The Nurture Principle: Discipline Vs. Punishment in the Classroom

When parents visit a Westminster classroom, they are often pleasantly surprised by how well behaved our students are. On tours, visitors frequently comment on how Westminster students treat one another with compassion, wait to be called on with patience, and respond politely to teachers. 

We believe this good behavior stems from our mindful approach to positive discipline embodied through our commitment to our Nurture Principle. With the application of our Nurture Principle, we’ve seen resounding success with kids making wise decisions through encouragement and disciplined education.

Punishment Vs Discipline

First, to understand how Westminster teachers manage their classrooms, you must understand the difference between discipline and punishment. At first, the two words may appear to mean similar things—but there is an important difference between them. 


Punishment produces some very negative characteristics in children: guilt, shame, bitterness, resentment, regret, self-pity, fear, and more. Because it’s focused on the past, children feel helpless. They can’t undo what they’ve already done, and they can’t change the circumstances that their behavior has produced. Punishment doesn’t give them a means to right their wrongs; the tools they need to understand redemption aren’t included in the punishment package. It is simply retribution that leads to a lot of negative emotions.


Discipline, on the other hand, is future-focused, always pointing toward future acts. It has nothing to do with retribution and everything to do with redemption. Whereas the purpose of punishment is to inflict a penalty for an offense, the purpose of discipline is to train for correction and maturity. Whereas the result of punishment is fear and shame, the result of discipline is security. Discipline always holds the child’s best interests, not the teacher’s frustration, in the forefront. It is never out of control.

At Westminster, we believe that discipline is key to forming good habits and attentive students. It is reflected in the truth of Scripture and is the means by which our Heavenly Father calls us back to truth and wise choices.

The Nurture Principle

The Nurture Principle is an extension of Westminster’s belief in discipline over punishment. This 3-step principle is how we, as role models of wise choices, set out to achieve our goals and encourage students to function well within the classroom environment, at home, and in the community.


The first step of the Nurture Principle states that you must educate students by clearly explaining and outlining standards of conduct. This way, students can understand what is expected of them and what actions constitute good behavior. At this step, teachers also explain how good behavior rewards the entire classroom—and that the wise choices of one student can impact his peers favorably.


The next step of the Nurture Principle is to train students by showing them the best ways to meet standards of conduct through mindful behavior and practices. Showing not telling…that’s what the training step is all about. Now that the children understand what constitutes meeting the standard, this step allows instructors to equip students with the tools to put their wise choices into action.


The final step of the Nurture Principle is to correct behavior that doesn’t meet the standard clearly laid out in the telling and showing phases. This step is in place to call students back to the standard, teach them to be accountable for their choices, and to offer restoration of relationship that is often broken through unwise choices. These corrections are often as simple as instructors calmly pointing out when students have missed the mark, and reminding them that they are not meeting a standard of good behavior.

Westminster Prepares Students

At Westminster, we work hard to foster a learning environment where students can openly interact with one another with respect, compassion, and a genuine desire to do show love. This way, students can learn from one another, and are equipped to lead lives that exemplify wisdom and personal responsibility. 

Learn more about the value Westminster can provide for your child at our website.