When You Shouldn’t Enforce A Consequence

One of the core tenets of SCM is to hold your students accountable for every rule violation.

You do what you say you’re going to do. You follow through on your promises.

Student breaks a rule and you enforce a consequence.

It’s as simple as that.

Done in a certain way—as we recommend here on this website and in our books—the benefits can be staggering.

Not only will you eliminate misbehavior, but . . .

  • You’ll create an atmosphere of respect.
  • You’ll build strong influence, trust, and rapport.
  • You’ll become a leader worth following.

However, there is a circumstance whereby a student breaks a rule and you shouldn’thold them accountable.

Can you guess what it is?

It’s when a student calls out without permission in order to stop a classmate from interfering with their right to learn.

“Can you be quiet please?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t talk to you right now.”

“Do you guys mind? I’m trying to read.”

“Please leave me alone, I have to get this done.”

Now, if you were to follow your classroom management plan as written and hold this student accountable for calling out, you would very likely alienate them.

You would leave them disillusioned, confused, and resentful.

Bear in mind that this is a student who has fully bought into the culture of your classroom. They care about learning and represent what you’re trying to inspire in others.

They’re a role model whose support and example makes your classroom better and your job easier.

So what should you do? How do you handle the situation without sending the message to the rest of the class that you’re playing favorites or breaking your promises?

Well, first off, the circumstance underscores the importance of vigilant observation, supervision, and awareness. In previous articles, we’ve discussed how critical it is to be in position to catch misbehavior.

Thus, the best solution is preemptive.

You witness the initial misbehavior and follow through before anyone feels the need to speak up.

Once you get the reputation for having eyes in back of your head—and you will as you become more consistent—then the chances of missing even one act of misbehavior becomes very small.

In the rare case that the original misbehavior does get by you, however, and you see only the second student’s response, you would immediately enforce a consequence with only the originator of the interruption.

However, it’s important that you don’t just leave it at that. When you get a chance, later in the day, briefly apologize to the student who felt they had to stand up for themselves.

Let them know that it’s your job to take care of misbehavior and that you don’t want them to worry about having to take matters into their own hands.

You’ll do better. It’s a big part of your promise to protect their right to learn and enjoy school.

As for the rest of the class who may have witnessed the incident, you don’t need to address them as a group in order to explain why you didn’t enforce a consequence with both parties.

They get it.

You’re showing understanding and compassion, and at the same time, making a statement through your actions that you respect the difference between the literal rule and the true spirit of the rule.

It makes natural sense and will not in anyway result in your class thinking that you’re being unfair or inconsistent.

To the contrary. It makes you more human, more like them. It proves that you’re not a dictator, a robot, or a narrow-minded stickler without common sense.

Rather, you’re someone they can trust, relate to, and believe in.

Why Avoidance Is A Terrible Classroom Management Strategy

Smart Classroom Management: Why Avoidance Is A Terrible Classroom Management Strategy

This article involves a strategy many teachers and administrators use in response to misbehavior.

And although I believe their heart is in the right place, the strategy is terribly misguided.

It’s also knee-jerk, shortsighted, and harmful to students.

So what is it?

It’s avoidance. It’s limiting the healthy freedoms of students in order to avoid the possibility that misbehavior could occur.

Some examples:

“Let’s keep Josh, Raymond, and Jocelyn separated because they don’t get along (or they goof around together).”

“Let’s no longer allow students to use clay (or paint or glue) because they throw it at each other and get it all over the carpet.”

“Let’s close the playground equipment because students are running, playing tag, and standing atop the bars.”

“Let’s not allow certain learning games or activities anymore because the students get excited and start misbehaving.”

Not to be confused with the effective use of consequences, these broad reactions punish students unnecessarily and send the message that they don’t have the capacity to improve or do things the right way.

They also limit their social and academic development, rob them of creativity and joy, and cause more problems than they avoid.

So what’s the other option?

The alternative is to teach students in detail what your expectations are. Model for them, show them, how to behave during every activity, transition, task, and routine throughout the school day.

Establish clear rules and consequences to support and enforce those expectations. Lay everything out ahead of time, supervise closely, and then faithfully hold them accountable for the high standards you set.

No more, no less, and do not make exceptions.

In this way, students learn self-control, patience, and poise. They learn how to get along with others and work together for the common good.

They learn responsibility, accountability, and the skills they need to succeed and be valued members of a community.

This is why they’re in school.

We want to put them in situations that challenge them to make good decisions and to work with those who are different than themselves.

When we systematically and arbitrarily remove people, things, situations, and ideas they don’t naturally handle well, or may not like or agree with, we do them a disservice.

We cause them to become less mature, less tolerant, less empathetic, and less self-controlled.

So instead of trying to avoid misbehavior by limiting the very things that help your students grow into responsible adults, outlaw the actual misbehavior itself.

Continually challenge them to improve by showing them the way and then holding them to it. This is how we create great schools and classrooms.

We teach our students how to deal with it.

We teach them patience, kindness, understanding, appreciation, self-restraint, discipline, discernment, and the tools to handle themselves with grace and aplomb.

We teach them to see the world from many perspectives.

To communicate.

To live and love others and contribute to the greater good.

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How To Create An Independent, Motivated, And Mature Class

How To Create An Independent, Motivated, And Mature Class

Smart Classroom Management: How To Create An Independent, Motivated, And Mature ClassWhen teachers first implement an effective classroom management plan . . .

  • By teaching and modeling it in detail.
  • By following it exactly as it’s written.
  • By being consistent day after day.

. . . they’re often shocked by how peaceful their classroom becomes.

The respect, the contentment, the quietude. The smiles, the thank yous, the calm energy.

It’s like having a whole new class.

But there is danger lurking.

You see, at the first sign of peace, it’s all too common to start believing the lie that you’re not doing enough.

The silence of independent work, in particular, has a way of making teachers uncomfortable and raring to help out.

So, without considering the impact, they burst through the sacred cocoon of concentrated work and begin micromanaging students.

They interrupt to offer hints, suggestions, and advice. They rush over and kneel down in response to every look mild frustration and every hand raised.

They assist and handhold and coddle, all the while undermining a critical part of the learning process and removing what students crave—and need—most:

Freedom and responsibility.

The students, in turn, begin believing that they really do need your help for every little this and that. Hands go up all over the room and they quickly lose confidence in their ability to listen, learn, and do for themselves (learned helplessness).

This causes boredom, irritability, low motivation, and the desire for you to personally reteach individually what you taught the entire class just minutes before.

And although a faithfully followed classroom management plan will still keep a lid on things, their dissatisfaction will manifest itself in sneaky, off-task, and behind-the-back misbehavior.

Work-habit expectations should be spelled out for your students, without a doubt, as well as the tools they need to do the work successfully.

But once these are established, you must cut your students loose. Really cut them loose. Send the message that independent work, whether individual or in groups, is truly independent.

Be reluctant to rush over to provide what they can work through all on their own. Allow them to make many of their own choices and decisions and wrestle with whatever you place before them.

Give them the space they need to take ownership of their work, and their imagination, their energy and passion, and their intrinsic motivation will kick into high gear.

Teach interesting and inspiring lessons. Provide everything they need to succeed. Check thoroughly for understanding and allow for every question. Teach them well.

But then get out of their way.

Shift 100% of the responsibility for doing the work over to your class while you fade into a corner to observe and take in the big picture.

Work on devoting more and more of the school day to independent work, projects, creative endeavors, etc. and less of the day to directed teaching.

Directed teaching is still important, mind you. In fact, it’s critical that you become an expert in delivering lessons. But you must continually push the envelope on what your students can do for themselves.

This is learning. This is how they develop and thrive and become empowered to chart their own course. This is what prepares them for success in a rapidly changing world.

Take more of you out of the picture, and you’ll discover your students becoming staggeringly more mature, independent, and responsible.

Their motivation, focus, and on-task behavior will increase tenfold, and they’ll become persistent, self-directed problem solvers—even, and especially, the most challenging among them.

Your classroom management plan will still be there, obscured in the mist and watching over your students, but they’ll hardly notice it anymore.

Because the joy of learning will take center stage.

PS – There is a lot to this topic, which we’ll continue to unpack in the coming months.

In the meantime, for more on this game-changing approach to teaching and learning, including how to teach lessons your students will love, please check out The Happy Teacher Habits.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving new-article updates in your email box every week.

How To Stay The Course With A Tough Class

How To Stay The Course With A Tough Class

Smart Classroom Management: How To Stay The Course With A Tough ClassThe tougher the class, the easier it is to be inconsistent.The easier it is to give in and lose control.

Which is why when you have a challenging group of students you must be mentally tough.

You must be, as Winston Churchill once said, “a peg, hammered into the frozen ground, immovable.”

But how?

How do you stay the course day after day?

How do you stay strong when your students are trying to get under your skin?

How do you enforce a consequence when it’s the last thing in the world you feel like doing?

Well, nobody does it naturally.

Everyone feels resistance. Everyone at times feels a seemingly irresistible pull to cave in, back down, and look the other way.

It can also be difficult to be “on” in every moment. Maybe you’re not feeling well. Maybe it’s Friday afternoon and you’re just so ready to call it a day.

Maybe things are finally going well and you think, “Why not just let it go this one time? What’s the harm?” 

Whatever the reason, failing to follow through on your promises is always a mistake.

Which is why you need something you can lean on, an attitude or frame of mind that stays with you and sustains you through your weakest moments.

What follows are three key thoughts that will give you the mental toughness you need to stay the course, no matter how challenging your class.

1. Do it for them.

The most effective teachers have an overabundance of mama/papa bear in them that says, “It’s my job to protect my students’ right to learn and enjoy school, and come what may, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

There is no one else to safeguard your students from disruption, bullying, being made fun of, and the like but you.

Their school year, their future, and their parent’s hopes and dreams for them are at stake. For one year, anyway, they’re entirely in your hands.

When you embrace this responsibility (and reality), it makes following through and doing right by your students so much easier. In fact, it makes it the most natural thing in the world.

2. Be willing to lose your job.

There is great strength in committing to a task, not merely in a sense that it’s something you’re determined to do, but rather something you invest in so completely that you allow yourself no other choice.

You will do it.

A powerful way to embody this feeling is to adopt the attitude that they—administration, powers that be, educational establishment, etc.—will have to fire you and drag you from the classroom to stop you from fulfilling your promises to your students.

It represents a level of commitment that will effectively repel all forms of resistance, no matter how strong.

Ironically, with this mindset, not only will you never lose your job, but you’ll be admired by your colleagues, beloved by your students, and left alone by your principal.

3. Accept that it’s the only way.

When your class is out of control and the students seem so disrespectful, callous, and unmotivated, what you’re seeing isn’t who they really are.

Poor leadership, ineffective strategies, and inconsistency in the past have created what you’re seeing.

The only way to fix it, the only way to sweep away the negativity and reveal the very best in your students—as well as in yourself—is to bring fair, honest, and consistent accountability into the picture.

Accepting that it’s the only way to peace, the only way to inspired teaching and learning, and the only way to the stress-free career you really want is all the motivation you need to stay the course.

The Way It’s Going To Be

Several years ago, there was a rumor that the President was coming by the school I was working at for a visit. (He never did.)

Honestly, the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Well, if he comes into my room, he’ll have to follow the rules just like everyone else.”

I laugh at the thought, but it underscores the level of commitment needed to follow through on your promise to create a safe and enjoyable learning experience for your students.

Even if you don’t teach in an especially difficult school, or you’re not in the midst of trying to turn around an out-of-control class, cultivating a tough mindset is still incredibly valuable.

In fact, in time it will become not just an attitude or mentality you carry with you to school every day.

But who you are.

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