This school year has been rough on me. Like every year, I have an incredible group of students. However, this year’s group needs a lot of extra love and patience in ways that can, at times, be wearing on a teacher that already pours every ounce of their day into loving their children. So as I was walking home from the grocery store today I started to replay a number of the conversations I’ve had over the past few months with my colleagues, my school leaders, and my direct, and this is what I managed to compile from it.
Question: Why do we give our students consequences? It is not to be in control. In fact, what I hear some teachers describe as “being in control” is nothing of the sort. Being in control is a by-product of a well functioning classroom, but it is not the cause of it and certainly not the end goal. So then why do we give our students consequences?
Answer: Why do we do everything that we do as educators? To help our students learn and grow. Maybe I need to step back and redefine the word “consequence”. It is easy as a teacher to fall into the narrow-minded definition of “consequence” as a punishment. But consequence has a much broader definition, and for a consequence to be effective it must be much more than a punishment. There are a lot of resources out there on appropriate consequences that fit the choices that preceded them, so I am not going to expand on that here. But I do want to emphasize that the “consequence” of a choice often encompasses a number of actions on your part.
Lucia is slumped down her chair with no work on her desk during a lesson. I walk by and quietly ask her to sit up and join us in the lesson. Lucia loudly interrupts the speaker to declare, “No!” When a student is defiant, refuses to follow a direction in a disrespectful way, there is not much good in assigning a detention in that moment. Yet I have done it again and again. Why? First-, second-, third-year-teacher-me would have replied, “Because I can’t let him/her think it’s ok to be defiant, and I certainly can’t let the rest of the class see that that’s ok.” Where did I get with that reasoning? Is that student going to be defiant to me again? Probably. Did I learn what caused the student to react that way? Nope. Did I model for the student how I would handle the situation if it happened to me? Definitely not. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that it is ok to not assign a consequence to Lucia, but what is the end goal in assigning a consequence here? Ideally, you accomplish all of the above while maximizing a learning environment for both Lucia and the rest of the class.
As a first year teacher, I was often told that I needed to set an example early on. Come down hard on the first student to act up. Well I can tell you as a sixth year middle school teacher; again and again that has accomplished the exact opposite for me, setting me up for a long road of repairing relationships.
If you are First-, second-, third-year-teacher-me then at this point you’re asking, “Well what do I do with Lucia!?” I’ll start there:
1) Redirect the class’s attention. Engaging in anyway with Lucia right now is going to be counter-productive. Instead, continue on with whatever was happening before (have a student continue reading notes from the board or point students to start on the practice problems in front of them) while scanning the room for any students that are cosigning Lucia and using proximity or a teacher stare to redirect them.
2) Lucia needs a break. Give her options. She might not be ready to engage verbally with you in which case you can write these options on a sticky note. Lucia might need a break to get some water/go to the bathroom (hand her the pass so there’s no added movement around the room). Direct Lucia to your pace space/ reflection desk that is removed from the class where she can either proceed with the lesson or write you a note about what’s wrong. If there is any continued loud outbursts/slamming chairs, return to #1.
3) Whether it is later on in the period or in the day, a follow up conversation needs to happen with Lucia and by the end of it you need to be able to answer the following questions (hopefully you can get some of this from her letter):
a. What upset Lucia?
b. Does Lucia feel that you were disrespectful to her or have been in the past? (This is a great opportunity to model apologizing. c. c. Yes, you need to apologize. Your intention is never to make her feel disrespected and you are sorry that your words/actions came off as disrespectful.)
d. What would Lucia have preferred that you had done?
e. Does Lucia feel like you are hearing her?
Lucia needs to hear the following things:
a. You will never speak to Lucia that way and you ask the same in return.
b. It is ok to need a break/space, but it is not ok to ask for it disrespectfully.
c. You will protect Lucia’s learning time, and in return you expect Lucia to respect her classmates’ learning time.
Lucia needs to be able to state the following things:
a. Next time that Lucia feels that way, this is how she is going to respond…
b. If Lucia chooses to respond that way again, this will be the result…
c. Because of Lucia’s choices today, she will need to… (and here is where the detention/apology letter/phone call home, etc. would come in).
Question: So which part of that is the consequence?
Answer: All of the above.
Question: But won’t the class think Lucia got away with being disrespectful?
Answer: How? She did not achieve disrupting the lesson; she did not gain a reaction from you. If anything, you sent a message loud and clear to the class that your priority is everyone’s learning. Even louder will be the message sent when they see the relationship you have started to build with Lucia.
Are you now in control? That’s not your goal. If anything, your goal is for Lucia to be in control. In eighth grade, high school, college, I will not be there to control their learning. When my students can be in control of themselves and their learning environment I know that I have set them up to be successful in whatever learning environment to which they are going next.
None of this is new or original. In fact, there are many great programs that schools and districts use to teach educators the tools to respond to classroom management this way. Just some of which include Love and Logic as well as Capturing Kids Hearts. But, having been through several of these programs I still need to remind myself again and again that the goal of consequences is to help our students learn and grow and nothing more. Do I do all of this every time? Nope. No one’s perfect, everyone will mess up. And because of that I am writing this post. Nothing like assigning myself a blog post for a much needed review of old material.