Apple Nailing or Apple Picking?

In his Christian school seminar presentation Your Christian School:  A Culture of Grace?, Paul David Tripp warns of the dangers of behaviorism in our approach to discipline in our Christian school classrooms and advocates for discipline that pursues the heart.

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Tripp likens correcting behavior without addressing the heart to nailing apples onto an apple tree in order to create a harvest.  The futility of such an act strikes us as absurd, but Tripp’s point is that Christian school educators “apple nail” through threats, manipulation, and guilt to produce well-behaved students.  But, these same students go to college and, in growing droves, abandon their faith.  Behaviorism creates “smarter sinners” who are skilled at jumping through hoops to avoid consequences.

However, if we want to produce students in our Christian schools with genuine spiritual “fruit,” we have to recognize that the heart of education is the heart.

How can we bring a focus on the heart to our classrooms?

*Examine our own hearts.  

The thing that interferes most with our getting to the heart of our students is our own hearts!

*Examine our rules.  

Do our rules create an environment of outward conformity?  Do we enforce them consistently?  Is motive addressed?

*Examine the situation.

Tripp offers five heart-oriented questions that can help students begin to think about their hearts during the discipline process.  These questions are not a formula for change.  Rather, they help the teacher and student have a heart-oriented rather than a behavior-oriented conversation.

1.  What was going on in this situation?

Perception is reality.  This question helps students verbalize their perception and helps the teacher avoid assuming something that may not be accurate.

2.  What were you thinking or feeling?

This question plants the seed of thinking about the heart and begins to turn the conversation toward the heart.

3.  What did you do (or think) in response?

This question is a natural follow-up to question #2 and serves as a reminder that the heart (not the situation) is what shapes behavior.

4.  What were you seeking to accomplish?

This is the question and is often asked first in the form of “Why did you do that?”  However, asking it first makes the behavior, not the heart, the focus.

5.  What was the result?

This question reveals the consequences – the harvest – and offers the opportunity for students to begin connecting the heart with consequences.

So, do we view a behavioral interruption as a hassle or as an opportunity?  Are we “apple nailing” or “apple picking”?  

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This blog post is a distillation of a portion of Paul David Tripp’s seminar Your Christian School:  A Culture of Grace? presented at Christian educator conferences in 2009 and 2014.  More information about this and other topics can be found at

Marty Reed teaches at Veritas School, a classical Christian school in Richmond, Virginia. Her twenty years of teaching, coupled with her duties as pastor's wife and mother of two, provide her with excellent insights to share with FOCUS readers.

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  • Great thought-provoking post–much like Steven Covey’s principle “Seek to understand, then to be understood.” My classroom management and relationships with students dramatically improved when I learned to ask questions with the genuine goal of understanding the student and the circumstances before drawing conclusions. Marty Herron, the pastor at Harvest Baptist in Guam, may not have been the original speaker of this thought, but I heard it from him: “Questions convict a conscience. Accusations harden a will.”

    • Matt Ticzkus

      So true. Thanks for your input Dr. Walton!

  • Edward Earwood

    You “nailed” it, Marty! It is easy to nail apples rather than cultivate a crop so that we can pick apples later. Very good thoughts!