Class starts off pretty normally with kids filing into the room and finding their seats. The teacher talks for a few minutes and gives the students a few directions on what they are supposed to be accomplishing for the day. While walking around during work time, the following interaction occurs:
*Student acts up in class
Teacher: Stop that
*Students acts up again (2 minutes later)
Teacher: This is your last warning
*KId acts up again (5 minutes later)
Teacher: I have told you two times already to do ______.
*Kid acts up again (3 minutes later)
Teacher: If you do that again, I am going to call home
*Kid acts up again (8 minutes later)
Teacher: I’m not kidding. I can look up their number.
Many teachers, including when I was in the classroom, have been involved in a very similar scenario as above--some of us more often than we’d like to admit. What we need to realize is that many kids will push boundaries and that they will continue to do so if they can get a way with it. We cannot keep repeating ourselves over and over again with empty threats. Students will learn that our threats are empty and that we are all talk. They will also not respect someone that does not follow through with what they say they are going to do, even if that thing is to give consequences.
The bestselling book, Hacking School Discipline, gives many great strategies for how teachers, administrators, and even parents can learn something today, and do it tomorrow. A strategy from the book that pairs well with the situation mentioned above is ‘Preview, Warn, Consequence.’
Preview: One of the first mistakes the teacher in the above scenario did was not previewing expectations. Always start an activity by stating the expectations for whatever they are going to do. It is important that your expectations are broad and encompass many different possible behaviors. For example, ‘engage in productive work’ is an expectation that is much broader and meaningful than the following:
-Don’t play games on your computer
-Don’t goof off
-Don’t waste time
-Don’t distract others
-Don’t text on your phone
-Work on what you are supposed to work on
-and on and on and on….
Engaging in productive work encompasses many different things. You may have to explain what engaging in productive work looks like and feels like for a few weeks, but students start to get the idea quickly. Some other broad expectations might be ‘keep a safe and clean environment’ and ‘respect yourself and others.’ Begin your activity by stating the three or so expectations, knowing that you might need to give a little more detail with certain activities, such as a science lab with dangerous materials. The point is that previewing expectations reinforces them and reminds students what they should be demonstrating in your room. And, it is always powerful to be able to revisit your preview when a student is not meeting expectations.
Warn: It is important to always give a reminder, except for extreme situations, when a student is breaking an expectation. Students are human and will make mistakes. We need to be fair with them and reasonable. Student’s brains are also rapidly developing and are lacking the ability to always make logical decisions. An example of this might be when you see a couple of students playing a game on their computer instead of writing their rough draft of their paper. You might say:
“Our expectation in this room is that we engage in productive work. I will have to log this into our behavior management system (we recommend using BehaviorFlip, a system that incorporates the best of restorative practices, PBIS, and MTSS to give real-time and actionable data) if I see you playing computer games again. Please go back to your paper and work on your rough draft. I am here if you need any help.”
By stating this, you went back to the expectation that you stated earlier, reminded them in a positive way, and the students got a fair warning that you are on to them.
Consequence: This is the part where many of us lose respect and effectiveness at classroom management. We might not want to deal with calling home, we might think we are damaging the relationship with the student, or we might not have the confidence to stick to our warning. This is fairly simple...if you say you are going to do something, DO IT. Log it into the behavior management system, make that call home you said you would make, separate students that continue to break the expectations together after you said that you would, etc. It might be unpleasant, you might hate doing it, and you might make a student temporarily mad at you, but you have just shown the student that you mean business and that keeping the classroom a productive and safe environment is important. You mean what you say and you say what you mean.
The next time you are in a similar situation with this student, the student will know what is coming if they continue to break expectations, and likely change their behavior. One key element of giving out consequences is that they should be logical and help students change their behaviors. For example, it makes much more sense for a student that threw food in the cafeteria to have to clean the cafeteria than it does for them to serve a detention. Another key element is that the student must repair the harm of their actions and view the behavior with an empathetic lens of how their actions impacted themself and others. This is a big part of restorative practices and the premise of the bestselling book Hacking School Discipline.
It is definitely a balance with keeping a caring and loving relationship with students and being firm when needed. If you are too mean and controlling, you have a classroom of compliant kids that might hate learning. If you are too loose, you have a classroom of kids that are completely out of control and harming the learning environment. It will take some trial and error...and definitely a growth mindset to succeed. Balance is key and something that is learned over time. Students need high expectations that they are held to, but they also need love and compassion.
For more strategies and resources on how to create lasting change in your school and/or classroom, please check out our new book, HACKING SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy & Responsibility Using Restorative Justice. Also, be sure to check out our revolutionary behavior management system, BehaviorFlip, that combines the best of restorative practices, PBIS, & MTSS to help build a culture of empathy, responsibility, & growth mindset!