How you give a consequence matters.
How you speak to your students, what you say to them, and how you react emotionally and with your body language after they break a classroom rule goes a long way toward curbing misbehavior.
Whether you’re giving a warning, a time-out, or a letter to take home, the key is to inform them in a way that takes the focus off you—the mere deliverer of the news—and places the responsibility solely with them.
Your students must feel the burden of behaving poorly.
Because if they don’t, if they don’t feel a sense of regret and a greater desire to follow your classroom rules, then your consequences will be ineffective.
What follows are a few guidelines to help you inform your students of a consequence in a way that tugs on their conscience, causes them to reflect on their mistakes, and lets accountability do its good work.
Tell them why.
When a student breaks a classroom rule, tell him (or her) clearly and concisely why he’s been given a consequence. Say, “Danny, you have a warning because you broke rule number two and didn’t raise your hand before speaking.” Telling them why leaves no room for debate, disagreement, misunderstanding, or anyone to blame but themselves.
Keep your thoughts, opinions, and comments to yourself.
Let your agreed-upon consequence be the only consequence. Refrain from adding a talking-to, a scolding, or your two-cents worth. By causing resentment, these methods sabotage accountability. So instead of taking a reflective look at themselves and their misbehavior, your students will grumble under their breath and seethe in anger toward you.
Do not escort to time-out.
If the consequence calls for time-out, don’t escort them there. Getting up and walking to time-out is an important part of the accountability process. It acts as a statement, or an acknowledgement of sorts, that they indeed broke a classroom rule and are ready to take responsibility for it. Also, escorting them can make them less motivated to go.
A matter-of-fact tone and body language enables you to hold students accountable without causing friction. Most teachers make a fuss out of misbehavior—reacting angrily, showing disappointment, sighing, rolling eyes. But this can be humiliating for students in front of their classmates, causing them to dislike you and undermining the critical rapport-building relationship.
Be more like a referee, less like judge.
A referee’s job is to enforce rules, not mediate disagreements—which makes being fair, consistent, and composed a lot easier. Thinking like a referee, rather than a judge, also helps students see that your consequences aren’t personal, but something you must do to protect their right to learn and enjoy school without interference.
Safeguard your influence.
An influential relationship with students gives you the leverage you need to change behavior. And so anything you do that threatens that relationship—yelling, scolding, lecturing, using sarcasm, etc—should be avoided. Simply tell your students like it is, follow your classroom management plan, and let accountability do the rest.
As soon as you’ve informed the misbehaving student what rule was broken and the consequence, turn your attention back to what you were doing without skipping a beat. The burden of responsibility then shifts in total from you, the deliverer of the consequence, to the student. The interaction should take no longer than 10-15 seconds.
Note: Your students must know exactly what their responsibilities are upon receiving a consequence. Thus, it’s critical to teach, model, and practice your classroom management plan thoroughly before putting it into practice.
Your Students Decide, Not You
Small, seemingly insignificant details—often glossed over, ignored, or deemed too nit-picky to care about—can make a big difference.
How you inform your students of a consequence is a small part of classroom management, to be sure, a bit player in the theater of your classroom.
But it’s an important part, requiring Oscar-level performance.
Despite how much an act of misbehavior may get under your skin, or how much you’d like to express your frustrations, you have to stay in character.
Because if after receiving a consequence your students blame you, or become angry with you, then the consequence will be ineffective. They must see that they alone bear the responsibility for their misbehavior.
After all, you don’t decide when or if to enforce a consequence.
Your students do.
If you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.