Discipline in schools – a positive spin

schooldiscipline[notice]Debbie Hemmens shares a story from a Johannesburg school which demonstrates that firm discipline can produce positive results. She calls for more education to help people see the value of discipline.[/notice]

Recently we have seen many scenes on our screens of discipline gone horribly wrong in our South African schools. Who can forget the viral video of a Grade 8 learner yanking, hitting and kicking a teacher in a classroom in southern Johannesburg. We have students in revolt against the very thing that (if applied correctly) can lead and guide them forward in their futures.

We all need boundaries whether we acknowledge this or not. “Ever since the time of Adam and Eve, taking ownership of our lives and accepting responsibility for ourselves is something we have resisted. The task of a parent is to help their child develop inside him what you have been providing on the outside : responsibility, self-control and freedom.” (from ‘Boundaries with Kids’). Discipline is vital for our young growing children of this nation, and it is very sad to see the decline in our schools, and the fear of those in authority to apply it. This is understandable as children and their parents can sometimes respond with violence to having discipline and rules ʻinflictedʼ upon them. We need more education to help people see the value of discipline and we need it applied correctly so that it is not seen as an infliction.

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Refreshing story
Hopefully this refreshing story will help people to see the value of discipline correctly applied. It has a hugely positive outcome for all involved, including  you the reader, who will come away encouraged by it.

I interviewed the principal of a Christian school in Gauteng to find out the details of the story that I had briefly heard from someone else. The principal confirmed the story but asked me not to identify the school.

The school has an annual camp for Grades 6-12, and this year it was in August. Normally the staff search the studentsʼ bags to discourage mischievous teenagers from packing ʻdare factorʼ items that would damage their (and the schoolʼs) good name. This year, however, it was decided to offer the students a ʻtrustʼ in line with 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 which says “This, then is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust, must prove faithful.” The principal explained to the students that searching the bags might be effective, but that it also eliminated the necessity to TRUST the students. He rather wanted to entrust to students as servants of the school, the safeguarding of the good name of the school. He ended with the admonition that ʻit is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.ʼ Pupils were then given an opportunity to own up if anybody had any illegal (against camp rules) items, and no-one spoke up.

On the second night of camp, some pupils alerted staff to alcohol in the bags of six of the boys, four of whom were prefects. There was a disciplinary hearing and the decision was taken that the four would need to forfeit their prefect badges. The boys were devastated and the principal called them into his office to speak to them; he said his father heart towards them had not changed, they were still his sons in this school. They had, however, broken trust, and this would need to be worked on.

As Christ followers our identity never changes – we are always sons and daughters of our Father in heaven, he explained. However, in our purpose here on earth we can often make mistakes and then we need to accept there will be consequences and then repent, receive forgiveness and move on. The principal also gave the four boys the opportunity to apologise to the assembly of students and to hand their badges over themselves. This they did and then the principal spoke to the students explaining how when you are in a place of leadership and you fall, you need to confess your sin and then repent. There was a lot of crying from students as the school felt the pain and weight of those who had fallen.

Some months later, at the valediction service at the end of the year, the principal spoke about Peter and how Jesus restored him. We need to emulate Christʼs teachings, he said. And then he surprised the school by calling up the four former prefects and gave them their badges back. The decision to return the badges, which was known only to the principal and deputies, recognised the boys’genuine repentance, good attitude to their disciplining, and their improved behaviour. In this way, the school was able to demonstrate an aspect of what Christ did for Peter, to the boys. There were tears of relief and happiness in the assembly this time around.

The collective response of the boy involved in the disciplinary exercise was:“ The process was fair. We knew there were consequences and they were imposed with fairness. When our badges were returned, we felt honoured and restored.”

All the principles and rules applied in the school are relationship focussed. Itʼs not about control, but shaping the young person towards correct and appropriate behaviour.

There is freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. As Christians we need to look at discipline differently. It should be seen as a transforming process as described in 2 Corinthians 3 vs 18 — “ And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lordʼs glory, are being transformed into his likeness, with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

In reading through part of the schoolʼs discipline policy, the following stands out: “The policy provides guidelines and procedures for the correcting of inappropriate behaviour, training towards positive, righteous conduct and mentoring of a ʻmanner of life worthy of the Gospel of Christʼ(Philippians 1:27) amongst its students.”

It would be wonderful if other schools would take on the basis of this discipline policy that would seek to have mutual respect between students and those in authority over them, to have pupils become productive members of society and to have students become less and less reliant on external sources of correction or reprimand, but rather to learn to self-regulate their behaviour.

I found this story to be very encouraging as, so often discipline is looked at in a negative light, but this proves that, applied correctly, the results can be amazingly positive.

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  1. An amazing story.

  2. Colleen Foster

    Wonderful story. Yes children and parents need to see discipline as something positive and helpful. It is about taking responsibility and facing consequences.It is part of preparation for life.