So you send a student to time-out and almost immediately they start goofing around. They wriggle in their seat. They giggle and make a racket. They stir up their classmates and distract them from their work.
Here you enforce a consequence in order to maintain control of your classroom, and things have only gotten worse. It’s a stressful situation that can make you feel as if you have no recourse. It can make you feel like you’re at the mercy of this one student.
But the truth is, until and unless you address the reason why a student would play around in time-out, there is precious little you can do about it beyond shushing, threatening, and crossing your fingers.
What follows are a few simple guidelines to help you avoid the situation from happening in the first place—while at the same time giving you the leverage to handle it if it does.
When you first teach your classroom management plan it’s important to model this exact scenario. Nine times out of ten, students play around in time-out because you haven’t clearly defined what will happen if they don’t sit quietly.
Make clear the time-out requirements.
Be sure your students understand that they must prove to you they’re ready to leave time-out—which includes sitting quietly and attentively for at least fifteen minutes before respectfully requesting to rejoin their classmates. If these conditions aren’t met, they stay where they are.
Revisit your plan.
If you haven’t thoroughly covered the two items above, or if you’ve become inconsistent in seeing them through, then it’s critical to revisit your classroom management plan. Teach, model, and practice the ins and outs of time-out down to the smallest detail.
Remove the audience.
If, after a comprehensive reteaching of time-out, a student (in time-out) chooses to play around, the first step is to ensure that no one else gets involved. If another student communicates in any way with the student in time-out, then enforce a consequence immediately. This too must be modeled.
When you first notice that a student you’ve just placed in time-out is goofing off, resist the urge to rush over and command them to stop or threaten further consequence. Instead, pause a moment or two—or three—before responding. There is no hurry. Finish what you were doing before calmly heading in their direction.
Without speaking, move into their field of vision to observe their behavior. Ten feet is about right. By your very presence force them to make the difficult choice to continue their disruptive behavior right in front of you or turn quiet and attentive. If it’s the latter, then no other response is needed.
If the student continues to misbehave, or misbehaves when you turn your back, then they’ve clearly broken several class rules. You now have no choice but to hand them a behavior letter to take home. Calmly inform them that they must remain in time-out for the rest of the day, and then turn and walk away.
Knowledge Is Power
Your students need to know from beginning to end what will happen if they misbehave, which then must be as sure as the stars in the sky. No surprises. No uncertainties. Just your promised response. This alone will eliminate nearly all time-out misbehavior.
When you model and specify in a highly detailed way the steps a misbehaving student will go through, including every eventuality from initial warning to letter home, and you prove yourself true to your word, then disruptions of any kind tend disappear from your classroom.
You should always be prepared, however, to follow through, to calmly do what you said you would do, to be a steady beacon of truth in a sea of compromising integrity.
Time-out isn’t just a time-out and your rules aren’t just rules. The way you teach, implement, and enforce them matters—tremendously. It’s everything. It’s the difference between hoping your students will behave . . .
And knowing they’ll behave.
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