This approach is akin to client-centred therapy, an affective
approach to counselling developed by Carl Rogers, the father
of counselling psychology. Rogers believed that man has a
natural capacity for growth and development, a strong desire
to become mature, socially adjusted, independent and productive.
The counsellor must rely on this inner force, not upon his
own influence, for therapeutic changes in the counsellee.
To Rogers, the true benefit of counselling lies in the therapeutic
nature of the counselling relationship. He postulated that
if the counsellor can provide a non-threatening relationship
characterised by non-judgemental acceptance, warmth and respect,
the counsellee will discover within himself the capacity to
use that relationship for growth and change, and personal
development will take place (Rogers, 1951).
The Confronting-Contracting Face of discipline grants the
student the power to decide on how he will change, with the
counsellors encouragement, and live up to a mutual agreement
for behavioural change. This approach to discipline offers
students a unique opportunity to explore and express their
ideas and feelings in a non-evaluative, non-threatening environment,
reflect on their own behaviour and make choices whether or
not to change their behaviour and how to do so. The idea is
to empower individuals to own and manage their problems.
Immediately, one can recognise a strong resemblance between
Wolfgangs Confronting-Contracting Face of discipline
and Reality Therapy, a cognitive behavioural approach to counselling
developed by William Glasser (1965). Like many modern counselling
theories, Reality Therapy contends that human beings are responsible
for their own behaviour. Glasser himself believes that all
human behaviour is motivated by striving to meet two basic
psychological needsthe need to love and to be loved
and the need for self-worth. These two needs have been incorporated
into one need which he calls identity. When individuals
are frustrated in their attempts to satisfy their need to
be loved and to feel worthwhile, they develop a failure
identity and resort to other avenues such as delinquency
and withdrawal. Glasser believes that this failure identity
can be changed to a success identity, but only
when individuals change their behaviour in such a way that
their needs for love and self-worth are met. This behavioural
change can be brought about by Reality Therapy, a counselling
process which helps individuals make value judgements about
their own behaviour, face reality squarely, assume personal
responsibility for their own behaviour and decide to do what
is right, responsible and realistic (George & Cristiani,
Glasser (1972) formulated an eight-step procedure as a guide
for the counselling process:
Be involved. Glasser emphasises the need for
the counsellor to communicate concern to the client, along
with warmth and understanding.
Focus on behaviour, not feelings. The emphasis
here is on making the clients aware of what they are doing
that makes them feel the way they do.
Focus on the present. The past is important only
as it relates to present behaviours.
Make value judgements. The clients are helped
to self-evaluate their behaviour to determine whether
it is responsible behaviour. Is their behaviour getting
what they want or is it hurting themselves and others?
Make a plan. The counsellor works with the client
to develop a specific course of action that will change
irresponsible behaviour to responsible behaviour.
Get a commitment. Glasser believes that a plan
is worthwhile only if the client makes a specific commitment
to carry it out.
Accept no excuses. Since not all plans succeed,
Glasser suggests that when a plan fails, one should focus
on developing new, more realistic plans rather than investigating
why the old plan failed.
Eliminate punishment, but dont give up. Plan failures are not to be met with punishment, only
with the natural consequences that the client has to live
with. Glasser urges the counsellor not to give up when
plans fail, but to repeat the whole counselling cycle
all over again (Wubbolding, 1991).
Reality Therapy was introduced to Singapore in the early
1990s. In 1995, Dr William Glasser himself was invited to
Singapore by the National Institute of Education to conduct
training for hundreds of school teachers. Since then Reality
Therapy as a counselling approach has been gaining popularity,
especially among school counsellors, many of whom have reported
success in using the model (Tan, 2002).
The third face of Wolfgangs model to discipline, known
as the Rules and Consequences Face, is basically a controlling
process. If a student breaks a rule, he has to bear the consequences.
So under-age smoking may land an adolescent in the juvenile
court and cheating in examinations could lead to expulsion
from school. In the primary schools the discipline master
or discipline mistress handles discipline problems as well
as counselling cases. This is because more often than not,
discipline problems in primary schools are often linked to
social or psychological problems such as low self-esteem,
learning difficulties or ineffective parenting. Indeed, the
management of discipline problems in primary schools often
involves counselling the child and working with the parents.
In secondary schools, disciplinary functions are carried out
by the discipline master while counselling is provided by
either the school counsellor or the teacher in charge of Pastoral
Care and Career Guidance (PCCG). Sometimes the culprit
is sent for counselling after punishment has been meted out.
This is important, not just to clear the air, but also to
help the student reflect upon his/her own behaviour. In fact,
the Handbook on School Discipline issued by the Ministry of
Education to schools recommends that all disciplinary cases
involving corporal punishment should be followed up with counselling
(Ministry of Education, 1997). In post-secondary and tertiary
institutions, recalcitrant students who flout rules repeatedly
are usually counselled first, before disciplinary action is
taken against them.
Are discipline and counselling compatible practices? Will
the twain ever meet? The answer is a resounding yes!
Counselling is not a substitute for discipline but the two
certainly can complement each other. They also share something
in commonboth are motivated by care and concern for
the well-being of the recipient, and both aim at bringing
about behavioural change, problem-solving, personal growth
and development. When properly implemented, both discipline
and counselling can succeed in fostering in our students the
values of respect, self-discipline, social responsibility
and moral integrity, the foundations for character building
and affective education.
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