Student sad after detention

School discipline refers to the rules and strategies applied in school to manage student behavior and practices used to encourage self discipline.

School discipline addresses schoolwide, classroom, and individual student needs through broad prevention, targeted intervention, and development of self-discipline. Approaches to school discipline range from positive (e.g., schoolwide school climate improvements, use of restorative practices) to punitive (e.g., suspension, expulsion, corporal punishment).  How school discipline is handled has a great impact on the learning environments of schools. 

Punitive school discipline does not improve student behavior or academic achievement.

Students who have been suspended are significantly more likely to drop out of school and become involved in the juvenile justice system than their peers. Students of color, especially boys, and students with disabilities are disproportionately punished. Suspensions are often subjectively applied in such cases. For example, a significant percent of suspensions and expulsions are for trivial or minor offenses (e.g., "being disrespectful" or violating school dress code). Schools that approach school discipline punitively affect the overall school climate, creating a more negative environment for all students, including those without discipline issues.

Establishing and maintaining a positive school climate helps to encourage self-discipline and prevent discipline problems.

Establishing and maintaining a positive school and classroom climate allows a school community to proactively prevent discipline issues by increasing the strength and the quality of classroom activities. Implicit in this approach is the assumption that participating in well-managed classroom activities encourages self-discipline by teaching students about what is possible through cooperation and coordination with others. It also provides the essential conditions for caring, support, clear expectations, and guidance that nurture healthy student development and motivation.

Using positive approaches when discipline issues arise reconnects students to their peers and teachers, improving the school experience for the community.

A positive approach to discipline shifts the focus of discipline from punishment to restoration of relationships and restored understanding of and commitment to rules and order. The purpose of discipline then becomes the teaching of civility and interpersonal skills and the reconnection of alienated children. Preventive methods and multi-tiered models can provide pre-planned responses to disruption/violence, laying the foundation for positive discipline methods to be successful in creating a safe school and the appropriate conditions for teachers to instruct effectively and for students to learn.


American Academy of Pediatrics. (1998). Guidance for effective discipline.Pediatrics101, 723–728.

Dishion, T. J., & Dodge, K. A. (2005). Peer contagion in interventions for children and adolescents: Moving towards an understanding of the ecology and dynamics of change. Journal of Abnormal Psychology33, 395–400.

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Fabelo, T.,  Thompson, M. D.,  Plotkin, M., Carmichael, D.,  Marchbanks, M. P.,  & Booth E. A. (2011). Breaking Schools' Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students' Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement (Lexington, KY: Council of State Governments; College Station, TX: Public Policy Research Institute).

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Gottfredson, G., Gottfredson, D., Payne, A., & Gottfredson, N. (2005). School climate predictors of school disorder: Results from a national study of delinquency prevention in schools. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency42, 412–444.

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Morrison, G. M., Anthony, S., Storino, M. H., Cheng, J., Furlong, M. J., & Morrison, R. L. (2001). School expulsion as a process and an event: Before and after effects on children at-risk for school discipline. In R. Skiba & G. Noam (Eds.), New directions for youth development (pp. 45–71). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Skiba, R., & Horner, R. (2011). Race is not neutral: A National investigation of African American and Latino disproportionality in school discipline. School Psychology Review, 40, 85-107.

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