Differentiation in Discipline #Behaviourchat

I feel this may be one of the more contentious blog posts. I am behaviour lead in a special school and PBS instructor for a network for other special schools across Kent. I hold the view that we support our students best when we provide individualised behaviour support plans for our students. Prompted by an excellent post by Emma Kennedy on why differentiated discipline is essential when supporting students who require additional support with their in school behaviour. I have written my views and an audio narration is included.

Every child in every school is unique, their experiences and needs differ wildly. A culture and ethos of high expectations is required for all students in all areas of their education. However the way we react to and manage incidents of challenging behaviour should take into account more than the fact they are in the same school.

We would not expect all our students to learn the same, we differentiate our instruction and lessons so why should we not differentiate how we apply discipline, why should we not vary how we respond to challenging behaviour? Differentiation in lessons is essential for a teacher, we would be taken to task if we didn’t do this. So what are the perceived barriers to adapting and being flexible the way we apply specific rules and consequences?

Fear: Fear of going against the school policy – even though the outcome will be better for the school, student, and family. Fear of what colleagues who do not share your ethos will think? Fear that your control of the class will evaporate? I disagree with this notion. A positive atmosphere where young people feel listened to and supported, with both high expectations and clear boundaries will not descend into chaos.


Fairness: It is a common misconception when dealing with young people that fairness means “The Same”. It should not. It is our responsibility as teachers to ensure everyone has equal access to education. That may mean making adjustments for some young people that face issues we may not be aware of or even imagine the impact. I do not believe differentiated discipline is “one rule for them one for everyone else” It is adapting your approach for each individual to gain the best possible outcome. That is young people who are able to make progress and feel safe in your school without disrupting the learning of others.

I am not suggesting that one student gets harshly punished and another gets off scot free. I am not a fan of punishment as a behaviour management technique anyway. What is the point of discipline and how can we differentiate this?

When we rely on rules rather than relationships when harm’s been done, we all lose.

Lorraine Amstutz

Instead of consequences should we not look at how to both make things right and seek to prevent a repeat of the behaviour?  Are we seeking blame or seeing a learning opportunity? In my school many students have been excluded or have previous placements fail due to behaviour. Therefore they are at school to learn how to manage their behaviour.

This is as much of our mission as academic progress. If we excluded a young person we repeat the cycle.

We have failed and they have learnt nothing about how to manage their behaviour. This can then lead to a spiral that only too often has serious consequences to quality of life and society. I would rather my taxes went on education than prison. Exclusion is a quick fix but who has benefited? If we have flexibility in our approach we can intervene early on with more than just sanctions. We can explore the reasons for the behaviour. How can building an in depth knowledge of the student, their background, their challenges, their dreams and hopes ever be wasted time?

behaviour quote

But the point of disciplinary reform is not to deprive schools of strategies so much as to find the right tools – those that are most effective in promoting safe, orderly and healthy learning environments. Behaviour in schools will always be a challenge whatever policy the school adopts, but we should strive to ensure we meet the needs of our students to give them the best chance of succeeding in learning. Differentiated discipline does not dwell on the incident it allows all involved to move forward.

Emma has also very Kindly recorded a narration of the contributions to the chat, please give it a listen.


Educators A.Canter, Ph.D., NCSP and Browning Wright. M.S. National Association of School Psychologists


Intergrating PBIS and Restorative Discipline – Jeffrey Spraque PHD

Review of issues in school violence research and kids and violence: The invisible school experience. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 27, 509. Hoffman, M. T. (2006).

Additional Reading:

Here are some blogs that discuss the issue

Emma Kennedy

Paul Spencer

Kim Amburgey

Alexander Russo






  1. I agree. Fully. I think every child should have one staff member that they can talk to free of judgement, like the mentor system. They won’t feel cornered. They usually find middle ground after the calm chat and can move forward. This will always alter with individual need.

    Liked by 1 person

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