September 29, 2011
Lee Canter: Assertive Discipline
Lee Canter’s Assertive Discipline is a behavioral /discipline theory that teachers are using
all over the world and on all different grade levels. Lee Canter’s accomplishments in education, the
summary of his Assertive Discipline model, including the explanation of steps to implement his
model, its effectiveness and the arguments for and against the use of Assertive Discipline in the
classroom will be examined.
Lee Canter’s contributions to education have spanned close to 35 years. In 1976, Canter
developed a behavioral management theory known as Assertive Discipline (Canter, 2001). Canter
was one of the first to acknowledge that behavior management training was essential for teachers
to take as part of undergraduate and graduate level courses (2001). Since then, Canter and his wife
have created effective training programs for educators based around Assertive Discipline and
classroom management models. Canter has also published informational and teacher planning
books to help teachers implement lessons geared toward his behavioral management theory.
Canter and his wife are also co-founders of Canter & Associates, a firm specializing in professional
development for educators (2001). Assertive Discipline has continued to be implemented by first
year and veteran teachers, administrators and used in both inner city and rural schools (2001).
Assertive Discipline is a positive, proactive behavioral management tool used in educational
classrooms. The central idea behind Canter’s Assertive Discipline model is that the teacher is in
complete control of the classroom and is vital in directing classroom behavior (2001). Another key
component of this theory is that the teacher is proactive in establishing set rules and consequences
as a way to prevent unwanted behaviors (2001). Essentially, Canter’s model is a preventative
approach to behavior management, as the teacher is responsible for redirecting unwanted
behaviors before they become disruptive to the entire classroom.
In order for Assertive Discipline to be effective in the classroom, the teacher must follow
steps in implementing this behavioral management model: creating rules and consequences,
communicating rules and consequences, model expected classroom behavior, and use appropriate
response depending on expected or unexpected behaviors. On the very first day of school, the
teacher will establish a discipline plan containing rules and consequences for the classroom. It is
suggested that this first step be a collaborative process, creating the rules along with the students.
The rules must be observable and these rules must always be in effect (2001). The discipline plan
will also set clear guidelines for consequences if a rule is broken. There should be a defined
discipline hierarchy, meaning specific consequences established for breaking a rule the 1st, 2nd, and
3rd time and a consequence for a severe misbehavior (2001). The second step in the model is to
communicate classroom rules to the students by explaining the need for rules and consequences
and checking for student’s understanding (2001). This too should be done on the first day of school
to make sure all students understand the Discipline Plan (rules) and the Discipline Hierarchy
(consequences). The third step in the Assertive Discipline model is to teach the students how to
follow the rules. Teaching students expected classroom behavior should also be done on the first
day of school and should continue throughout the year. The teacher becomes the primary subject to
model expected behavior. The last step, responding appropriately to a behavior is continuously
implemented throughout the school year as well. The appropriate response from the teacher, either
supportive feedback or corrective action, is dependent upon the student’s behavior being expected
or unwanted (2001).
Canter argues that there are definite benefits to his Assertive Discipline model that both
benefit the teacher and students. Using this proactive approach the teacher develops a carefully
planned behavior management system to use when students are being disruptive (2001). The
responses outlined in the discipline hierarchy are aimed at stopping the disruption in the classroom
so both the teacher and students can get back to learning (2001). Prior planning also ensures that
the teacher does not become emotionally involved when disciplining a student, since the proper
response should come automatically (2001). An established discipline plan will also protect the
rights of the students in the classroom. The discipline plan guarantees that each disruptive student
will be dealt with in a consistent and fair manner, because the teacher is reacting to the specific
behavior and not the student (2001). The consistency and fair manner in which behaviors are dealt
with will ensure positive relationships with students, an essential part of a student’s ability and
willingness to learn. Other benefits from this model are the inclusion of parents and administrator
support, placement of responsibility on students to act in appropriate manner and an increase in
students’ self-esteem (2001).
The criticisms of Canter’s Assertive Discipline suggest that the model is authoritarian and
does not consider the student’s best interest. One critic, Alfie Kohn, states that Assertive Discipline
is “ essentially a collection of bribes and threats whose purpose is to enforce rules that the teacher
alone devises and imposes” (Kohn, 1996). He summarizes it as a carrot and sticks model, dangling
rewards in front of students, otherwise known as “control through seduction” (1996). Two other
critics of Assertive Discipline, Richard Curwin and Allen Mendler, who have their own model for
classroom behavioral management called Discipline with Dignity, argue that Canter’s model is
severe and rigid in disciplining minor infractions, and does not account for the behaviorially-at-risk
students (Charles, 2002). Curwin and Mendler disagree that Assertive discipline is a proactive
approach to classroom behavior. They argue that a true proactive approach would teach students
self-regulation and management of behaviors, having a student self correct before behavior occurs
(Charles, 2002). In an article entitled “Conventional Systems of Classroom Discipline”, Donald
Blumenfeld-Jones (1996) states that Assertive Discipline makes unfavorable cases of specific
people repeatedly, ultimately saying the same names appear consistently on the chalk board
(Blumenfeld-Jones, 1996). This response separates these students from the rest of the group
making the correction of the behavior punitive and isolating, something no teacher should
purposefully do to a student (1996).
In order to effectively evaluate the Assertive Discipline model in the classroom, the teacher
must implement different strategies. One strategy is to have the students practice the rules while
the teacher monitors and analyzes students’ reactions and behaviors (2001). Another strategy is to
ask questions to your students (i.e. when transitioning, “What does a good transition look and
sound like?”) to check understanding (Canter, 2002). A good teacher will always re-evaluate his or
her supportive feedback and corrective actions, discuss with another teacher and determine if
adjustments should be made to the discipline plan and discipline hierarchy based on the needs of
the class (2002).
Canter insists that Assertive Discipline can be effective on any educational level, with minor
changes to supportive feedback and corrective actions. As with any framework or premade lesson
plans, Assertive Discipline guidelines need to be adapted to fit each specific classroom. For example
in Early Elementary classrooms, rewards can come in the form of a sticker, a ticket for a prize, and a
note sent home parents (Canter, 1992b) Corrective actions in Early Elementary classrooms could
be moving a child away from the group, moving student closer to the teacher’s desk or a note home
to the parent (1992b). In Secondary Education, rewards can come in forms of certificates, student of
the week posters, or a pass for a privilege in the classroom (Canter, 1992a). Consequences in
Secondary Education would take the form of writing in a behavior journal, staying after class or
after school, or being sent to administrator’s office (1992a).
There are parts of Assertive Discipline that I will use once I am a teacher. I agree with
Canter that there must be clear rules and consequences set in place, which will not only help the
students but will also help me to properly handle difficult behavioral situations. I do think that it is
the teacher’s responsibility to teach and guide students in exhibiting positive behavior, and that
sometimes it is in the class’ best interest to redirect smaller unwanted behaviors in order to
prevent distractions while learning. I have learned a few good strategies to help re-direct student
behaviors in a positive way, for example using positive repetition, scanning or consistent praise to
persuade students to use appropriate behavior. I have also found strategies to positively correct
students if they are showing unwanted behaviors, such as giving “the look”, coming into physical
proximity, and mentioning off-task students name in a lesson, which all give the student a subtle
prompt to get back on task. The Lee Canter’s Assertive Discipline workbooks also provide great
resources for lesson plans on behavioral management and copies of different reward and
consequence systems. Overall, I think the Assertive Discipline model is a great way to effectively
manage student behaviors in a positive and proactive manner, and I will be using certain strategies
from the model in my teaching career.
Overall, I believe Kate and I worked really well, and have fully grasped the concept of
Assertive Discipline and through our presentation have effectively passed our knowledge onto the
students in class. Kate did a great deal of the organizing of what was needed to present and who
would provide which information as well as creating the format for the power point. I integrated
the use of visuals, mostly for the steps in implementing Assertive Discipline mainly because I felt
that a visual with verbal explanation would help the audience to understand the steps more clearly.
I was also in charge of getting information on the steps, model summary, and secondary supportive
and corrective responses. I also had access to behavioral charts and plans so I brought them in for
the class to better understand what can be used to correct behavior. The power point was a
collaborative effort, but I do have to say that Kate put a great deal of work into the presentation,
probably more than I contributed.
Canter, Lee and Marlene., (1992a). Assertive Discipline Secondary Workbook: Grades 9-12. Santa
Monica, CA, Lee Canter & Associates.
Canter, Lee and Marlene., (1992b). Assertive Discipline Elementary Workbook: Grades PreK-6. Santa
Monica, CA, Lee Canter & Associates.
Canter, L. & Canter, M., (2001). Assertive discipline: positive behavior management for today's
classroom. 3rd ed. Los Angeles, CA: Canter & Associates, Inc.
Charles, C. M. ,(2002). Building Classroom Discipline. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Blumenfeld-Jones, D., (April, 1996). Conventional systems of classroom discipline (the patriarchy
speaks). Journal of Educational Thought, 30, 5-21.
Kohn, A., (20, November, 1996). Beyond Discipline.
Retrieved from http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/edweek/discipline.htm
Lee , C., (2002). Responsible Behavior Curriculum Guide: An Instructional Approach to Successful
Classroom Management. Los Angeles, CA: Canter & Associates, Inc.