Is Positive Discipline More Effective Than Punishment?

| May 9, 2014 | 20 Comments
  • Share:
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Reddit
  • Email
photo by Michelle Blanton

photo by Michelle Blanton

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #DoNowDiscipline

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

Do Now

Explain what discipline looks like at your school. Are you more likely to change your behavior after receiving negative punishment or reinforcement and rewards for taking positive steps?


The Federal government is setting new guidelines aimed to improve school climate by transforming discipline practices and policies. This work is motivated in part by data suggesting that punishments like suspension are handed out disproportionately to black and Latino students.

One alternative approach to discipline that’s gaining traction across the country is called PBIS – Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support. It’s based on rewarding kids for following school rules – instead of removing them from school when they mess up.

At Floyd Elementary in Sacramento, when kids get in trouble, they use something called “check-in, check out.” It works like this: When second grader Aubery Galloway’s teacher felt he was being too disruptive in class, he started meeting daily with Michelle Blanton — who’s kind of like his behavior coach.

Every day, Aubery and his fellow students who are part of the program get rated by their teachers on different behaviors. They can get a 0, 1, or 2 on their cards — 2’s are the best. If students get enough points, they earn prizes and privileges. On a Friday earlier this year, Aubery chose to be the Principal’s helper for the day.

“I think they really like having somebody to check in. And so I tell them they can come see me and check in any time — come give me a hug ‘cause I know that’s what you want!” said Blanton.

That’s key in positive discipline – offering close attention from adults instead of suspending students and sending them home.

These are the kinds of questions educators and policy-makers are considering right now, as more and more schools revamp their approaches to discipline. Do you think positive discipline will teach kids to behave appropriately, or is it too “soft?” What’s gained and what’s lost if more schools shift to using positive discipline techniques? What’s the situation like in your school compared to the system you hear described in the story?


Youth Radio segment What Does Positive Discipline Look Like?
With the Federal government setting new guidelines that discourage zero-tolerance policies, schools are using all kinds of new systems when kids misbehave. One approach gaining traction across the country is called PBIS – Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support. It’s a strategy based on rewarding kids for following school rules – instead of removing them from school when they mess up.

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowDiscipline

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people’s tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets like memes or more extensive blog posts to represent their ideas. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.

More Resources

Youth Radio video series The Detention Chronicles
As part of our school discipline coverage, Youth Radio takes a look at personal narratives about what happens in high school detention.

NPR radio segment Calif. Schools Try Out A Gentler Form Of Discipline
Recent data in California show almost half of total expulsions statewide cited vague offenses, including “willfully defying the authority of school personnel” and “disruption of school activities.” Youth Radio takes you inside one school district that is changing the way they discipline kids, including using restorative justice.

U.S. Department of Education article School Climate and Discipline Guidelines
Check out the federal recommendations that schools around the country are urged to follow.

This KQED Do Now segment was produced in collaboration with Youth Radio, the Peabody Award-winning youth-driven production company headquartered in Oakland, California. This post was written by Robyn Gee at Youth Radio.

Explore: , , ,

Category: Do Now, Do Now: Government and Civics, News & Civics

  • Share:
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Reddit
  • Email

About the Author ()

Youth Radio is the Peabody Award-winning youth-driven production company headquartered in Oakland, California. For more Youth Radio stories and lesson ideas, check out .
  • KidsRpeople2

    Please Sign and Share Petition to Congress to enact “The Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act” to withhold federal funding from educational institutions that allow educators to hit children k-12 with big wooden spanking paddles to inflict pain punishment for minor infractions. This link includes 30 minute Documentary Movie “The Board of Education” by Jared Abrams exposing the brutally violent truth about corporal punishment in U.S. schools.

    • Dustin Remiker

      I agree that we need to get rid of Corporal Punishment but i don’t think that you should get rewarded for being good at my school you can get an opportunity by just following the rules and doing your work. I feel that schools should give kids opportunity’s based on there attitude, attendance, doing there work the hole class time, and if they are following the rules not for them doing what is expected of them.

      • Brock Miller

        I agree with you on this idea. Students need to work to be perfect in following in rules in order to receive an actual award. The reward would be much more meaningful and students wouldn’t take advantage as much if it was harder.

  • Dustin Remiker

    I think that positive discipline won’t work as much in high school because the rewards that are in the article are more for little kids you would have to change the rewards to what the individual teen would want.

  • Landon Gregory

    I think positive discipline is much more beneficial for students. Negative influence makes students want to rebel, to hurt the system. Sure positive discipline makes the student maybe take advantage, but what is better?? Taking advantage or rebelling? In my opinion, that is what it comes down to. And I think I would rather have a student take advantage.

    • Brock Miller

      I agree with you. It really does come down to will the students be taking advantage or rebelling. I would go with taking advantage myself because it causes less problems.

  • Brock Miller

    I prefer positive discipline because students seems to respond better to it because negative discipline makes most students want to rebel. I have seen it.

    • Christine Yee

      nice story!

  • Pinya Colada

    In my school, if you don’t follow the rules, there’s not much but a stern talking to and possibly a detention. A lot of the kids are well behaved and can control themselves. There have been cases of suspension and expulsion, but I’m not sure how much that has taught kids. Some kids get detentions or get suspended, but I don’t feel like they change very much.

  • KnowEl

    My experience has been that when someone acts out in class it’s so that they can make the teacher look bad and to look funny and cool in front of his/her friends. I think that there shouldn’t be corporal punishment (a kids should be punished in that way at home), but I also don’t think that kids should be rewarded for something that they should be doing already. I think that when a kids does something wrong they should be given a warning first. After that they should be made to stand for the rest of the class or sit on the floor for the rest of the week. Then it should go to a higher person. Detention does nothing. Who cares if they have to clean a few boards or sit in a class?

  • 18vmon

    In my school kids (boys in particular) always act out in class. They can be as “harmless” as making their friends laugh to making a teacher cry. No matter what the offense it can always lead to bigger problems in the future. I think it NEEDS to start at home. The parents of those kids need to enforce rules at home. Parents and teachers may think it just a phase but sometimes it’s not!

  • 18jcol

    I think positive discipline is better because I’ve seen kids get Detentions and it’s usually the same people who gets them and it usually doesn’t stop them from acting up.

  • 18tmon

    I think positive reinforcement is more effective for younger ages. I feel that no kid starts out wanting to be a ‘bad’ kid. Sometime is can be things out of their control. With positive reinforcement, the kid would want to get the prize. If that is a sticker, or a smile from his or her teacher. When they get older that becomes a different problem. They might not care as much. Also at the older age peer pressure comes into affect more. There are different ways to help at that age.

  • 18kgoe

    I believe both positive discipline and negative discipline work to a certain extent, but people have to use their judgement on when and how to discipline children. A teenager who punches a teacher for attention should be punished differently than a seven year old who called their friend a “mean person.”

  • Jae Hun

    I think positive discipline is way more beneficial and helpful for students, but I prefer getting negative punishments. If I get a negative punishment, it makes me think I shouldn’t do this anymore, since it is boring to get a punishment. I believe that it depends on student, whether they learn faster from negative punishments or positive punishments.

  • Francesca Botto

    The discipline at my school is actually fairly strict. Our administration tends to be more tough on students for little things they do. We don’t have positive discipline Not many people are credited for doing good things, in fact, most of the focus is on the punishment. I think positive discipline is better. Students need to be congratulated for doing good things, not solely punishment for bad actions. Yes, bad things deserve consequences, but positive discipline is much more beneficial.

  • Caroline P

    I think that positive discipline is effective, but eventually I think that positive discipline is ineffective. Although positive discipline is incredibly beneficial, there are certain situations and certain people that do not respond positively to punishment. Overall, I think that from a young age, positive discipline is incredibly useful. If kids are positively disciplined at a young age, they are taught to behave better. But if you mix positive discipline and punishment, I think kids begin to get confused. You either need to stick with one or the other.

  • Alex M

    I think both kinds of discipline need to be used. Positive discipline encourages students to do good things, while negative discipline usually just makes kids resentful. Negative discipline is more of a “Scare you straight” tactic than actually encouraging people not to do something. This can work in some situations, but it should be used sparingly, mixed in with positive discipline as well. This simultaneously encourages good actions, while discouraging bad ones.

  • carlos a

    I believe that positive discipline is not very effective with older kids because than people will take advantage of it and they will be able to get away with anything and never learn their lesson. But positive discipline is very effective with younger kids because they need to be rewarded for the positive things they do. It helps them at a young age get confidence and as they get older they will learn to take things seriously.

  • Nikki J.

    Kids respond better to positive discipline. When we are presented with a positive reward or choice, we are more likely to follow the rules because we get something out of it. However, our school is very strict and relies on negative punishment to put the kids in order. Kids tend to become rebellious when they are negatively punished, therefore decreasing the amount that they will follow rules. Positive discipline helps kids learn, grow, and have fun while learning to behave.