Less Consequencing More Teaching

Here is an excerpt from the write up I did for an on-site in-school consulting day. I am guessing many of you will be able to relate to the suggestions and advice given. Of course the names of people and the school are changed.

It is apparent that the answer right now to disruptive or difficult behavior is to write a referral and give a consequence. Unfortunately this rarely works. Most students do not care about the traditional consequences we give. Instead of worrying about which consequence to give, I suggest teaching alternative behaviors. For example, if a student calls the teacher “a fuc**ng as***le” it is easy to write him up, tell him it is inappropriate, and give a consequence. Instead, the teacher should get with that student one on one in a private moment and have a conversation. It might sound something like this: “You know, today in class you called me a really nasty name. I don’t like being called things like that. Can you please tell me what I’ve done to make you feel this way? By the way, the next time you feel the need to call me a name, here is what you can do instead so my feelings will not be hurt and you will not get in trouble. Without this type of conversation it really doesn’t matter which consequence is given. Many students do not know what to do when frustrated other than yell, insult, or fight. We must teach alternatives to this.

Here are a few specific behaviors I believe students at this school need to be taught:

Walking into the room after a bathroom break
Saying please and thank you
Making eye contact when speaking
What to do instead of arguing or fighting
How to speak in an appropriate tone of voice
How to say “good morning” when entering the room

It is very helpful if teachers remember to model for kids exactly what they want to see. This means teachers should say please and thank you when talking to their students. Teachers should make eye contact and say good morning to every student that enters their room, Etc

Use P.E.P. (privacy, eye contact, proximity)

I noticed many teachers correcting student behaviors in front of their friends. This rarely works. It is almost always better not to correct a behavior at all than to correct students in front of their friends. This is hard for many and takes a lot more work. It is much easier to yell at a student from across the room or hallway. Unfortunately the student almost always yells back and a power struggle occurs. Try hard to get close to that student, use some eye contact, and as privately as possible explain what the student is doing wrong.

Teachers and Referrals:

There are too many being written for minor behaviors. Referrals should only really be written if a student is so outrageously disruptive that learning can not occur for everyone else. The other ground for removal is physical aggression toward another student or the teacher. Everything else should be handled in the classroom. Administrators should encourage teachers to stop writing kids up for minor things. Every time a teacher writes a student up or kicks that student out of class the teacher loses more of her own power. Difficult kids learn exactly what to do to get removed.

Become a second to last word person:

I saw at least four different power struggles that could have been avoided by the teacher allowing the student to have the last word. When the teacher goes back the argument continues. It is ok to walk away. Students need to look good in front of their friends. Let them! The second to last word is almost always best. Also, the teacher’s last word should be “thanks.” For example, “I think I saw you drop that piece of paper and I’d appreciate if you picked it up. Thanks.” And then the teacher moves. Walk away. Get out of there! Sticking around rarely makes things better. This can be practiced by staff. One acts like the student and the other is the teacher. Role-play the teacher walking away when the student says something inappropriate.

Building Relationships:

Take some actual class time for relationship building and discussion. Allow students to talk about their home lives, etc. I like to use the first 8-10 minutes to talk with my class about what is going on in their lives. Who has a girlfriend? Who is mad at whom? Etc Teachers should learn and understand student interests and try relating content to them as often as possible. There are many specific examples of how to do this in our books.

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