The Three-Step Plan to Good Discipline in the Sunday School Classroom

“Now these are the commandments, the statutes and the judgements, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it” (Deuteronomy 6:1).

A good teacher plans for good discipline and carries out the plan. I believe that nothing happens by chance. Just as a good lesson must have an objective and a plan to reach that objective, so it is with good discipline. You must have a plan; work your plan.

Discipline procedures and plans must be taught. Classroom norms and routines should be the main lessons for the first three weeks of school each year, and the first lessons taught by a new teacher in Sunday School.

I remember Miss Hamill’s first grade classroom. You could walk in any time during the year and learning was taking place. She could be sitting with a small group teaching reading and the rest of the class would be engaged in meaningful learning. A group would be working on arithmetic and another on art. Talking was going on but was connected with the tasks. When students finished an assignment, they did not interrupt Miss Hamill; they knew where the completed assignment was to be placed and the next task assigned to them. This did not happen by chance.
Miss Hamill spent the first few weeks teaching them the rules, routines, and rewards of her classroom. She taught them just as she would teach mathematics.

1. She taught the rules and routines.
2. She modeled the rules and routines.
3. She allowed students to practice following the rules, the proper procedure, and place for each subject assignment.
4. She rewarded students who successfully followed the rules and routines.
5. She disciplined students who did not follow the rules and routines.

Many times children disobey due to lack of understanding rather than insubordination. Children do not know what we want, nor do they understand the importance of our wishes. Their lack of understanding is partially because they are not listening but mostly because we are not communicating.

We do not talk to children enough about why they are disciplined. Often when we do talk, kids are not really listening. Be sure to get children’s attention first.

How effectively do you use your voice, calmly yet firmly, to tell the kids what you want and what you need? How effectively do you follow through?

The first problem teachers have with rules is not communicating the rules well. The second problem is that teachers threaten and say things they do not really mean.

How effectively do you plan to deal with negative behavior? Do you wait for the child to disobey before you figure out what you’re going to do? Why not decide ahead of time how to deal with negative behavior, and communicate your decision to the child? The penalty used will be more effective if you communicate the penalty beforehand.

Deuteronomy chapter six shows how important the Lord thinks communication of expectations is in the training of children.

“Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it: And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way; and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up and thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Deuteronomy 6:1, 6-9).

Heaven is the land our students must possess. We want them to have their own personal experiences with God. We want to raise our students to love and serve Him as happy, independent adults with families of their own. This is their land to possess.

God thinks it is very important to teach and to talk to children about what is expected in order to fulfill His statutes. Also important is talking to students about the rules and routines necessary for the smooth functioning of your classroom.

In order to prepare children for life, we must set down expectations, routines, and consequences. The commandments and the statutes are rules. The judgments are the consequences for breaking the statutes or commandments.

It is very important that we make the effort and take the time to communicate our commandments and statutes to our children.

I. The Importance of Classroom Rules and Consequences

When working with children and young people we must recognize that youth think differently than adults. What is obvious to teachers is not obvious to children. Paul recognized this: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (I Corinthians 13:11).

If a student lived in the world alone, rules would not be necessary. We need rules because we are social beings and must live and interact with other people. Most of the Ten Commandments, as well as most of the social rules laid down in Exodus and Deuteronomy, have to do with relationships with our neighbor.

We are kind to youth when we teach them how to behave. I have seen kids come to kindergarten with no idea how to interact with other people. Parents did not train them; the kids are just wild weeds. In Sunday schools and Christian schools we have to squeeze that square peg into the round hole; we continually have to cut off children’s corners. Though pretty hard on children, if they are going to learn they will have to fit into the school environment.

Rules are necessary in any group for individuals to work with each other. Without rules there is no knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. God saw the necessity of communicating His rules to Israel. Discipline was part of His plan to make Israel a special people. God used the Law as a schoolteacher. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24-25).

In the dispensation of grace God did not do away with the rules; rather He wrote them on the fleshly tables of our heart (II Corinthians 3:3).

Teachers should follow God’s Discipline Plan:
God’s Discipline Plan
A.Establish the Rules (Exodus 20:1-17)
B. Reward Good Behavior (Deuteronomy 28:1-14)
C. Consistently Provide Disciplinary Consequences when Rules are Broken (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

“For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way °flight” (Proverbs 6:23).

II. Establishing the Rules of Your Classroom

“By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

1. Rules must be based upon specific behaviors that the teacher wants or needs for smooth operation. In other words, you must think about a specific behavior needed on the part of the child, and you must communicate this need. Rules should be based on very specific needs. Either you need them to walk, or you need them to sit; you need them to say “thank you,” or you need them to do this or that—for the smooth operation of the classroom. You have to think, “What behavior do I want my children to exhibit?” You determine these expectations.

Although the rules are for the purpose of smooth operation of the classroom, church, or society, the rules still must not violate or hurt the child. You need to consider, “Is this something that the child has to learn for his or her future?” “Am I demanding something that will hurt the child?”

2. Rules must be specific. When you have ambiguous or fuzzy rules, do not be surprised if a child challenges or violates them. Rules must be specific and must describe observable behavior needed for the smooth operation of the classroom or school.

3. Rules must be few in numbers. You may ask, “How many rules should I have?” Dr. Cline answered this very well in one of his “Love and Logic” seminars: “As many as necessary and as few as possible.”

When I first started teaching, my students were a dynamic group of eighth graders. I just had come from college, and had a lot of ideas and neat things to do. I had been told that if I had a lot of activities, the kids would rise to the occasion and appreciate it very much.

I introduced myself and told the class what a fun year we were going to have and since we were a democratic society we ought to have rules. Voluntarily and joyously all the kids suggested rules—so I had a board full of rules. From that point on, they accepted no responsibility for enforcing them.

I was trying to enforce these rules, and every time someone sneezed a rule was broken. What a mess! What I’m saying is, do not have twenty rules in your household or in your classroom. You don’t need any more than four or five to survive. Then enforce them!

Assertive discipline suggests the following as typical behaviors which most teachers need from their students. You may want to adopt these as rules or modify them to meet your own needs.

After choosing your rules, share them with your Sunday school superintendent, school principal, and Pastor. Be certain to get their blessing and support before you try to enforce your rules. Next, share the rules with the parents of your students so there will be no surprises. Post your rules on a large chart in a prominent place in your classroom and quote the appropriate ones every time they are broken.

Typical Behaviors
Teachers Need from Students

•Follow directions
•Stay in seat
•Raise hand
•Be in class on time
•Keep hands, feet, objects to self
•No cussing or teasing
•Bring books, pen, and paper to class Assertive Discipline

We need youth to do many things that do not have to be formalized into rules. When you demand that students do something over a period of time, it becomes a rule. When you ask them to do something, it is a request.

Most of the time our children want to please us and are more than willing to do something if we ask it as a favor. Be as courteous to them in your request as you would be to an adult. Then watch how hard they try to please you.

Some Rules For Rules
1. Rules must be based upon specific, observable behavior that the teacher needs for smooth operation.
2. Rules must be specific.
3. Rules must be few in numbers.
4. Rules must be fair and fit the activity.
5. Rules must be stated ahead of time and not in the heat of battle.
6. Rules for the school must be agreed upon and enforced by all adults.
7. Rules must be communicated to the student.
8. Only rules that are enforced are true rules. Rules that are ignored, or are enforced sometimes, cease to be “rules.”

Be careful not to come up with a rule after the fact. It is unfair to punish a child for something in the absence of a rule or an understanding. The right thing to do is to sit immediately with the child and come to an understanding for next time. Too much of our discipline depends upon how we feel.

Young people do want rules. Rules give children boundaries. Once children know where the fences are, they feel more comfortable in their journey to their “Promised Land.”

III. Reward Good Behavior

“And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).

The greatest problem with most discipline plans is that the plans quickly become negative. Teachers are busy people with their minds on instruction. Negative behavior must be handled immediately or instruction stops. Good behavior, however, is taken for granted since this is what teachers feel should be happening.

Catch Students Doing Good! Reward!

-Assertive Discipline

Students have a thirst for attention. If attention is not received for being good, children will get attention by being bad. Many students would rather be punished than ignored.

Praise is a Powerful Teaching Tool!

Rewards usually begin as “extrinsic”—rewards that are outside us. Teachers many times must start with little prizes to encourage the required behavior. This kind starts in the early grades. Later, letter grades become a form of extrinsic rewards. Rewards do not have to be expensive, since the value is not in the item but in the recognition of winning it.

I remember well Mrs. Rassi and her first-grade class. On each child’s desk sat an empty milk carton washed out from lunch. When a child was behaving or answering correctly Mrs. Rassi would say, “You may go and get a button.” The child would go up to her desk and agonize over the selection of that special button in the bowl. The students never seemed to cheat, but would take just one to add to their button collection in their milk carton.

In the School of Tomorrow (ACE) program, students in Grades 7-12 may earn one merit for each day they have fewer than three demerits. Five merits equal 15 minutes subtracted from a student’s earned detention time. The student can use the merits at any time.

Hopefully, your students will move from extrinsic rewards to “intrinsic.” They will feel good internally for behavior they know is good and appropriate. As adults we appreciate a raise in pay or a plaque to hang on our wall; however, these extrinsic rewards do not keep us working year after year. The intrinsic reward of knowing we are doing something important and doing it well keeps us going.

General Guidelines For Rewards

1. Choose rewards students like.
2. Choose rewards you are comfortable using.
3. Never take rewards away for punishment.
4. Reward individuals (public praise, privileges, notes, phone calls to parents, nonverbal gestures).
5. Reward the entire class for an individual accomplishment. (Positive peer group pressure) This works especially well with high school students.
6. Reward the entire class for class accomplishments.
7. Develop a system for monitoring appropriate behavior. (Marks on chalkboard, stars on chart, marbles in jar)
-Gary R. Trzcinski

IV. Consistently Provide Disciplinary Consequences

“But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:” (Deuteronomy 28:15).

A Rule which is not enforced consistently—Ceases to be a rule!

Consequences need to occur when a child breaks the rules. The consequences do not have to be overly harsh or increasingly punitive to be effective; they just must happen every time.

Never Threaten; Only Promise. Then Keep Your Promises.

When students break rules, let natural consequences take place as much as possible. “Your sins have separated you from your God” is an example of a natural consequence.

An example of a natural consequence for adults is that when we are late for our airplane, we stay behind and very likely our money is not refunded. For a teenager, the natural consequence of not handing in an assignment is a lowered grade. For a child, a natural consequence could be that forgetting the lunch box at home means eating no lunch that day. Or, if the child does not bring his Bible to Sunday school, competition points are lost.

Natural consequences are very powerful and easy. They do not have to be communicated; the teacher just lets them happen. Do not rescue the child, but do be sympathetic.

Teachers often do not have the time or authority to allow natural consequences to happen since they are not the parents; therefore, teachers rely more on logical consequences.
Rules for Logical Consequences
1. Consequences should really matter to the child.
2. Consequences should be enforceable; both you and the child can live with them.
3. Consequences should happen as soon after the infraction as the teacher can handle with self-control.
4. Consequences need not be harsh or unique or progressively harsher.
5. Consequences do need to be sure and consistent.

If possible, logical consequences should be communicated. Sometimes a student will do something you could not foresee. In that case, make the consequence as natural and as logical as possible.

I knew of an instance where a child stole an item from a store. The act was wrong and embarrassed the parents. The parents were tempted to take the item away from the child and threaten what would happen next time. No! Something must happen this time.

The child must take back the item and face the manager. After apologizing for stealing it, the child pays for the item with money “loaned” by an adult. Then the adult should provide work so the child can earn that amount to repay the adult. If the child has to make restitution and face the action’s consequences immediately, rarely will the infraction be repeated.

Logical Consequences Must Be:
•Related To The Infraction
•Respectful Of The Student
•Reasonable To Other Adults

Never threaten! Promise and always keep your promise for true communication.
Students need to be taught how to behave and how to interact with others. In the Bible, these behavioral guidelines are called Laws or Statutes. These rules must be taught and modeled before children; good behavior does not just happen.

Tell children what you expect. Tell them often, then monitor to see that the rules are followed. In addition to telling children your expectations, teach them why the rules are important.

After doing all of this, do not assume children will fully understand what you mean when you set down expectations. Sometimes you must show them what the desired behavior looks like and sounds like. Also, there are times that you must help them by practicing the desired actions together.

For important rules, our children must know right where the line has been drawn. Communicate!

“Loving teachers who are organized, creative, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and prayed-up may still have major problems with discipline. These things enhance good discipline, but will not make it happen” (Gary R. Trzcinski).

The above article, “The Three Step Plan To Good Discipline In The Sunday School Classroom” was written by David Reynolds. The article was excerpted from the book Classroom Discipline…with a Christlike Touch.

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”