Alternative school discipline principles and interventions: an overview of the literature

Over the past two decades, punitive disciplinary measures in schools such as zero-tolerance and “get tough” policies, or the implementation of physical searches, locks, fences, or cameras have been widely criticized. Several alternative disciplinary interventions have been introduced (by schools, educational leaders, teachers, etc.) to address misconduct and anti-social behaviour. These interventions can be categorized into two categories: 1) individualized interventions that target students with frequent or violent behavioural issues, and 2) school-wide interventions, which usually involve the entire school community. This paper summarizes the main alternative school discipline interventions discussed in the academic literature over the past 20 years for school administrators and teachers who aspire to improve the environmental school climate and broaden educators’ knowledge of disciplinary interventions.

This literature review is informed by both empowerment theory and the opportunity-to-learn conceptual framework. Empowerment theory suggests that by increasing the individual, interpersonal, and political power of youth, they can enact positive change in their lives, their immediate families, and their communities (Gutiérrez, 1995). Racialized and marginalized students are overwhelmingly affected by punitive school discipline (Gordon, 2017; Hayle, Wortley & Tanner, 2016; Salole & Abdulle, 2015; Woodbury, 2016). Applying techniques for personal empowerment can assist such students to develop a more positive identity, engage in social action, and contribute to the empowerment of their communities (Hipolito-Delgado & Lee, 2007). Schools can empower marginalized students who believe they were disciplined unfairly (Ruck & Wortley, 2002; Salole & Abdulle, 2015) by attending to their opportunity to learn. Opportunity-to-learn theory proponents argue that disadvantaged students often lack equal access to resources and opportunities to learn (Farkas, 2009; Von Hippel, 2009); punitive measures such as suspensions and expulsions only worsen this situation by reducing their opportunities for formal learning.

For this review, we searched scholarly, refereed, and professional publications which discussed non-punitive school discipline practices. We used the ERIC and JSTOR databases to identify and select English language, scholarly, peer-reviewed articles that use the keywords: school discipline, school discipline model, school discipline alternative, and alternative discipline. To ensure the relevance of the selection for school professionals, we focused on articles published between 1996 and 2016 in North America, but included some highly relevant sources that predate this period, and some articles that were published in the U.K. that influenced contemporary debates about school discipline (see Table 1). We were especially interested in sources with concrete implications and relevance regarding specific alternative discipline approaches.

Table 1. The corpus

Document Types



Research Types


Scholarly refereed conceptual articles

N = 24

Canada N = 2

U.K. N = 1

U.S. N = 21

theoretical and policy advocacy


Scholarly refereed empirical articles

N = 27

Canada N = 5

U.K. N = 2

U.S. N = 20

Quantitative: N = 18

Qualitative: N = 5

Mixed: N=4


Focus groups

Narrative case study


Content analysis


School board and national datasets

Quasi-experimental design

Professional articles

N = 13


Practice, policy, issues and trends


Media article

N = 2





N = 2




Book chapter

N = 4




We coded the 72 sources (see Table 2 in Appendix A) deductively with respect to: a) individual and school-wide interventions; b) appraisals of punitive approaches; c) the values, goals and philosophies which underlie each alternative discipline model; d) assessed outcomes of alternative disciplinary interventions; and e) empowerment and opportunity-to-learn theories. Following coding and analysis, we found the following themes which can provide school administrators and teachers with knowledge that can inform their strategic planning and daily decisions.

The reviewed literature highlights three important features of the discussion around school discipline in scholarly and professional journals over the past two decades: the growing consensus that punitive disciplinary practices are ineffective, the observation that alternative school discipline models share in common a number of principles, and the documentation of certain outcomes and assessments of alternative disciplinary interventions. Overwhelmingly, the literature indicates that punitive discipline is ineffective and can even have a detrimental impact. As they move away from punitive practices, several proponents of various alternative disciplinary practices uphold a number of values, goals, and philosophies in common, which we have summarized as overarching principles of alternative school discipline interventions. While most of the research regarding alternative school discipline models are still in the early stages of application and assessment, we present the emerging evidence of productive, empirically-based outcomes.


Punitive interventions may take the form of suspension, detention, or expulsion; they are intended to deter other students from engaging in similar behaviours or to attribute a punishment that “fits the crime.” Some schools also adopt security and safety preventive measures such as installing fences, locks, cameras, conducting physical searches, or employing security and police officers to monitor students’ behaviour. While “get tough,” zero-tolerance policies, and “law and order” agendas may appear practical in creating safer schools and deterring antisocial, illicit, and violent behaviours, the literature does not support these assumptions. Beyond being ineffective, punitive interventions tend to disproportionately impact historically disadvantaged communities. Several studies show that Black and Latino students are overrepresented among students who are suspended or expelled in the United States (Brownstein, 2010; Fowler, 2011; Gregory, Skiba & Noguera, 2010; Nishioka, 2013). In Canada, Black students and other visible minority students perceive bias in the way discipline is applied in schools (Hayle et al., 2016; Ruck & Wortley, 2002; Salole & Abdulle, 2015; Shirley & Cornell, 2012). For instance, Black students in Nova Scotia (Woodbury, 2016) and Ontario (Gordon, 2017) are overrepresented among suspended students.

Punitive interventions do not cultivate appropriate conduct or better self-regulation. On the contrary, the literature indicates that punishment can worsen and escalate antisocial behaviours (Fenning, Theodos, Benner, & Bohanon-Edmonson, 2004; Mayer, 2001). Students with chronic or frequent behavioural problems may be the ones with the greatest and most complex needs (Gregory et al., 2010; Simmons, 2009). Increasingly, researchers are querying and investigating the relationships between behavioural problems, mental health, and learning disabilities (Beckford, 2016; Noguera, 2003; Skiba & Losen, 2015); literacy and numeracy challenges (Fowler, 2011; McIntosh, Flannery, Sugai, Braun, & Cochrane, 2008; Noguera, 2003; Olley, Cohn, & Cowan, 2010); and the importance of engaging students with culturally relevant curriculum and pedagogy in multicultural settings (Monroe, 2005; Nasir, Ross, McKinney de Royston, Givens, & Bryant, 2013).

Punitive interventions such as suspensions often deprive students of valuable formal instruction. The opportunity-to-learn theoretical framework contends that disadvantaged students have fewer opportunities to learn because of their limited family and neighborhood resources (Farkas, 2009; Von Hippel, 2009). While the opportunity-to-learn framework is often associated with access to summer learning programs (Davies & Aurini, 2013; Davies, Aurini, Milne, & Jean-Pierre, 2015; Downey, Von Hippel, & Broh, 2004) or pre-school education (Duncan & Magnuson, 2011; Farkas & Hibel, 2008), it is less often applied to the impact of frequent and multiple suspensions and detentions that inhibit formal learning in class. Yet, studies show a positive correlation between time of study spent and academic achievement (Gregory et al., 2010).

In cases where police officers are present in a school or when they are called to intervene following a violent altercation, punitive measures can contribute to the “school-to-prison pipeline” in certain jurisdictions (Mallett, 2016). This expression refers to the increasing proximity between school disciplinary interventions and students’ entry into the juvenile or adult correctional system (Meek, 2009). In the United States, the frequent use of punitive interventions often parallels the degree of racial diversity or poverty of a school district, and not necessarily the gravity of the student’s misconduct (Fowler, 2011; Ramey, 2015). Alternative disciplinary intervention proponents argue that schools should expand their knowledge of existing disciplinary interventions beyond detention, suspension, or expulsion in order to encourage prosocial behaviours among students.


Several overarching principles tend to underlie all types of alternative disciplinary interventions. First, the collective effort and synergy of all administrators, teachers, school staff, and students in implementing an alternative model is required in order to achieve sustainable and long-term positive changes. Second, consistency is paramount to foster a healthy school climate and for students to perceive a fair application of discipline. Third, building caring and nurturing relationships between students and school staff often results in positive behaviour. Fourth, offering initiatives that enhance the opportunity for all students to learn are likely to foster a healthy school climate.

Successful models of alternative discipline involve a multifaceted synergy from the entire school community. For instance, a shift toward an alternative model of school discipline may involve the participation of school counsellors, school administrators, teachers, students, support staff, and community activists (Day-Vines & Terriquez, 2008). It is highly advised that the school forms a committee to oversee the transition to alternative school discipline by collecting discipline-related data. The transition committee can: a) monitor disciplined students who may require additional supports, b) identify effective interventions and peak periods of misbehaviour, c) improve current practices, and d) provide positive feedback to teachers, staff and students (Day-Vines & Terriquez, 2008; Goodman-Scott, 2013; Luiselli, Putnam, Handler, & Feinberg, 2005). Several articles stress that strong administrative support is required to sustain preventive and proactive interventions, including training for teachers, administrators, and all staff members (Fenning et al., 2004; Goodman-Scott, 2013; Mayer, 2001; Nishioka, 2013; Ryan & Zoldy, 2011; Skiba & Losen, 2015; Warren et al., 2006).

Clear expectations and rules should be established, with pre-determined meaningful consequences or procedures, and should be understood by all students, teachers, support staff, parents and administrators. It is important that the majority of the school staff support these expectations and rules (Goodman-Scott, 2013; Skiba & Losen, 2015; Decoteau & Clough, 2015). This can be achieved through initiatives such as letters of information for parents or workshops with students. Several authors have suggested that students should participate in the development of norms and behavioural expectations (Mayer, 2001; Nasir et al., 2013), and that schools should regularly affirm the values associated with school rules and expectations to foster self-discipline (Gibbs, 2000; Hawkes, 2011; MacAllister, 2014).

Curricular and pedagogical practices can also have an impact on the development of prosocial behaviours. Engaging students with culturally responsive and meaningful course material is an integral part of behavioural management (Luiselli et al., 2005; Nasir et al., 2013; Osher, Bear, Sprague, & Doyle, 2010). Moreover, the dynamic between students and teachers influences the relationship between students and the school community (Day-Vines & Terriquez, 2008; Gerlinger & Wo, 2016; Gregory et al., 2010; Luiselli et al., 2005). Olley et al. (2010) suggested that teachers and staff should strive to nurture caring and supportive relationships with all students, including those with chronic and frequent behavioural issues, while applying consistent disciplinary interventions fairly. One of the ways these relationships can improve is by listening to students and taking into account their perspectives of school discipline (Woods, 2008).

School administrators can strive to avoid suspension and maintain access to instruction for students with behavioural problems (Olley et al., 2010). In order to encourage prosocial behaviours, schools can enhance learning opportunities by providing frequent and effective supports. Students with behavioural problems may require a comprehensive intervention plan to simultaneously address academic and non-academic challenges such as social, economic, and emotional issues (Noguera, 2003). In fact, to effectively address persistent or violent misconduct, Skiba and Losen (2015) suggested that school administrators should increase the number of mental health support workers available to students.


The various alternative practices found in the literature can be classified into two categories: 1) specific interventions aimed at working with students with chronic, frequent, or violent behavioural issues; 2) school-wide interventions which usually involve the entire school community. Built on preventive and proactive principles, school-wide interventions are often lauded for their impact on the decline of office referrals, and the improvement of the school environmental climate (Bear, 2011; McCluskey et al., 2008).

The behavioural education plan: Check-in / check-out

Schools often intervene with the student(s) involved in misconduct. Alternative individual interventions for students with frequent misconduct issues include the behavioural education plan, commonly known as the “check-in / check-out” program, which entails greater adult attention for students with frequent behavioural issues as well as the development of alternative behavioural strategies and communication skills (Hawken, Macleod, & Rawlings 2007). The behaviour education plan usually requires that a staff member engage with a student twice daily, before and after classes (Goodman-Scott, 2013). The student is expected to maintain a daily progress report in which teachers rate and comment on his / her behaviour, and that parents sign at home each day. When students behave adequately all day based on the school’s code of conduct, they can receive a reward during the day’s end check-out. The behavioural education plan can play a beneficial role in the reduction of misconduct (Swoszowski, Jolivette, & Fredrick, 2013).

The school survival group

Another individual intervention, the school survival group, aims to connect social cognition with behaviour to help students change their conduct (Dupper, 1998). This is a weekly after-school discussion group of typically 50-minute duration with a maximum of ten participating students with frequent or chronic behavioural issues (Ryan & Zoldy, 2011). These group sessions involve games and life scripts to explore the motivations and cognitive processes that lead to certain behaviours. School survival proponents encourage students to recognize their decision-making processes and cognitive distortions to develop a stronger internal locus of control (Dupper, 1998).

Conflict resolution and social-cognitive skills training

Conflict resolution training usually aims to teach students how to resolve a conflict where both parties’ needs can be fulfilled by a satisfying outcome following dialogue and negotiation, all the while avoiding further polarization and violence (Breunlin, Bryant-Edwards, & Hetherington, 2002). The goal of social cognitive skills training is to teach students how to control negative impulses and behaviours (Ryan & Zoldy, 2011). The assumption behind conflict resolution skills training and social cognitive skills training is that “challenging students aren’t always challenging. They’re challenging when the demands being placed upon them outstrip their skills to respond to those demands. Challenging episodes are actually highly predictable” (Greene, 2011, p. 26).

Conflict resolution and social cognitive skills training can be offered during the whole school year, at the individual and school-wide levels, during class or after school, and even after a suspension through workshops, peer-mediation training or skills-based training (Ryan & Zoldy, 2011). Conflict resolution training has been associated with a decrease in physical violence and expulsions (Breunlin et al., 2002). Along with skills training, contracting can be adopted as another pedagogical instrument to teach conflict management and resolution. A teacher and a student can discuss and draft a contract together to set the terms of behaviour change and a consequence for future misconduct (Breunlin et al., 2002).

Comprehensive school counseling

Lapan (2012) suggested that a comprehensive personalized counseling program in a school requires more than career or guidance counseling. Through counseling, students can acquire self-regulation skills through the exploration of emotions, motives, consequences of behaviour, and positive reinforcement of good behaviour, which can result in fewer disciplinary incidents in schools (Lapan, 2012; Nielsen, 1979). Comprehensive school counseling can comprise “cooling off” rooms for time-out, group therapy (3 hours / week), and individual counseling or guided group interaction (peer counseling over 12 weeks) (Nielsen, 1979). Schools in multicultural neighborhoods can enhance this service by hiring school counsellors who have experience empowering students from diverse ethnic, racial, religious, and ability backgrounds (Hipolito-Delgado & Lee, 2007).

Detention and in-school suspension

Another individual intervention is in-school suspension; this refers to after-school or lunchtime school detention (Andrews, Taylor, Martin, & Slate, 1998) and all-day in-school suspension (Sanders, 2001). Many school administrators prefer in-school to out-of-school suspension because the student is safe, supervised by adults, and may continue to receive instruction and engage in learning activities (Sanders, 2001). Some schools combine in-school suspension with counseling, the completion of assignments, or other alternative behavioural interventions (Ryan & Zoldy, 2011).


Authoritative school discipline model

The authoritative school discipline model is derived from the authoritative parenting style model introduced by Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist. In a seminal article still used in contemporary contexts, Baumrind (1966) introduced three prototypes of child rearing: permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative. The permissive parent behaves in a non-punitive way, accepting the child’s self-regulation with little externally defined structures whereas the authoritarian parent controls the child’s behaviour according to certain standards and restricts the child’s autonomy (Baumrind,1966, pp. 889-890). Between these, the authoritative model of parenting simultaneously encourages behavioural compliance and psychological autonomy in order to promote prosocial behaviours, respect of adult authority, and independent reasoning (Baumrind, 1966, 1996). Similar to the parenting context, the authoritative model of school discipline encourages school administrators to combine structure and support (Gregory & Cornell, 2009). This model suggests that schools should move away from the extreme “get tough or zero tolerance” approach, as well as the other extreme, the “caring and supportive” approach (Gregory et al., 2010). Gerlinger and Wo (2016) wrote that, “[s]tructure refers to the consistent and fair enforcement of school rules, while support is founded in the care and attention provided by adults” (p. 138). It has been found that support (positive teacher-student relationship, assistance with non-academic issues, extracurricular resources) combined with a high level of structure (supervision of students, enforcement of school rules) can be more effective than the implementation of security and punitive measures (Gerlinger & Wo, 2016). School staff members who develop positive relationships with students while upholding school norms and expectations can be characterized as enacting the authoritative model of school discipline (Gregory & Cornell, 2009).

While the authoritative model can inform the application of school discipline, it lacks specific guidelines and initiatives to implement a school-wide reform. Other alternative school-wide models such as restorative practices in education, strength-based or empowerment model, or positive model promote consistency and the development of nurturing relationships between school personnel and students but include clear preventive and responsive measures. However, the authoritative model is first and foremost preventive, and does not sufficiently address how to intervene when it comes to students who have frequent behavioural issues.

Democratic or student-driven school discipline model

The democratic school model is a student-driven reform of school discipline, which delegates power from the adults in the school to the students. While there are several variations of democratic schools, they usually involve students creating and enforcing the rules in the school. Proponents of democratic schools suggest that students will acquire leadership skills, civic virtues, and a profound grasp of democracy with this alternative disciplinary model (Cuevas & Kralovec, 2011). In fact, this alternative approach strives to bring the students’ voices into the decision-making process of school and to encourage them to promote the changes they want by assuming responsibility for their ideas. This model can take different forms and potentially provide an opportunity for students to write their own constitution (Grandmont, 2003) or create and participate in a student-led disciplinary committee (Hantzopoulos, 2011).

The first limitation of such a model is the difficulty of securing teacher support for relinquishing some of their power to students. Moreover, some parents can disapprove of such an initiative, especially if it is a completely new approach for them (Cuevas & Kralovec, 2011). Yet, this model incorporates students’ input in preventing and responding to behavioural issues while simultaneously developing leadership, communication, and conflict resolution skills. If teachers are not fully inclined or willing to relinquish power to students, the successful implementation of the democratic or student-driven model can be challenging.

Restorative practices in education model

Restorative practices in education are derived from the restorative justice model, which has mostly been examined in criminological studies and has been applied in different ways by New Zealand Māori and Canadian Aboriginal traditional healing circles (Ryan & Ruddy, 2015). Restorative justice can be defined as “a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible” (Zehr, 2002, p. 37). This approach posits that we are all interconnected through relationships in a community. Misconduct is understood as a fracture in the relationship between the student and the school community rather than a breach of norms (Evans, Lester & Anfara Jr., 2013). Punitive interventions do not address the harm caused, or the needs that result from the harm and the obligations to repair the damage to existing relationships in the community. In fact, “removing students from opportunities to learn without taking time to repair the hurt promotes isolation” (Martin, 2015, p. 18). Restitution provides a different avenue where students can repair the relationship through a consensual forum, can find a way to amend for their mistakes and can learn from an incident. Restitution is defined as a way “to create conditions for the person to fix their mistake and to return to the group strengthened” (Gossen, 1998, p. 183).

Restorative practices can include a preventive component (to prevent conflict) in a school as well as a responsive component (to repair the relationship). As a preventive component, schools can raise awareness among students about the importance of empathy, emotional and social skills, and conflict resolution skills while using restorative language and curriculum that emphasizes the relational dimension of school life (Dubin, 2015; Martin, 2015). The responsive component usually involves a circle with the individual(s) harmed and the offender(s). They all agree to respect certain guidelines, listen to one another, and participate in an opening and closing ritual or ceremony (Stewart Kline, 2016). A trained facilitator often leads a restorative circle with the understanding that for restitution, a consensus should be reached (Dubin, 2015; Stewart Kline, 2016). The process involves listening to all the members one at a time, identifying and divulging the harm caused by the behaviour, making the offender take responsibility for their action, and agreeing through consensus to an act of restitution to repair the harm (Dubin, 2015).

One limitation of restorative practices is the lack of consensus about what exactly constitutes restorative practices in educational settings. For example, some schools identify as restorative the following interventions: restorative circles, peacemaking circles, victim-offender mediation, peer mediation, and restorative conferencing (Dubin, 2015; Evans et al., 2013; Martin, 2015; McCluskey et al., 2008). Yet, Zehr (2002) highlighted an important distinction: restorative justice is not mediation. Use of the word “conferencing” or “dialogue” (Zehr, 2002, p. 9) sometimes distinguishes mediation methods. Another example of the imprecise contours of restorative practices relates to punitive discipline. While some education scholars argue that punitive interventions are incompatible with a restorative approach (Evans et al., 2013), others will impose punishment on students who engage in the most severe offenses, alongside restorative practices for less severe offenses (Dubin, 2015). Some schools have a student-led restorative committee such as the “justice student panel” that has the authority to apply restorative consequences or even modify a consequence, while others are led by teachers and school personnel (Gardner, 2014).

While a variety of interventions claim to follow a restorative approach, restorative justice is not a panacea for every situation (Zehr, 2002). Moreover, full implementation of restorative educational practices can require three to five years (Gossen, 1998), with time and resources dedicated to training (Gardner, 2014). In addition to support and resources, it seems crucial that the majority of school personnel embraces the shift towards restorative practices, even in the way that they interact among themselves (Ryan & Ruddy, 2015). In Scotland, preliminary findings of restorative practices (RP) in 18 schools (10 primary, 7 secondary, 1 special) indicated that

RP had most impact when school staff were willing to reflect on their daily interactions in school and review their values — when they saw the pilot project as a chance to think about what kind of school they wanted and how they wanted to “be” with their pupils. RP seemed most effective when “behaviour” was seen as an issue to be addressed through restorative strategies that involved active learning for all children and for staff across the school. (McCluskey et al., 2008, p. 415)

Despite its limitations, proponents for restorative practices in education suggest that a restorative perspective can engage students in deeper reflections about their behaviour in order to develop self-discipline. Since restorative practices include dialogue about the harm, the needs of the victim(s) and restitution, students can learn why what they did is wrong and develop a greater awareness of the impact of their misconduct.

Strength-based approach or the empowerment model

In this model, empowerment refers to “the process of increasing personal, interpersonal, or political power so that individuals, families, and communities can take action to improve their situations” (Gutiérrez, 1995, p. 229). This model is particularly relevant for school counsellors who work with students facing systemic barriers such as being from poor households, various ethno-racial backgrounds, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, and students with disabilities (Hipolito-Delgado & Lee, 2007). Strength-based and empowerment models of school discipline posit that disciplinary interventions should build upon the strengths that marginalized students bring to school rather than their “deficits” (Day-Vines & Terriquez, 2008). The following two studies can illustrate how this model can be implemented.

In an urban high school in California, Day-Vines and Terriquez (2008) examined how interventions built on the resilience and abilities of African American and Latino students can encourage prosocial behaviours. Several initiatives were implemented in this case: the creation of a school discipline committee with students, teachers, school counsellor(s), and community-based activist(s); the monitoring and consistency of disciplinary referrals; and after-school discussions to explore impactful disciplinary interventions. Day-Vines and Terriquez (2008) observed that the leadership skills and self-esteem of “troubled” students increased following their participation in after-school group discussions, and that several teachers were impressed by the students’ advocacy for positive discipline. Based on survey data gathered by the school discipline committee, the authors suggested that the synergy of all stakeholders, the collaborative and cohesive approach, as well as the validation of students’ perspectives, contributed to the success of this intervention and the decline of the school suspension rate (Day-Vines & Terriquez, 2008).

Another case study involving a similar approach was conducted in high schools in the Oakland Unified School District in California with an alternative class setting. Taking into account the barriers of colour-blind racism (Bonilla-Silva, 2013) and the role that a “hero-teacher” can play, this intervention explored how transformative resistance can improve African American males’ educational experiences in several aspects (attendance, self-awareness and healthy identity, suspension and expulsion rates, Nasir et al., 2013). The African American Male Achievement (AAMA) task force, which was part of the Manhood Development Program (MDP) of the school district, developed the initiative of an all-Black, all-male program to address the overrepresentation of African American males among suspended students and improve their academic achievement (Nasir et al., 2013). This class took place during regular school hours in three high schools and included: a charismatic Black male teacher from the local community; culturally specific course material related to Black history and contemporary culture; the co-creation of rules, norms, and accountability of students with the teacher; the organization of the classroom space in a circle; and recruitment of African American male students with low-academic achievement as participants (Nasir et al., 2013). Drawing from observational and video data as well as interviews with 23 students at the three sites, the study showed that African American male students in the alternative MDP program “felt that their teachers invoked alternative racial ideologies that recognized them as capable and valuable; that they were protected from the school discipline system; and that the disciplinary structure was community centered and fair” (Nasir et al., 2013, p. 507).

The main limitation of the empowerment model is that it requires school administrators, along with community members, to commit to teacher training and the integration of a culturally responsive curriculum and pedagogies to build on the strengths of all students. As with the restorative practices or the democratic school model, if the majority of teachers do not fully adhere to a strength-based or empowerment model, it is less likely to succeed.

Positive discipline model

The positive discipline model is drawn from cognitive-behavioural and systems theories and is probably the most researched and empirically assessed school-wide intervention. This model has several appellations and acronyms in the literature such as: positive behavioural supports (PBS), school-wide positive behavioural supports (SWPBS), positive behavioural interventions and supports (PBIS), and school-wide positive behavioural interventions and supports (SWPBIS). From here on, we will refer to this model as PBS.

According to Bear (2011), PBS has the potential to foster self-regulation, self-discipline, and greater inner locus of control. PBS goals include the development of a student’s character and the promotion of adequate behaviours, which in turn can result in an improved school climate (Olley et al., 2011). The PBS model also aims to “prevent inappropriate behavior and thereby increase students’ access to academic instruction” (Vincent, Swain-Bradway, Tobin, & May, 2011, p. 176). Some core principles of this model involve: a) the teaching and reinforcement of positive behaviours, b) examination of students’ misconduct motives, c) consistent and relevant consequences for misconduct, d) and maintenance of access to instruction (Olley et al., 2010). The core principles are applied with a system of rewards for adequate behavior and consequences for misconduct.

Despite its widespread application, there are limitations to the school-wide positive behavioural interventions and supports model. This model has been studied mostly in elementary and middle schools and its effectiveness in high schools has yet to be established (Warren et al., 2006). In some cases, this model has been shown to be ineffective for students with frequent behavioural issues. In a UK case study of a primary school, it was found that consequences provoked anger combined with an escalation of antisocial behaviour when a student perceived the disciplinary process as unfair and biased (Woods, 2008). This anger, in turn, resulted in further resistance and rebellion to conformity by the student. Moreover, Woods (2008) found that while teachers can sanction the misconduct of a student, peers can simultaneously reward the inappropriate behaviour with increased dominance and status.

Another criticism of this model is that the use of consequences and rewards can be characterized as a form of “behaviour management” that does not contribute to the development of an internal locus of control or an understanding of why the misconduct is inappropriate. There is a difference between controlled students due to teacher intervention and disciplined students due to students’ internal locus of control, intrinsic motivation or interests (MacAllister, 2014). In fact, this model has been criticized for promoting hedonistic and individualistic attitudes by fostering students’ expectations of rewards (Bear, 2011). In sum, rewards and consequences may encourage compliance and conformity with external motivation while failing to promote self-regulation and the development of an internal locus of control.


One characteristic of the various individual and school-wide alternative school discipline interventions and models is that they can require additional resources for their effective implementation, particularly specialized staff (child and youth care workers, school counsellors, teachers), and time (before and after-school, after-school discussion groups, committee meetings, training). Therefore, the shift towards an alternative disciplinary model can be perceived as an additional burden to the workload of teachers who currently lack the resources to support students with special needs, disabilities, and mental health issues.

School administrators and teachers frequently implement diverse programs and initiatives to strengthen the literacy and numeracy skills of students. Academic achievement is often debated in terms of engagement, curricular content, or pedagogical methodologies, with little attention paid to school disciplinary practices. Yet, alternative disciplinary interventions should be considered in the design of academic programs because all students can benefit from precious formal instruction time with fewer disruptions, incidences of misconduct, and suspensions. In fact, some authors suggest that academic achievement and behavioural problems may actually be two sides of the same coin and that schools should attempt to address both simultaneously (Gregory et al., 2010; Simmons, 2009).

During strategic planning processes, school discipline is often discussed as an afterthought, whereas it ought to be considered an integral part of education (MacAllister, 2014). For instance, school discipline can provide an opportunity for students to learn how to self-regulate, develop an internal locus of control, and build character (Bear, 2011; Osher et al., 2010). Discipline is educational when it is defined as “the capacity to set important goals for oneself and see them through even in the face of considerable difficulty” (MacAllister, 2014, p. 445). This idea, found in the seminal work of John Dewey (1926), derives from the assumption that when students are absorbed and interested in their education, they are more likely to avoid misconduct. Reliance on internal self-regulation rather than external locus of control can empower students, particularly marginalized students, to channel their energy towards individual goals connected to civic engagement. As such, alternative disciplinary intervention debates overlap and complement discussions related to alternative curricular and pedagogical initiatives to engage students in the classroom while enhancing their learning opportunities. Alternative disciplinary interventions can foster a healthier school environment, which, in turn, can further academic achievement by and among all students.


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Fenning, P., Theodos, J., Benner, C., & Bohanon-Edmonson, H. (2004). Integrating proactive discipline practices into codes of conduct. Journal of School Violence, 3(1), 45-61.

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Gerlinger, J., & Wo, J. C. (2016). Preventing school bullying: Should schools prioritize an authoritative school discipline approach over security measures? Journal of School Violence 15(2), 133-157.

Gibbs, J. L. (2000). Value-based discipline in a fifth grade classroom. Middle School Journal, 31(5), 46-50.

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Gossen, D. (1998). Restitution: Restructuring school discipline. Educational Horizons, 76(4), 182-188.

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Hawkes, T. E. (2011). A democratic structure for school discipline: Reflections from two New York City high schools. Schools: Studies in Education, 8(1), 107-111.

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Appendix A

Table 2. Document types references

Document Types


Scholarly refereed conceptual articles N = 24

Baumrind (1966)

Baumrind (1996)

Decoteau & Clough (2015)

Evans, Lester, & Anfara (2013)

Fenning,Theodos, Benner, & B.-Edmonson (2004)

Gibbs (2000)

Gregory & Cornell (2009)

Gregory, Skiba, & Noguera (2010)

Hipolito-Delgado & Lee (2007)

Lapan (2012)

MacAllister (2014)

Mallett (2016)

Mayer (2001)

Meek (2009)

Monroe (2005)

Nielsen (1979)

Noguera (2003)

Osher, Bear, Sprague, & Doyle, (2010)

Ryan & Ruddy (2015)

Ryan & Zoldy (2011)

Simmons (2009)

Stewart Kline (2016)

Swoszowski, Jolivette, & Fredrick (2013)

Von Hippel (2009)

Scholarly refereed empirical articles N = 27

Andrews, Taylor, Martin, & Slate (1998)

Beckford (2016)

Breunlin, Bryant-Edwards, & Hetherington (2002)

Cuevas & Kralovec (2011)

Davies & Aurini (2013)

Davies, Aurini, Milne, & Jean-Pierre (2015)

Day-Vines & Terriquez (2008)

Downey, Von Hippel, & Broh (2004)

Dupper (1998)

Gerlinger & Wo (2016)

Goodman-Scott (2013)

Gossen (1998)

Grandmont (2003)

Gutiérrez (1995)

Hayle,Wortley, &Tanner (2016)

Hawken, Macleod, & Rawlings (2007)

Luiselli, Putnam, Handler, & Feinberg (2005)

McIntosh, Flannery, Sugai, Braun, & Cochrane (2008)

McCluskey et al. (2008)

Nasir, Ross, M. de Royston, Givens, & Bryant (2013)

Ramey (2015)

Ruck & Wortley (2002)

Salole & Abdulle (2015)

Shirley & Cornell (2011)

Vincent, Swain-Bradway, Tobin, & May (2011)

Warren et al. (2006)

Woods (2008)

Professional Articles N = 13

Bear (2011)

Brownstein (2010)

Dubin (2015)

Fowler (2011)

Gardner (2014)

Greene (2011)

Hantzopoulos (2011)

Hawkes (2011)

Martin (2015)

Nishioka (2013)

Olley et al. (2010)

Sanders (2001)

Skiba & Losen (2015)

Media Article N = 2

Gordon (2017)

Woodbury (2016)

Book N = 2

Bonilla-Silva (2013)

Zehr (2002)

Book Chapter N = 4

Dewey (1926)

Duncan & Magnuson (2011)

Farkas (2009)

Farkas & Hibel (2008)