No student should ever prevent a teacher from teaching or keep another student from learning

Lee Cantor

Misbehaviour. One of the most dreaded parts of being a Buddy, classroom teacher, or parent. How to discipline can be a minefield, particularly when it is not your own child and you have to assert your authority, gain the trust and acceptance of your student, and try to keep the lesson interesting, fun and supportive.

So for this month’s educational theory, we’re going to be taking a look at the idea of ‘assertive discipline’. Developed in the 70s by Lee Canter and his wife Marlene, the theory is all about building positive behaviour by teaching what is right for your students, rather than acting authoritatively and resentfully, or passively and doubtful. As they visited schools around America, they realised that teachers lacked training in how to deal with behavioural issues, tending to get angry and sarcastic with students, which often triggered more bad behaviour.

The principle teachings of assertive discipline are:

  • Students have the right to be taught effectively in a safe environment.
  • Teachers also have rights and needs
  • Effective teachers have authority, but this is shown in a respectful way, their duty is to help, teach and support.
  • Trust and respect are central to good behaviour management
  • Positive behaviour should be celebrated and turned into a habit

For assertive discipline to work, there must be a clear, set out path for students to follow. This means leaving out vague instructions, by setting out specific rules. Rather than ‘pay attention’, the correct instruction would be ‘pay attention, eyes on me and hands away from the keyboard or mouse’ 

Good behaviour must be noted and celebrated, bad behaviour must be met with negative consequences, one example could be giving a Bready a trophy if they’ve done well, or removing the control of the pen for a Bready messing around with the whiteboard and explaining why.

Students are seen as allies in this theory, with you as the teacher and they as students working together to get the best possible results with the best positive behaviour.

One of the most important parts of assertive discipline is communication; setting out exactly what you expect from the class, what your rules are, and what the aims for the lesson are. In doing this, the students know exactly how you want them to behave, what they’re going to be covering, and what you would like from them.

So how can you set this in your classroom setting?

The problem with communication being central to assertive discipline for IQBar however, is that Breadies are there exactly for learning how to communicate. How can you lay out exactly what you expect behaviour-wise from a session if your Bready can’t fully understand you?

On top of this is the time. Half an hour sessions don’t exactly provide much time for setting out the rules of the class!

And what else? Breadies have come back from a long day of school, many of them are tired, many of them are quite young, and we as Buddies want to make the session as friendly and enjoyable as possible.

The good thing is, most Breadies are well behaved, and have been taught from a young age to respect the authority of the teacher. Different to other countries and classroom scenarios, for most students, they already know you’re the boss and the rule giver, and at the same time you can be friendly, kind and help them learn in a relaxed way.

For those who are less so, why not create some simple rules that you can discuss in class so they know what they should be doing? This is particularly effective for repeat Breadies.

One example that has proven useful for me, is using the pen as a positive reinforcement tool. If your Bready is behaving well, they can access the pen, draw to help them explain something or play games, or write words. If your Bready is playing up and scribbling over things, you could gently suggest ‘I’m turning off the pen until you focus on the question.

If you have an older Bready who doesn’t want to do the work so much, why not ask them about what rules they have at school and try and engage which rules they think are fair or not fair, before together coming up with your own classroom rules?

Perhaps a gentler way to ground your rules, particularly for younger Breadies, is to have special gestures, or illustrations which you can hold up. This could be a finger on lips, a hand to an ear to elicit response, or a picture of a chair with an arrow to suggest sit down. This can be turned into a game where you get your Bready to stand up and sit down and make it faster and faster, making it playful.

What’s important is making sure Breadies feel safe and happy in the classroom. Buddies should not behave with anger, or indeed just switch off if Breadies are not performing as they should, but small changes in the classroom can have a big impact.

Buddies are teachers, mentors, friends and supporters, we’re there to teach English and provide a fun learning space for Breadies.

If you have any suggestions or questions for how to apply assertive discipline, drop a comment into the engagement group tagging Harriet – social media, or send us an email at!