Discipline: Keeping The Goal of Learning in Focus

Essentially, discipline is being able to apply oneself to learning. A non-punishment system relies on the power of the group and open communication, rather than the power of the teacher alone. It relies on a teacher’s ability to focus a discussion, create a classroom work ethic and maintain communication channels.

Punishment is not a motivator for community spirit. It tends to push certain students in the opposite direction. We encourage consideration of feelings and commitments rather than institutionalised discipline plans.

We are committed to high quality outcomes for students by relating to them as individuals and partners in the learning process. We specifically avoid a culture in which discipline and control block opportunities for learning. We focus our efforts on invitation and example. We offer our students real responsibility and opportunities to design their own learning environment. This means they learn to self monitor and peer monitor without fear of getting things wrong and with confidence that they will be listened to.

Some frequently asked questions – 1

Q: Does Alia advertise itself as a non-rule-based school?

A: Yes. We are a school for parents who prefer an environment that values responsibility, respect and communication over rule following.

Q: But isn’t it irresponsible if you are not training students to obey rules?

A: Not at all. Rule-enforcement takes responsibility away from students. We focus on training students themselves in how to be responsible instead.

The side effect is that our students are happy to follow rules and laws. They don’t feel rebellious when faced with a rule and are happy to do what is required because they have an expectation that any rule that is imposed will be administered with common sense and humanity.

Q: How can you operate without strict rules? Surely, that’s a recipe for chaos?

A: It is not always easy because most students are trained in rule following (and avoiding!) Only some people are really keen on an environment that supports responsibility and respectfulness. Alia is the school for them.

Q: But most kids and many adults are quite irresponsible and disrespectful. How do you manage them?

A: Parents who know that their children need a high level of close control choose one of the many schools that use the standard approach to student management. Even when a difficult child comes to Alia it’s not all that hard for us because students prefer taking responsibility rather than being subject to rules that often produce results that students characterise as unfair or unreasonable. Students already at Alia have set the standard by mutual agreement.

Q: But, if some students don’t learn civilised behaviour, what happens then?

A: We try very hard to earn the respect of students by being very real about the rules that we do have, and we are good at that. We give them every opportunity to make changes to their attitude and behaviours. If they don’t improve and are affecting the learning opportunities of others, then, as with other schools, we eventually have no option but to ask them to try another school.

Q: And isn’t that rule enforcement?

A: Yes. But “affecting the learning opportunities of others” is not the kind of rule that is imposed in some sudden and arbitrary manner. We don’t issue any formal punishment for it. We talk and explain our concerns and everyone has an opportunity for input, usually over a period of weeks or months.

Q: What about students who act in ways that threaten serious harm?

A: There are some actions that are so scary that no school (including us) could accept them. There are a few kids who urgently need competent psychological assistance, away from other students. Alia only accepts students who do not require such assistance.

Q: Isn’t that rule enforcement?

A: No. It’s simply being selective about the kinds of kids who are likely to benefit from Alia’s approach – and those who aren’t. We can’t accept every applicant. Within the school, we simply do our best to avoid knee-jerk reactions to small problems. We have created a no-blame atmosphere of responsibility, respect and negotiation.

Q: So you do have rules?

A: Well, yes, but the simplest way of avoiding endless semantic argument is to say that we don’t have rules, thus distinguishing our approach from that of conventional strict schools. In other schools carefully graded rules and punishments are imposed in a manner which is calm and firm but is also often quite rigid and distressing.

Q: Surely, if there are no sanctions for poor behaviour, you must have uncontrolled chaos?

A: No. Quite the opposite. If a school appears calm because of threats of punishment, then that suggests an environment of suppressed nastiness. If an environment is calm without rigid punishments, then that is a place of utterly real decency. We operate with honesty and openness as far as we can.

Q: But things can go wrong because you are not ensuring that rules of proper behaviour are being enforced?

A: It is always possible for things to go wrong. Things go wrong even under punitive rules. Alia is for those who prefer the less coercive approach.

Q: But don’t you get the sort of student who cunningly uses your system to do as they wish to their own detriment and that of others?

A: Sometimes. But often their parents are well aware of the problem and we all work together to address the situation. If matters don’t improve then perhaps a more regimented school solution is best.

Q: Well, you haven’t convinced me.

A: We are not evangelical. We simply provide a different approach for those who are actively looking for it. If you have been able to reach a definite decision about whether Alia will suit you or not, then that is excellent. Our aim is to provide enough information to enable you to make that decision appropriately. Visiting us is your best bet so you can see for yourselves whether we match your expectations.

Some frequently asked questions – 2

Q: It seems a very hard way to set up education. Why do you bother?

A: Several teachers at the school wanted this for their own children. It isn’t very hard once the culture is set up.

Q: But why would anyone bother?

A: It is much easier for when the students get to tertiary education or work, because they apply themselves so well. They are aware of how to focus without constant supervision. Also they are confident about their own identity and clear about their abilities.

Some frequently asked questions – 3

Q: Do you have an anarchistic nature?

A: No. “Open and fair minded” would be a better description. But our approach might seem ‘anarchistic’ when people hear of our “no rules” approach.

We simply aim to provide a non-aggressive atmosphere in which learning and open inquiry can blossom.

We seek to operate with the least number of rules.

We do not espouse any particular belief system, philosophy, culture or religion. We do not enforce any specific creed upon anyone.

Q: Then why do you say “no rules”?

A: We initially said it to distinguish ourselves from other schools. Families that have a strong culture of listening to each other rather than merely imposing rigid rules on their children are attracted to check us out.

Q: But doesn’t it get you into a lot of trouble?

A: Normally it saves us a lot of trouble, because parents seeking a strong conformist approach are alerted to avoid us.

Q: Isn’t “No Rules” about as anarchistic as you can get?

A: No. Anarchy is from the Greek meaning “without a ruler”. Not without rules. We have strong government here and if a serious problem arises we deal with it firmly. Lesser problems are dealt with in a measured human way without knee-jerk reactions.

Q: Anarchism (as opposed to anarchy) is about removing all forms of government? Is that your aim?

A: Absolutely not. Our aim is to provide the best possible education as defined by the government. We are quite conformist in that, dare I say!

To achieve academically students need to feel unafraid to be themselves and feel like they have a voice.

They need to be able concentrate on their studies without stress over bullies and oppressive rule regimes.

Some frequently asked questions – 4

Q: The school motto is “Let the Student Learn”. Do you realise that is ambiguous?

A: Exactly! It can mean:
It is required that the student commence learning now.
It is required that the teacher permit the student to learn – for example, by allowing conditions to be conducive.

Q: So which meaning do you intend?

A: Both! We rather like that.

Some frequently asked questions – 5

Q: The rules for behaviour are pretty clear. Why don’t you just train students in them in the same way as other schools?

A: We do. But without rigid punishments. The majority of people in society seem quite determined that they know the correct path for others. They seem to consider that it is essential to enforce correct ideas onto others by imposing punishments. We feel that punishments merely produce suppressed anger – an anger that will surface later. In a coercive environment, people stop communicating sincerely and openly. In a punitive setting, an undercurrent of aggression and suspicion builds between the students who support the system and those who react against it.

We have a brilliant system for encouraging and supporting civilised behaviours. We are skilled teachers who really care about our students which engenders an atmosphere of everyone just doing their best.

Q: But if you don’t forcefully teach correct rules to students how will they learn them?

A: We teach effectively here rather than forcefully. Forceful approaches can backfire for a small number of students.

Q: If it only backfires for a small number then why worry?

A: You only need a small number of upset people to create wider problems for everyone else.

Q: Why don’t you teach using the same punishment system as other schools?

A: Because it doesn’t work very well. There are indicators to show that it is not as effective.

Q: Which are?

A: [a] The academic results are lower; [b] bullying is now a major issue; [c] Other things.

Q: But you must have difficult students who refuse to behave and who distress others. By not punishing them, don’t you then allow them to bully other people?

A: No, the reverse occurs. As the testimonials indicate, our system reduces bullying dramatically. Bullies tend to thrive in punishment-based environments. The first thing that usually happens is that the students call the perpetrator out on their unacceptable behaviour. If that doesn’t work, we go to meetings so that everyone gets a say. We do have a sort of a system in place.

Q: Bullies don’t simply stop just because you start being friendly. They simply push more and more, until they are forcefully stopped. How do you manage them?

A: That’s correct. Obviously we manage them really well. But that question needs a very very long answer. There are no simple answers to bullying. Enormous skill and perseverance are required. The culture of the school must be built correctly in the first place. And it is!

Some frequently asked questions – 6

Q: This is all too good to believe. Does it really work?

A: Yes. Absolutely. The students become happier, more confident and learn far better than in their previous schools. Their VCE results are great. Recently one of our Year 12s gained a scholarship entry into medicine at Melbourne University. The standard here is excellent. As for the human side, come and see for yourself. You can come any day. We don’t set the school up for special visits; you get to see us warts and all. Just call 03 9822 9622 and ask for an appointment. You may also ask questions to the students.

Q: How can that be? How can Alia be the only school with these attributes?

A: The principal spent 40 years as a teacher determined to find real sustainable solutions to the ever-present problems of secondary education. It was incredibly hard and had many wrong turns. The end results are pretty worthwhile. Call in to see.