A warning is a courtesy you provide your students.
It’s a declaration of free grace you offer by letting them know that you are aware a rule has been broken.
But that no real consequence is forthcoming.
It’s a consequence only in the sense that they are one step away from being sent to time-out and removed from participating in the classroom they enjoy being part of.
Beyond your acknowledgement, nothing else happens.
If they proceed through the rest of the day without breaking another rule, then the warning is forgotten—wiped away the moment the dismissal bell rings.
Done correctly, your students will see it this way too. They’ll be grateful to receive a simple warning and be eager to tread carefully the rest of the day. In this way, the warning will do its intended job and curb future misbehavior.
The mistake teachers make when giving warnings is that it doesn’t look or feel anything like this.
Their warning is more of a threat than a courtesy. It’s the heavy hand of the law meted out with a glare and an air of intimidation. It’s given in the false belief that fear must be part of the equation or it won’t work.
But the opposite is true.
An authoritarian approach inspires resentment and a desire to misbehave behind your back. It’s a clash of opposing forces. It’s antagonistic, distrustful, and ineffective.
What follows are three simple guidelines that will ensure your warning acts as a powerful incentive to behave, while at the same time safeguarding a positive, respectful, and influential relationship with your students.
When you first notice a rule being broken, approach the offending student as soon as you’re able to deliver your warning. Stand in front of him or her from a noticeable distance and speak in a calm voice. Refrain from betraying any anger or disappointment.
Remember, you’re providing a service. What they do with the information is up to them. This is key to getting your students to take responsibility for their misbehavior. Don’t wait for a response. After giving your warning, turn and be on your way.
It’s important that your students understand what rule was broken. Sometimes you’ll need to be specific: “You have a warning because you broke rule number one and ran instead of walked to your seat.” Other times, however, the infraction will be so obvious that “You have a warning” will suffice.
Although calm, your delivery should have an official quality to it, so your students clearly understand that they have received the first consequence of your classroom management plan. It isn’t a warning from you per se, but rather an indicator that they are one step away from time-out.
Being consistent in the way you give a warning makes a monumental difference in how the warning is received. When delivered calmly and clearly, responsibility will land squarely upon the offender’s shoulders, because you’ve left no room for resentment, animosity, or anyone to blame but themselves.
Equally important is your consistency in enforcing a consequence every time a rule is broken. This message of fairness cuts way down on arguing, lying, and angry outbursts. Further, a warning loses its punch and effectiveness if it isn’t backed by time-out and a letter home.
A Statement Of Grace
A warning from you is like a red light that pops up on the dashboard of your car.
It’s a courtesy that lets you know that there could be a problem if you don’t take action. It’s a consequence in name only. In reality, it’s a glowing light on a dashboard, nothing more.
Done right, a warning is a statement of grace that acknowledges that we all make mistakes. It’s a second-chance opportunity for your students to learn from their missteps and choose of their own accord to turn toward the behavior that is required for success in school.
Therefore, it must be defined as such for your students.
When you’re first teaching your classroom management plan—or reteaching it as you come back from winter break—be sure your students understand that receiving a warning does not mean they are in trouble.
This is a critical linchpin of understanding that helps make the rest of your classroom management plan work. It opens the eyes of your students and allows them to see that your rules and consequences aren’t negative. They aren’t meant to ruin their fun or rain on their parade.
Rather, they are the very thing that protects their freedom to learn and laugh and enjoy the rewards of being a valued member of your classroom.
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