Rethinking School Discipline

“Jesus Christ did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead people alive.” –Ravi Zacharias

The above quote by Ravi Zacharias is one of my favourites. Christian schools all over the world must be  radically different from any other kind of school environment for this very reason: we exist to bring life! However, Christian schools and their members are not immune from conflict or the need for disciplinary actions. We all still have our struggles; it is the way in which these are handled that makes the difference in our schools.

It is important to note that being gospel-centred and transformation-focused does not equate with being passive and excusing behavioural infractions in the name of “grace.” Just as it is essential to understand the bad news of the gospel (we are guilty before God because of our sin, and the law condemns us) before we understand the good news (that through the death and resurrection of Christ we have been forgiven and given new life), it is imperative for a Christian school to consider how the whole gospel can be incorporated into its discipline policy.

Since every school is unique, there is not a one-size-fits-all plan that will effectively work for everyone. I have learned this to be especially true in international environments. Therefore, I propose three questions to guide the process of pursuing a gospel-centred school discipline plan:

  1. What is the goal?If the goal is to minimise bad behaviours and demand compliance, then we have successfully made moralised pagans. If the goal is for gospel-transformation, then students are made aware of how their behaviour or choices go beyond the situation itself and reveal something much deeper about themselves.
  2. What is the emphasis?Is the emphasis on dealing with the root of the problem and dealing with the mind and heart of the problem? Is the student or the behaviour the problem? Can humility and honesty be exercised as we help students see the greater problem in each of our hearts, including our own hearts?
  3. What is the outcome?Does the student understand the seriousness of sin as well as the gift of God’s grace? How do we encourage students to move forward? Have we considered how the student might see themselves in light of the discipline? Staff should equip the students to address problems for themselves for the future, helping students consider what Scripture says.

Classroom Management:

Let’s consider an example. I teach high school, and I have a student who disrespects another student by making a distasteful comment in front of the class. The first point to consider is that There should be clear and fair consequences to inappropriate student behavior. Teachers should be consistent with all students, although allowing opportunities to show grace when appropriate. Why is this important? Remember that God is a fair judge who will deal with everyone. Even when He gives grace, He does not look apathetically towards the sin committed. Realistically, we cannot catch every situation, but it is very obvious to students when a teacher is inconsistent.

A teacher should make it clear that the comment made in front of the class was unacceptable and it will be addressed. I usually ask the student to speak with me after class. After class, I schedule a mandatory time to meet with them, whether it be lunch or after school, where we will have the time to adequately address the issue.

Before the meeting, I consider question number 1:

  1. What is the goal?How am I going to connect the gospel to this specific situation so that my student will understand the bigger picture?

In midst of the conversation with the student, I am going to be regularly monitoring question 2:

  1. What is the emphasis? What is the problem? Why is it a problem? How am I communicating the problem and the solution to the student? Is Scripture being used as a bonk on the head or as a light in the dark tunnel?

Once our time is finished, I will observe question number 3:

  1. What is the outcome? How did the student respond during the meeting? Was there conviction (ideal) or condemnation (not ideal)? How did the student respond following the meeting? Was the action repeated?

Finally, the decision to deliver a consequence or to extend grace to the student rests upon the individual teacher or administrator. This is where being Spirit-led is important because there is not one sure way to handle every scenario. However, I cannot stress enough that always giving grace without consequences is not biblical. Actions have consequences, and that is a truth we need to be teaching our students. The Bible clearly talks about how both God and parents discipline to their children for their own good. While the method of discipline differs between God’s, parents, and educators, the goal is still the same. We want transformation, not moralism.

Christina Z.
High school religion teacher & community school liaison officer
International Education Services, Eurasia

Photo Credits: Holy Cross at Sunrise, Sean MacEntee,via Flickr. CC2.0. School Opening, T. Peters at FATEB Kinshasa Academy. 2017.