School Discipline: A Focus on Social Emotional Learning

Colored pencil and paper with text "Rethinking School Discipline"

School discipline is an important issue in education, as it affects the safety and well-being of students and staff, as well as the overall school climate.

The traditional approach of relying on punitive measures such as suspensions and expulsions has proven largely ineffective in addressing discipline issues, leading to an increase in disparities and a decline in school performance. There is a need to reevaluate current disciplinary practices and seek more effective strategies that promote social emotional learning (SEL) and foster a positive learning environment.

We will explore the impact of traditional disciplinary practices, the principles of SEL, and how we can incorporate new approaches to discipline that support student success.

Current School Discipline Issues

Disproportionate disciplinary actions taken against students of color are a significant issue in schools and classrooms. Research has consistently shown that students from minority backgrounds are more likely to be disciplined, often for subjective reasons than their white counterparts. This contributes to a negative school climate and perpetuates racial inequities within the education system.

Ineffective zero-tolerance policies have also become a concern in addressing discipline issues in education. These policies often result in harsh punishments for minor infractions, leading to an overuse of suspensions and expulsions.

Such practices can alienate students, hinder their academic progress, and ultimately contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. This makes it crucial to reevaluate current discipline practices in schools and seek more effective and inclusive strategies.

Check Out Our Online Course: Trauma-Informed Practices: Transform the Classroom to Combat Adverse Childhood Experiences 

The Impact of Traditional Disciplinary Practices on Students and the School Climate

teacher trying to discipline a student

Traditional disciplinary practices, such as zero-tolerance policies, suspensions, and expulsions, often have detrimental effects on students and the overall school climate. These punitive measures can lead to lower academic achievement, as students miss valuable instructional time and struggle to catch up upon their return to the classroom.

The negative repercussions extend beyond academics, as students subjected to harsh discipline may experience a decline in mental health and self-esteem, feeling alienated and unsupported in their learning environment.

Schools that rely heavily on punitive discipline can inadvertently create an atmosphere of fear and distrust among students and staff. This undermines the sense of community and belonging that is essential for fostering a positive school climate.

When students feel disconnected from their school community, they may be less likely to engage in prosocial behaviors and more likely to act out or disengage from their education. This, in turn, can contribute to higher dropout rates and perpetuate a cycle of negative outcomes for students and schools alike.

Understanding the principles of Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

As we work towards enacting more effective and inclusive disciplinary practices, understanding Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is paramount. SEL focuses on helping students develop a range of skills that contribute to their overall well-being.

The five core competencies of SEL, as identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), serve as a foundation for rethinking school discipline and promoting a positive learning environment.

  1. Self-awareness involves developing an understanding of one’s emotions, thoughts, and values, as well as recognizing one’s strengths and limitations. This awareness fosters empathy, self-confidence, and a growth mindset, empowering students to navigate various challenges in their lives.
  2. Self-management focuses on teaching students effective strategies for managing their emotions, stress, and impulses, as well as setting and working towards personal and academic goals. By developing self-management skills, students become more resilient and adaptable in the face of adversity.
  3. Social awareness emphasizes the importance of understanding and empathizing with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures. This encourages students to view others as individuals with unique abilities and perspectives, fostering a more inclusive environment.
  4. Relationship skills encompass effective communication, cooperation, and conflict resolution. These skills enable students to build and maintain healthy relationships with their peers, teachers, and other members of the school community.
  5. Responsible decision-making involves teaching students to make ethical, constructive choices about their behavior and social interactions. This skill fosters a sense of responsibility and accountability towards oneself and others, ultimately promoting a safe and supportive learning environment.

Check Out Our Online Course: Social-Emotional Learning: Essential Lessons for Student Success

The Role of SEL in Rethinking School Discipline

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) plays a significant part in rethinking school discipline, as it focuses on teaching students essential life skills that contribute to their overall growth and development.

By incorporating SEL principles into disciplinary practices, schools can foster a more positive and supportive environment that encourages empathy and understanding among both students and staff members. SEL can also help in promoting responsible decision-making by equipping students with the skills to understand and manage their emotions, empathize with others, establish healthy relationships, and make sound choices.

This is particularly important in reducing disparities in disciplinary practices, as students who understand their emotions and behaviors are better equipped to act responsibly. This approach stands in contrast to traditional punitive measures, which often fail to address the underlying issues and can even exacerbate them.

New Approaches to Discipline that Support Student Success

Restorative justice practices have emerged as an alternative to traditional punitive measures, focusing on repairing harm and rebuilding relationships.

Circles provide a safe space for students, staff, and community members to discuss and address issues collaboratively. Mediation encourages open communication between conflicting parties to reach a resolution, while peer conferencing empowers students to take an active role in resolving disputes and conflicts.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a proactive framework that promotes a positive school culture by establishing clear expectations and consequences, reinforcing positive behaviors, and using data-driven decision-making. This approach emphasizes the importance of recognizing and rewarding students for their positive actions, rather than solely focusing on punitive measures for misbehavior.

Trauma-informed discipline is another approach that acknowledges the impact of adverse experiences on a student’s behavior and well-being. By understanding the root causes of challenging behaviors, educators can provide targeted support and interventions tailored to meet the unique needs of students who have experienced trauma.

This approach fosters a compassionate and empathetic school environment where all students feel supported and valued.

Strategies for Implementing New Discipline Practices in Schools

male highschool student has been spotted by a teacher using cellphone in classEstablishing effective and sustainable new discipline practices in schools requires careful planning, preparation, and execution. Engaging all stakeholders in the decision-making process is the first critical step.

This includes involving educators, administrators, students, parents, and community members in the conversation to create a shared understanding of the need for change and to gather diverse perspectives on how to best address discipline issues.

Providing professional development and training for staff is essential to support the adoption of new discipline practices. Educators and administrators should be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively implement strategies such as restorative justice, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), and trauma-informed discipline. This training should be ongoing and tailored to the unique needs of each school community.

Regularly reviewing and adjusting policies based on data and feedback is another crucial aspect of implementing new discipline practices. Schools should establish clear goals and metrics for evaluating the success of their chosen strategies and use this data to inform any necessary adjustments. This process should be transparent and involve input from all stakeholders to ensure accountability and continuous improvement.

In addition to these overarching strategies, schools can consider piloting new discipline practices in targeted settings, such as specific classrooms or grade levels, before scaling up to the entire school. This allows for the opportunity to learn from successes and challenges and to make any necessary modifications before implementing the new approach more broadly.

Success Stories of Schools That Have Adopted New Discipline Approaches

Numerous schools that have embraced new discipline approaches have experienced a range of positive outcomes. Decreased suspension and expulsion rates are one of the most notable improvements. By implementing strategies such as restorative justice practices, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), and trauma-informed discipline, schools have reported significant reductions in disciplinary incidents, which in turn allows more students to remain in the classroom and engaged in learning.

Another remarkable impact of adopting new discipline approaches is improved student achievement. When students feel supported, respected, and understood, they are more likely to succeed academically. This has been demonstrated in schools that have implemented Social Emotional Learning (SEL) principles and new discipline practices, where students’ test scores, attendance, and overall performance have shown marked improvement.

Enhanced school climate and student well-being are additional benefits of rethinking school discipline. When the focus shifts from punitive measures to fostering a positive environment and addressing the root causes of behavioral issues, students and staff experience a more inclusive, empathetic, and nurturing atmosphere. This leads to healthier relationships, increased student engagement, and a greater sense of belonging for all members of the school community.

Resources and Support for Educators and Administrators Seeking to Rethink Discipline Practices

There is a wealth of resources available for educators and administrators who are interested in rethinking their discipline practices. Professional development opportunities are crucial for educators and administrators looking to implement new discipline strategies.

Conferences, workshops, and webinars are just a few of the ways that educators can gain the knowledge and skills needed to effectively employ these approaches in their schools.

At Strobel Education, we understand the power and importance of Trauma-Informed Schools. We help schools make this part of the DNA of their culture. We offer the Trauma-Informed Practices professional development training in two formats.

  1. A Trauma-Informed Practices professional development will equip your teachers to meet the needs of all students. We show teachers how to build positive discipline systems based on restorative practices that address and modify behavior challenges in the classroom.
  2. Our Trauma-Informed Online Course delivers the same information in a self-paced course, offering teachers more flexibility.


As we’ve explored in this post, rethinking school discipline and adopting new approaches that prioritize Social Emotional Learning can significantly improve student success, foster a positive school climate, and create a more equitable learning environment.

By replacing punitive measures with restorative justice practices, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and trauma-informed discipline, schools can better support the well-being of all students and encourage academic achievement.

At Strobel Education, we understand the importance of aligning discipline practices with the principles of SEL and also Trauma-Informed Practice, and we’re committed to empowering educators and administrators with the tools, strategies, and mindset shifts needed to make this transformation.

If you’re ready to take the next step in rethinking your school’s discipline practices and fostering an environment where every student can thrive, we invite you to explore our professional development offerings, workshops, courses, and coaching services. Together, we can create a brighter future for our students and our schools. You can contact us here for further support.

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