Proactive Discipline–Tend to Your Garden (by Eric Kane)

Creating a positive learning environment with few discipline problems is a goal of any teacher.  We all want to give our young learners the best opportunity to succeed, but sometimes we forget that building this type of environment, much like tending to a garden, takes planning, effort, consistency and a fair amount of time and patience.  Any missed step can lead to a reactive environment, or a garden full of weeds.


Maintaining discipline in the classroom is, I believe, largely a proactive art, but one that is easy to master if we practice the “Three C’s.”

  • Clarity – Know what we want
  • Consistency – Carry it out
  • Caring – Protect it and Give it time



Clarity in the classroom is knowing our methodology, materials and classroom goals.  They are the seeds with which we plant our garden.  It is crucial to know what we’re planting and when to plant it.


Design Your Garden

The first step to proactively decreasing behavioral issues in the classroom is to know our curriculum’s goals, methodology and materials.  If something doesn’t fit the abilities, desires or interests of the students, adjustments need to be made.



We can adapt most curriculums with a little forward thinking.  It might take a some extra time, planning or homework, but most programs can be adapted by the teacher to suit the needs of the students.  If it can’t, find a new curriculum!

Failure to plan well or make adjustments is one of the primary reasons for many behavioral problems we see in or out of the classroom.  Symptoms such as boredom, apathy, restlessness and even more extreme examples like pushing, kicking and bad-mouthing can all be lessened with the right planning.


Plant the Seeds

The next step is to communicate our curriculum goals and expectations to our students and their parents.

At our school in Shiga we have stamp books for each level that clearly outline the goals and expectations of the class, student and parents.  It has made a significant difference in both the motivation and behavior of our students as well as greatly increasing parental involvement.


Clearly communicating our carefully planned goals and expectations creates mutual understanding, which can go a long way towards creating the garden of our dreams.  This is easily done in print, but it must be backed up by the curriculum, classroom activities and homework, and the occasional verbal reminder, which leads us to…



Now that everything is planted, don’t forget to weed and water.  Consistency in the classroom, like in the garden, will produce a fruitful return.  Consistency creates trust, which is the foundation of good behavior in the classroom.



We must feed our classes by providing engaging lessons which support the goals and expectations that we have defined and communicated.  We can do so by:

  • conducting our classes carefully by delivering our words with the right speed, intonation, and pause while supporting our spoken messages with non-verbal cues such as flash cards, posters and toys as well as body and facial expressions.
  • controlling the energy flow of our lessons by alternating between high and low physical and mental requirements.  Physical energy high = mental energy low, and visa versa.
  • controlling our physical environment.  Try to identify certain locations with which students can identify certain activities or expectations.  In other words, don’t plant the pumpkins right next to the lettuce.

Additionally, we must remember to be compassionate, flexible and have a willingness to adapt, while also practicing the basics such as being on-time, prepared and mentally ready.





Despite our careful preparation and planning, weeds grow.  They pop up here and there, and how quickly we deal with them determines their effect on the overall garden.  Let it go too long and the weeds can take over.

Here, speed is of the essence.  I’ve found that a gentle reminder of peer expectations (Is this okay, everyone?), as well as my own (Are you sitting up, Taro?), can go a long way.

I’ve also seen that acknowledging met expectations (Thank you for cleaning up quickly.) and effort (Nice try, Taro.) can be highly motivating while simultaneously reinforcing good behavior.


If clarity and consistency get our garden started, then caring is it’s greenhouse.  It is the protective umbrella that nurtures and shelters our hard work and enables us to back off enough to allow our garden to flourish.


Just as a carrot will grow (if we don’t pull it out to check on it!), sometimes all a student needs is a little time.  A touch on the shoulder and a smile.  A knowing nod.  A finger pointed at a minor mistake.  A smiley face on something well done.  These little things communicate that we are patient, recognize potential and ultimately, that we really do care.

Final Thoughts

If our students know that we’ve taken the time to carefully define, share and work towards clear and accepted goals, and truly believe that we care deeply about their success, many of the day-to-day discipline issues we face in the classroom will disappear.  What’s left is a rich, supportive learning environment that will feed our deepest desire as educators – to help our students grow.

Remember – If we live up to our own goals and expectations, we will be trusted, and our students will generally be disciplined (disciples?).  It’s a lot easier to lead the willing.

Theodore Roosevelt said it best:

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Happy Gardening!

Note from Barb: Like many of us, Eric is trying to do what he can to help children in Tohoku, and has committed to donating 5% of sales for the first 1000 orders of the CD mentioned in his bio (“Let’s Take a Walk”). One of the charities he will be working with is Smile Kids Japan,  a charity dedicated to helping orphanages throughout Japan, but currently focused on those who lost parents in the Tohoku region. In addition to their monetary donation, EFL Learning will be sending a yet-to-be-determined number of CDs to each location to bring a little music to children’s lives. If you would like more information about Eric’s charity efforts, you can contact him by email: elflearning (at) gmail (dot) com.

(Thanks, Eric!)
Note: This article by Eric Kane originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

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9 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    I love this analogy, Eric! Often, I hear classroom discipline described in terms that sound more like a battle. A garden is so much healthier way of describing the classroom environment.

    Your key steps in creating a proactive classroom environment are simple and clear. I especially appreciate your reminder to be compassionate, flexible, and willing to adapt.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Thanks for the clever analogy on something everyone needs help with from time to time. I appreciate the ‘caring’ aspect as a lot of teachers enter the profession with the idea that in order to maintain a controlled classroom, you have to be a heartless tyrant. I remember several teachers telling me “don’t smile until Christmas.” Unfortunately I took their advice and learned the hardway that this is not how you get the class you want. Once my students understood that I cared about them, getting them to buy-in to my expectations was easy because they understood that I had their best interests at heart.

  3. I also think it is a great anology!
    Could you please explain more about the stamp book? It sounds like a very intriguing idea!
    great post!

    • Eric Kane says:

      Hello Naomi,

      I’d be happy to. The stamp book has 4 parts:
      1. Cover Page – Class Name on front with goals, student expectations and parental expectations on back.
      2. Attendance Card – A spot for a sticker for each class over the course of a year.
      3. Vocabulary Cards – A card for each theme set that we run through in a year, including vocab, phrases and sentences and phonics).
      4. A “Books” card, where students write the names of the books they have read and how much they liked each one.

      I’ve considered adding an assessment card, but haven’t figured out how to do it right. Does anyone have any good ideas?


  4. That stampbook sounds interesting. Perhaps in the future you’ll have a post describing exactly how it works in detail (does the teacher stamp each book every lesson, how do the students refer back to the vocabulary cards, etc.).
    Thank you for introducing this idea!

    • Eric Kane says:

      Hello Naomi,

      I was planning on posting about energy flow in the classroom but I’ll put the stamp book on the list. It hadn’t really occurred to me that others would be interested in this. Thank you!


  5. Christina Markoulaki says:

    Wonderful post, Eric! Thank you for sharing it!

  6. Kevin Cozma says:

    Thanks for the article, and thanks for the Youtube channel, too. We’ve been in contact through Youtube before. I will be ordering your CD soon. Keep up the good work.