Have you considered the difference between discipline and punishment? What do they mean to you when you hear them? Have you received discipline and punishment?


You are in your car driving to work. You notice the traffic has caused you to be a little behind on your schedule. Maybe it is because you woke up a little later than usual, and the line at Starbucks was longer than expected.

You see the signs for the speed limit, but you are running late, so you continue to drive, and then flashing lights appear behind you. The reality of the police car pulling you over for speeding and trying to get to work on time by speeding is happening. A ticket is issued, and you are officially late for work. Is this discipline or punishment?


A fight breaks out in the hallway. A girl is on the floor, and several are hitting her while others capture the fight on their cell phones. A staff member breaks up the fight. The police are called to the school. These are middle school aged children, but they are being charged with assault. The school district is also suspending the students involved with the assault. Is this discipline or punishment?


I have provided a couple of examples for your thoughts. But let me give you additional clarification on definitions of discipline and punishment. As I worked in education, I looked at these words and the actions I took very seriously.

When misbehavior occurs, it is due to choices individuals make. Poor choices, I have always stated, provide opportunities for teaching and learning (discipline). The goal when students make a poor choice is not just to stop the behavior but to help the student learn how and why. Children need to see and learn how to grow in making better choices on their own. If this process is skipped, then the behaviors will be repeated.

Punishment is about stopping the behavior and is a reaction to the situation. These can be emotionally motivated and seek immediate pain, and social and emotional discomfort to gain compliance.

Both discipline and punishment seek accountability, responsibility, and consequences for actions. It is how we approach these situations which have long-term effects on the children we serve. The results can be negative or positive in the guidance of their development.


We need to talk more about this subject and how it impacts:


Think about your practices with discipline and punishments. What are the purposes and outcomes of your actions?

Mrs. Yoho, “I said, I was sorry.”

Well, unfortunately it is not that easy when you have a fight with someone. When you say you are sorry it does not fix things right away.


Understanding Relationships-Punishments vs. Discipline

Reflecting on my days in education, I held different positions over the years. As I learned and grew in my roles, one thing remained the same, building relationships. In order to build relationships, you have to understand them and at times you have to work on restoring them.

I spent a lot of time talking with children, not with them. Don’t get me wrong, there was times I raised my voice to get their attention. I did not do it very often, so when it happened, they knew it was severe.

I did not want to pass out discipline, which was punishment. Here is your detention, your suspension, and so on. Then there was no follow-up. Then the behavior was repeated.


My Two-Rule Philosophy supports students in learning about choices. Helping them work through the process of thinking through what they are about to say or do by asking questions. Will this make me or others feel good? Will this make myself or others feel safe? If the answer is no, then the choice is not to say or do what they are thinking about. Problem-solving then takes over with solving the issue they are having by looking at some additional ideas and reaching out to others.

One of the critical factors I learned over my years is that many children and even some adults have not been taught how to restore a relationship once a problem has occurred.

“Helping children recognize when another person has feelings that are hurt and understanding how to repair the relationship is something we can assist in doing.”

Building Empathy- Two Rule Philosophy

Every choice we make has a consequence, and we all need to know this is the process of life. Understanding consequences is valuable to each of us as we grow through life's journey. It is how we learn and develop through our understanding which creates who we are as adults.

Discipline makes a person better. The goal of discipline is teaching. Parents trust education with the teaching of their children in academics. However, when we place large amounts of children and adults in one place for an extended period of time, something happens. It develops into an extension of the family, as my daughter would say, “school family.” Genuine relationships are built, and real conflicts that do occur will need discipline actions just like at home.


Placing value on relationships prevents punishment and replaces it with discipline. Discipline is done with students (teachers), and punishment is done to students. The messages sent to students is very clear when you use the approaches. Discipline is respectful, and they understand as you process with them about choices, how to restore relationships, and moving forward. Punishment does not make anyone feel good and is a power struggle. Here are some examples:

I call this the “square dancing” of discipline. Students come into the classroom and take their seats after they bow to their partners. Then it is “do-si-do” time. Everyone is trying to see what kind of attention they can get until the teacher stops dancing and keeps the microphone.

The Goal of Discipline

At the heart of every conflict are individuals who are hurt. Communication is the best way to learn how to talk about the hurt. Teaching others how to communicate is the best way to begin. It is not about talking and saying the right words but listening with the heart to open up and feel. The depth of the feeling can bring about more than just this conflict but what has been stored for a while.

Talking through different ways to solve conflicts before they become a conflict is a great way to help students practice. Providing examples, looking at forgiveness and real experiences of the consequences to choices we make is an important part of education today.

Home, School, and Community are the pieces needed to help fit with the unique piece of Students in our puzzle. All of the pieces must fit together to bring the changes we need.

"I only have 2 rules!"
© 2024 Brenda Yoho
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