Don’t get me wrong. We need consequences to enforce boundaries, and students need boundaries to feel secure and learn appropriate behavior, but like any other tool, there is a right way and a wrong way to use them.
Consequences, when applied correctly, can put a near-instant end to the behavior infractions at all levels. They can provide a clear, final, definite endpoint which the students can understand completely while bringing the to and fro of warnings, cautions, threats, and other ineffective tactics to a close. Furthermore, they can prove out to be a surprisingly effective means of building stronger bonds, particularly with fierce and historically defiant students. When the students sense that their teachers are trying to help by encouraging and supporting them to make sensible behavioral choices by imposing boundaries firmly yet fairly, their respect, trust, and affection for those teachers grows.
When I first started teaching, I didn’t have a clue on how to control rowdy students who ignored my instructions. My immediate response was to repeat the same guidelines or threats in a bit louder tone, and when that didn’t work, I shouted even more emphatic. It’s fair to say my skills were limited.
Before long, I was sending my students out of the room left, right and center, making threats. I didn’t have a hope of following through and generally getting myself in an awful mess. Such behavior of a teacher sends a clear message to the students that “I am incapable of controlling your behavior, so I’m going to send you to someone who can.’ If you’re looking for a quick way to lose your respect among the classroom students, this is it.
The tables turned when a more experienced colleague told me that the only way to use consequences effectively was to step them: ‘Don’t use your big guns straight away, Rob. If you start by shouting and sending kids out of the room for relatively minor incidents, what are you going to do when the student continues to misbehave? By prioritizing your steps of consequences, you always have the option of adding more if necessary.’ Since that day, I can honestly say that my classroom management changed dramatically for the better. It was one of those ‘aha’ moments when you realize the error of your ways.
Classroom management strategy must be followed by every teacher who thinks their students have gone wild. Consequences such as loss of break, being kept back after school, or before lunch are great because you can start with quite small increments of time to get your point across and then keep adding to them. You don’t have to take students’ whole break time away if they are chatting in your lesson, and you certainly don’t need to jump straight to the (mostly ineffective) threat of after-school detention. Start by taking two minutes, and if that does not affect you, you can move up from there.
Even a two-minute delay can be an incredibly practical consequence because students always have somewhere else they would rather be, especially when their friends have already left. It may not sound like much of a sanction, but at the end of the lesson, when their friends are all leaving for lunch-break, and they have to stay behind to explain themselves to you, even a minute can seem like an eternity. To make consequences fair, it’s about the certainty and the fact that something happens when rules are not being followed, rather than the severity.
Let’s take an example where you’ll see that by starting small, we have multiple options to step-up the consequence and continue to address the student’s behavior should it continue.
Beyond this, of course, you do need to be prepared for students who continue to ignore you. You, as a teacher with a noisy class, are likely to encounter students who may even need to be removed from the class at times, so this response should feature in your hierarchy of consequences. And you should, ideally, have a ‘stock hierarchy’ in mind, or even written down, which you can use in response to general incidents of inappropriate behavior.
Teachers must follow the hierarchy of consequences:
If you lose your temper when you give warnings and consequences, you are merely passing the control to your students. Leaders don’t lose control, they remain ice cool. They don’t shout and scream because they know people will lose faith in them. If you want to have control in the classroom, you must be that unruffled, cool, calm leader.
Surprisingly, the consequences are the perfect tool to help you remain calm and composed in front of misbehaving students. How? By letting the consequence do the job of controlling their behavior. There is no need for you to lose your temper when you issue a consequence. Just calmly state what will happen if their behavior continues and then walk away, job done. Give the warning, safe in the knowledge that if the students don’t do as you asked, the consequence will kick in. That way, you can remain calm and collected while the threat of the consequence does its work.
When we’re faced with the huge variety of behavior issues presented by mischievous students, it’s easy to slip into a one-size-fits-all approach in terms of the consequences we use. After-School detention (or threat of ) is the usual stock response to any misdemeanors, but as a deterrent or solution, detentions are pretty useless. While it’s true that the threat of detention can quickly get a normally quiet, well-behaved child into line, it has little effect on strong-willed, non-compliant children. It might work with those who already behave, but it won’t work on those who need to learn to behave other than making them even more angry and resentful. And with most detention activities falling into the ‘You’ve wasted my time so I’ll waste some of yours’ category, the time spent by students in detention is more often than not completely pointless.
With a little thought, however, the consequences can be more closely linked to the behavior in question. And by structuring the warnings carefully and providing your students with clear choices, we can encourage them to take more responsibility and become more accountable for their behavior without the usual hostility associated with detentions and punishments.
In case you are wondering how to come up with suitable consequences for the number of behavioral problems you encounter daily, I’ve got a formula which works quite well in most circumstances:
In other words, a suitable consequence generally involves temporary removal or limited access to whatever was causing the problem.
We all know that consistency is essential in teaching, but in terms of delivering the consequences, it is particularly crucial. Issuing threats that you can’t carry through is the quickest way to ruin your reputation in school and wreck your chances of controlling difficult groups. If a student gets away with something once they will expect to get away with it again, and if you threaten a consequence and then back down on it, you very clearly give the message that your rules are like the weather – changeable. Very soon, you will become known as a push-over, a teacher who has no chance of commanding respect or getting students to do as they are asked, and you will have very effectively trained them not to follow your instructions. If you give a warning, the consequence must follow every time.