Discipline and Meaningful Student Involvement

Discipline in schools has a lot of different faces. Sometimes, its a direct punishment in reaction to a student breaking rules. Other times, it can be a negotiated consequence meant to encourage students learning from their indiscretions. When educators infuse Meaningful Student Involvement into their approaches to discipline, students can move beyond being passive recipients of adult-driven processes towards becoming equitable partners in teaching, learning and leadership through discipline.



SoundOut in Sao Paulo Brazil 2014
Students involved in an alternative discipline presentation with SoundOut in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Meaningful Student Involvement in school discipline can look like a lot of different things. Adults in schools can partner with students to make learning guidelines, school policies, and district regulations. Students can also help determine disciplinary actions, identify learning goals, and examine the effectiveness of discipline in schools, among many activities.

  • Student courts are one approach. Student courts can happen in elementary, middle, and high school, and when they operate outside schools, they are youth courts. Most often, they provide conflict resolution and interpretation of student bylaws and constitutions. When infused with classroom learning goals and provided equitable opportunities for decision-making as adults, student courts can reflect Meaningful Student Involvement at the highest levels.
  • Students as mediators provide an opportunity for engaging students as partners in school discipline. In these activities, students lead remediation and conflict resolution activities. Activities designed to prevent, intervene, or respond to challenging student behavior. They can give appropriate and necessary credence to students as partners. Doing this can make students essential contributors to substantive activities within the normal learning environment of the classroom.
  • Restorative justice engages students as partners foster empowering learning through discipline. Conflicts are dealt with by students, for students with adults acting as supportive, equitable allies throughout the process. Restorative justice holds students in equitable positions throughout the process, engaging them as planners, facilitators, evaluators, implementers and advocates.


Each of these activities can allow students to understand themselves as essential partners in schools, which allows their transition from passive recipients of adult-led education towards Student/Adult Partnerships promoting learning, teaching, and leadership for all.


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