and Moral Judgement in the Context of Student Discipline Situations

Year: 1990

Author: MacCallum, Judith A.

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Anyone wandering around a school playground or from classroom to classroom would observe that teachers vary in the way they respond to student discipline incidents. Do teachers also vary in their understanding of the issues involved in student discipline incidents and what is the basis of their understanding? Research interest in the basis of teachers' understanding of their practice is quite recent (Johnston, 1985, 1989; Johnston & Lubomudrov, 1987; Taylor, 1990) although a growing body of research reveals a relationship between teachers' thought processes and teachers' actions and their observable effects (reviewed in Clark & Peterson, 1986). It is often assumed that induction programmes for teachers produce agreement between teachers in how they conceptualise certain issues. But this may not be the case. Johnston's recent studies of elementary teachers' understanding of aspects of educational methods found different ways of understanding the concept of "on-task" (1985), individualised instruction (1989) and classroom rules and roles (Johnston and Lubomudrov, 1987). These different ways of understanding corresponded to the teachers' moral judgement levels. It seems quite reasonable to suggest that school discipline involves moral concerns considering Rest's description (in a review of research on morality) of the concern of morality as "how people determine rights and responsibilities in their social interactions, how people arrange the terms of cooperation and the promotion of their mutual welfare" (1983, p 616). This description could readily encompass the determination, justification and enforcement of school rules by teachers, administrators and students. Johnston (1989), however, argues that teaching, itself, is a moral endeavour and that teachers' understandings of their teaching practices should be related to their moral reasoning. The present paper presents the findings of a study specifically dealing with student discipline but Johnston's findings suggest the discussion may have even wider implications. The study revolved around the Managing Student Behaviour: AWhole School Approach to Discipline (MSB) inservice course introducing the programme into two Perth secondary schools. MSB is progressively being introduced into Western Australian secondary schools by the WA Ministry of Education. It is based on the "fundamental premise that the way in which the organisation of the school and the teachers function will affect the behaviour of students" (Dowding, 1988, p.18). By enabling teachers to work together to develop more effective strategies and procedures for student management, the programme aims to change students' behaviour while "maintaining positive relationships with them". This is principally achieved by encouraging students to take responsibility for their own behaviour. Although the title of the programme infers an emphasis on management, a number of the inservice sessions concentrated on enhancing teacher strategies and skills necessary for developing students' responsibility for their own actions such as: including students in the formulation of rules; developing sanctions directly connected with the violation (similar to Piaget's sanctions by reciprocity, Piaget, 1932); and developing teacher skills in listening and communication. In Lawrence's (1985) article espousing the MSB programme, he asks all teachers to address the question "Am I presenting myself to the students as a purveyor of knowledge or as a person interested primarily in people?" (p.8). Implicit in his statement "unless the teacher is genuinely interested in the welfare of his or her students, the approach will not come easily", is the notion that teachers do differ in their understanding of the teacher's role. If teachers do differ in their understanding of the teacher's role, what forms the basis of these differences? Johnston's findings suggest teachers' moral reasoning is a worthwhile avenue to pursue.