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Articles by Dr. Spencer Kagan

What is Win-Win Discipline?

Dr. Spencer Kagan
(Kagan Online Magazine, Winter 2002)

Kagan Professional Development has been providing courses in Win-Win Discipline for several years now. We've been receiving more questions about the course and the forthcoming book, Win-Win Discipline: Solutions for All Discipline Problems. This article gives a brief overview of some of the key concepts in Win-Win Discipline and how the approach aligns with the Kagan philosophy of education.

Win-Win Discipline is an effective approach to classroom discipline. It is designed to handle discipline problems at the moment of the disruption with powerful and proven discipline strategies; but more importantly, it targets the root of discipline problems—students' unfulfilled needs.

Let me clarify: Students have basic needs. We all do! There are three probable ways these basic needs play out in the classroom: 1) students' needs are being met and they are not posing a discipline problem; 2) students' needs are not being met, but they are handling their needs in a mature and responsible way; or 3) students' needs are not being met and they act out and become a discipline problem. For the undisciplined student, unmet needs can manifest themselves in a plethora of discipline problems. You know all too well what I'm talking about: You've got the energetic student bouncing off the walls; the bored student writing notes or doodling away; the failure- or embarrassement-avoiding student refusing to participate; the prototypical class clown fishing for attention; and the anger-venting student verbally or physically abusing others.

When we meet students' needs or give them respectful and responsible strategies for dealing with their unmet needs, disruptive behaviors drop away. Students win. They get their needs met or learn how to deal with their needs. And we win. We get to focus on teaching and provide for our students a safe and productive learning environment, without disruptions. It's a win-win proposition, thus the name, "Win-Win Discipline."


How do we get to this Win-Win outcome? At essence it is simple. Win-Win Discipline is based on the concept of "Positions." Almost every disruption springs from an attempt to meet needs associated with one of seven positions. Positions are where a student is coming from. For example, the student who is constantly asking questions, clowning around, has something to add to everyone else’s comment, makes weird noises, blurts out, dresses loudly, and so on, is almost certainly seeking attention. Attention Seeking is one the seven positions identified in Win-Win Discipline.

The Seven Positions

1. Attention Seeking

2. Avoiding Embarrassment

3. Anger Venting

4. Control Seeking

5. Energetic

6. Bored

7. Uninformed

Once we see disruptive behavior as merely an attempt to meet the needs associated with a position, our job as a teacher becomes clear. The student needs to learn non-disruptive ways to meet those needs. When that happens the student wins (gets needs met without becoming a discipline problem; learns responsible behavior for life) and we, and the rest of the class, win (are part of a smooth running, productive learning community).

As Win-Win teachers, we always accept a student’s position. Positions are part of the universal human conditions. All of us at one time or another has:

• needed some extra attention,
• attempted to avoid embarrassment,
• needed to express our anger,
• not wanted to be told what to do,
• been too "antsy" to sit still,
• been uninterested in something,
• Or just did not know the rules of the game.

There is nothing wrong with being in a position. The question is what we do when we are in a position. Do we have mature, responsible ways of dealing with the needs of the position, or are we disruptive to others? If we do not have mature ways to deal with those needs, we need to learn them. Win-Win Discipline makes discipline part of what we as teachers do best — it makes the discipline process a teaching/learning process.

Knowing Positions Critical
Knowing student positions is critical to implementing a successful discipline program. Let's take an example of how knowing the student position is essential in responding effectively to a student who is being disruptive.

Mrs. Johnson has just announced the homework assignment: Problems 1 through 20 at the back of the chapter in the text. As soon as the assignment is announced, Jack in the back of the class stands up, slams his book on the floor, and yells, "I’m not going to do those stupid problems, and you can’t make me."

A discipline problem has occurred. Any student behavior that disrupts the learning process is a discipline problem.

Mrs. Johnson assumes Jack is in the position of seeking control. She responds accordingly, helping Jack see that doing the problems in no way limits Jack’s control. Mrs. Johnson says, "Jack, it is your choice. I cannot make you do those problems. Doing the problems or not doing the problems is entirely up to you. Certainly I could not follow you home and force you to do your homework. Homework is always under your control. If you do the problems you will earn the homework points, if not, you won't. It is always your choice to do or not to do the homework; you are in control."

Now, if Mrs. Johnson is correct in her assumption that Jack is disruptive because he is seeking control, Mrs. Johnson’s discipline response is perfectly appropriate and in the long run will be effective. Mrs. Johnson has helped Jack meet his need for control and to see that he does not have to be disruptive to feel in control. Jack will probably test some, but over time with the help of Mrs. Johnson’s approach, Jack will realize that he does not have to refuse to do the homework to have a sense of control.

Let’s assume, however, that Mrs. Johnson is wrong about Jack’s position. Let’s assume that Jack was not seeking control at all, but rather was avoiding embarrassment. Jack feels that if he does the homework he is likely to fail, and he does not want to feel the pain of public embarrassment. So Jack is refusing to do the assignment. But even Jack does not fully understand his own motivation; he is acting out of fear, but could not verbalize that it is a fear of public embarrassment. Unconsciously Jack knows it is far less painful to say, "I won’t" do the assignment than "I’m afraid" to do the assignment. Jack does not admit the fear to himself. He is convinced he simply does not want to do the assignment. He is not just fooling others, he his fooling himself.

Now, if Mrs. Johnson does not understand Jack’s position, her discipline response will be ineffective. If she thinks his position is one of seeking control rather than avoiding embarrassment, she will emphasize that the choice is up to Jack to do or not do the assignment. Not having related to the fear of failure and embarrassment, that need goes unmet, and Jack simply chooses not to do the assignment. Telling a student who fears failure and embarrassment that he/she can choose not to do the problems, will almost certainly lead to the student simply choosing not to do the problems! Mrs. Johnson’s discipline response fails because it does not recognize the position of the student. Efficient discipline responses occur only when they correctly identify and respond to the position of the disruptive student.

If Mrs. Johnson correctly identifies Jack’s position as Avoiding Embarrassment, she will respond accordingly, saying something like, "Jack, I would like to meet with you privately. When they meet, Mrs. Johnson would provide some coaching on the problems, reassure Jack that performance feedback will be private, and in some way ensure that Jack sees that he can do the assignment successfully. Mrs. Johnson might provide more guided practice before moving to independent practice, perhaps using a cooperative learning structure like Team-Pair-Solo in which students practice first as a team, then as a pair, before taking on the problems on their own. Having related to the needs associated with Jack’s position, Mrs. Johnson’s discipline response has a high probability of success.

Notice the same disruptive behavior (refusing to do an assignment) can spring from very different student positions. Thus a discipline program that responds only to the disruptive behavior and not the underlying student position will have a hit-and-miss success rate. For consistent success, a discipline program must identify and respond to the position of disruptive students.

This is why Win-Win Discipline emphasizes identification of student positions. Win-Win Discipline provides differentiated strategies to respond to different student positions.

The 5 P’s of Win-Win Discipline
Knowing and appropriately responding to the position of a student is a critical component of Win-Win Discipline. But the program itself goes far beyond effective responses in the moment of disruption. Central to the program are preventive procedures and Win-Win programs that make discipline problems far less likely. Most of the important components of the Win-Win discipline are symbolized by 5 P’s, as follows:

The 5 P's of
Win-Win Discipline

1. Pillars (Philosophy)

2. Procedures (Ounces of prevention)

3. Positions (Places students are)

4. Process (Strategies for the moment of disruption and follow-ups)

5. Programs (Pounds of Prevention)


In a nutshell, the three Pillars of Win-Win constitute its philosophy and goals. The three pillars are Same Side, Shared Responsibility, and Learned Responsibility. The Win-Win teacher teams up with the disruptive student, to help the student learn more responsible ways to meet the needs associated with his/her position. Learned Responsibility is the goal of Win-Win Discipline, and it is reached through a process as the teacher places him/herself on the Same Side with the student, and Shares Responsibility for co-creating the win-win solution.

Win-Win has identified scores or procedures which when used on a regular basis, prevent discipline problems. For example, if a teacher greets students at the door and recognizes their effort in special ways, their need for attention is met and they do not have to become disruptive to meet that need. There are many procedures to meet the needs of every position. We think of these as ounces of prevention.

We always accept the student position; we do not accept disruptive behaviors. We teach students non-disruptive, mature, responsible ways to meet the needs associated with each of the seven positions.

When there is a disruption, the Win-Win teacher responds with a four-step process: Identifying the behavior (ABCD); identifying the position; responding in the moment of disruption with a carefully selected
Win-Win Structure to match the behavior and the position, and finally, structuring a WinWin Follow-up to ensure the three Pillars are in place.

Beyond the procedures and the process, the Win-Win teacher may choose Win-Win programs. If procedures are an ounce of prevention, programs are a pound of prevention! For example, greeting students at the door is a procedure, adopting a school-wide or yearlong character development approach is a program. Win-Win identifies programs that prevent discipline problems. For example, engaging instruction like cooperative learning and/or multiple intelligences reduce discipline problems dramatically, because an engaged student is seldom a disruptive student.


How Does Win-Win Align With Other Kagan Programs?
There are a number of ways Win-Win is a natural next step in the development of Kagan programs. At the heart of Win-Win are simple, step-by-step structures that ensure success in the moment of disruption and beyond. The philosophy of Win-Win, as its name implies, is a cooperative philosophy based on respect for individual differences and individual needs. Win-Win discipline provides theory and skills to teachers — skills and knowledge to use in any classroom at any time. Above all, Win-Win Discipline empowers students with skills for a lifetime — skills that will help them know themselves better, work more effectively, and enjoy life more fully. Win-Win, like all Kagan programs, is designed to help students and teachers be all they can be.

More Win-Win Info
• Win-Win Discipline Resources

• Charles, C.M. (editor) Patricia Kyle, Spencer Kagan, and Sally Scott's Win-Win Discipline in Building Classroom Discipline. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2002.

• Kyle, P., Kagan, S. and Scott, S. Win-Win Discipline: Solutions for All Discipline Problems. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing, In Preparation.

• Win-Win Discipline Workshops

For information about setting up a Win Win Discipline training for your school or district, call Nancy Murray at (800) 451-8495. Or e-mail Nancy at workshops@KaganOnline.com. Nancy sets up Win-Win Discipline trainings nationwide. Submit an inquiry.