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.

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