Redemptive Discipline: Restoring Relationship, Restoring Shalom
A 6-year-old Korean girl who had just moved to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia sat in her first American classroom, eager to begin the day. She sat in the back corner of the room where she had seen other Asian students sitting. She was a joyful child, excited to make friends and learn with her class. However, English was not her first language, and as the teacher began class, she struggled to keep pace. She leaned over to some of her new classmates to ask what the teacher had said, but before she could gain any clarity, her teacher spied her talking from across the room and began yelling at her in words she could not understand. The angry teacher paced over to where the girl sat and grabbed her by the ear. Not understanding what was happening, the young girl shut her eyes tight and gripped the seat of her chair with her little fingers as the teacher dragged her to the center of classroom by her ear, chair and all.
The young girl in this story was the sister of Miss Hong, Trinity’s Lower School Assistant Principal. Watching her sister and other students endure traumatic and abusive methods of discipline like this has strengthened her resolve to implement healthy, loving, and effective principles of discipline for Trinity students. The fact is, situations like the one described above happen in classrooms across the country far too often, and Trinity desires to be a leader in Redemptive Discipline,” which, in contrast, emphasizes, peace, understanding, and reconciliation and respects the unique personhood of each child made in the image of God.
What is Redemptive Discipline?
The idea for Redemptive Discipline comes from the Center for Redemptive Education, which exists to facilitate the quest to align with God's design for teaching and learning. In this context, the purpose of Redemptive Discipline is to help restore relationship and restore shalom. In other words, we do not seek merely to punish children for bad behavior but to turn their hearts toward Christ and restore broken relationships. While some schools focus on behavior modification through tools like class behavior charts or rewards-based systems, Redemptive Discipline gets deeper than outward behavior; it speaks to the heart of the child.
Why Redemptive Discipline?
At Trinity, we practice Redemptive Discipline because it guides us as we seek to teach like Jesus. We believe that teaching like Jesus means:
- Knowing your flock (Prov. 27:23): We aim to know and love each child in a Trinity classroom as an image-bearer of Christ. We believe that teaching is meant to be relational.
- Making knowledge acceptable (Prov. 15:2): We aim to impart truth and knowledge in a way that is useful and helpful to children, so that they may grow in understanding and wisdom.
- Doing what is right (2 Cor. 13:7): We model the good behavior that we teach, knowing that our actions are the best teacher. This means we do not raise our voices at our students, nor do we have outbursts of anger. Instead, we discipline lovingly just as Christ corrects his children in love.
- Pursuing discipline, however unpleasant, to reap the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:11): We believe in holding students accountable to the behavioral expectations we lay out for them. Though it can be painful, we know that God disciplines those he loves. Following his perfect example, we aim to do the same with students in our classrooms.
How do we implement Redemptive Discipline?
- We engage with our students: Viewing our students as image-bearers, we explicitly teach and maintain routines while providing authentic and active learning that taps into our students’ interests and curiosity. This method of engagement requires us to know our students well. Our focus is always on learning, even if that means deferring discipline until later. For example, we never let one disruptive student steal the attention of the teacher from other students or steal time away from learning. We simply remind disruptive students of our expectations through verbal or nonverbal cues, and later engage them in conversations about their behavior rather than simply doling out a generic punishment. We often ask questions, have them write reflective essays, and engage them in the natural consequences of their missteps. We believe that both learning and discipline require two-way communication, so we seek to hear from students themselves about the motivations behind their actions.
- We instruct our students: We instruct our students by providing clear, thoughtful instruction and explicit expectations for success in various jobs or assignments. Along with this, we communicate confidence in every student’s ability to achieve success.
- We direct and redirect: We provide clear tasks and classroom responsibilities (often called “jobs”). When students get off task, we redirect them by restating their “jobs”—we ask, “What is your job?” verbally or through nonverbal cues or pre-arranged signals. We are in our students’ corner and genuinely want to help them succeed. So, we are slow to assume motives and instead focus on what students should be doing rather than what they shouldn’t be doing. (There is a difference between the accusation “You’re not doing your job,” and the prompting question “What’s your job?”)
- We course-correct: To correct a student’s course, we communicate that his or her actions are a choice. For example, a teacher might explain to her student, “No, Johnny didn’t make you laugh. You are responsible for your actions and your response to others’ actions.” Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit that we emphasize to teach that each person is responsible for controlling his or her own actions. We also communicate to students that it is their responsibility to make it right when they have messed up. We ask them to articulate how they intend to do this and resist the urge to feed them the answer. This means students are actively engaged in the Redemptive Discipline process rather than passively accepting a punishment that requires no thought on their part.
- We also assign appropriate consequences to a student's actions. This might look like running a few laps at recess, writing a reflective response, or having “Jonah Time”: a time alone for Lower School students to think about their actions and pray before seeking reconciliation. We also provide natural rewards like verbal affirmation when students behave well, but our warm and welcoming demeanor toward our students is not dependent on their behavior. This shows our students that our love for them is unconditional, just like Christ’s love for them, and communicates that we discipline from a place of love and genuine concern for their well-being.
- We re-engage: Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, once we have disciplined a student, we always provide a positive transition back into the class community and reassert our expectations for his or her behavior. We lovingly express our confidence in the student’s ability to succeed in the classroom and remain confident in God’s ability to use every one of his children for his great purpose.
About the Author
Jo Wilbur is a Communications Specialist at TCS and proud JMU grad who loves writing, shopping, and making new friends. She and her husband live in Purcellville and spend time together cooking plant-based meals, singing worship songs, and volunteering as Young Life leaders in their community.