The theory of inner discipline suggests that “discipline occurs best when teacher help students acquire an inner sense of self-control,” (Pearson 2011, p. 275). Coloroso emphasizes that teachers should “establish classrooms that provide a climate of trust and responsibility, in which students are given power to make decisions about their problems and are required to manage the outcomes of those decisions,” (Pearson 2011, p.75).

The Teacher’s Role: 

  • Show  students what they have done wrong
  • Give  students ownership of the problems involved
  • Suggest  strategies for solving misbehaviors and problems
  • Ensure  students’ dignity remains intact
  • Provide  real opportunities to solve problems independently

Discipline is NOT Punishment

Punishment is “treatment that is psychologically hurtful to students and likely to provoke anger, resentment, and additional conflict.” Punishment is unlikely to lead to long-term changes in behavior and development of responsibility and self-discipline.

Coloroso’s theory enforces positive discipline, in which students are helped in making positive decisions and treated with dignity and respect.

What is Misbehavior

Coloroso describes three types of misbehavior: mistakes, mischief, and mayhem. Mistakes can be unintentional and are not always serious. While these do not require severe disciplinary actions, they are still opportunities to have students fix their behavior. Mischief, is intentional, but not always serious, misbehavior. Instances of mischief should be met with reasonable and logical consequences to curb the misbehavior and to help students reform the behavior. Mayhem, is severe and intentional misbehavior. Mayhem, which includes bullying, requires that teachers enforce reconciliatory justice. 

Reconciliatory Justice: The Three R’s

Even in reconciliatory justice, students are not punished nor are they bribed. As Coloroso describes, “Bribes make them dependent on others for approval. Rewards cause students to behave in certain ways only to please the teacher [rather than because it is ethical]. Punishment only makes students think about how to avoid getting caught the next time they misbehave,” (Pearson, 2011, p. 277).

When mayhem occurs, students must go through the three R’s of reconciliatory justice: Restitution – repair any damage (mental, physical, emotional) that occurred. Resolution – identify and correct whatever caused the issue, ensuring it does not happen again. Reconciliation – heal relationships with those who may have been hurt (mentally, physically, emotionally) by the mayhem.

Teacher’s Problem Solving Plan for Students

Barbara Coloroso details a plan, outlined below, that teachers can formalize for students that are dealing with a problem or issue in the classroom. This plan is meant for students to undergo, with the teacher acting as a guide through this process.

1. Identify the reality and define the problem.                                                                        2. List possible solutions for dealing with the problem.                                                         3. Evaluate the options.                                                                                                          4. Select the option that seems most promising.                                                                   5. Make a plan and carry it out. 6. In retrospect, reevaluate the problem and the solution.


Journal of the National Academy of Inventors

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