While observing your class gather materials for a science experiment, you notice a student kicking the heels of the boy in front of them.
But because you’re in the good habit of letting misbehavior play out, you decide to watch a bit longer before jumping in.
You see the boy turn and ask the student to stop.
After a brief pause, however, the student resumes the practice. You mentally record every move, and as soon as they sit down, you approach.
The student sees you coming and before you can even get all the words out (“I saw you kicking Darren and—”), they begin aggressively denying.
“That’s not true! I didn’t do anything. Oh my gosh! I wasn’t kicking anyone.”
Your first inclination is to refute the student’s claims, to prove that you’re right and they’re wrong.
“Yes, you were. I saw you with my own eyes from across the room. Now stop lying and take responsibility for your actions.”
But doing so would draw you into an argument. It would put you on equal footing with the student. It would turn into a your-word-against-theirs battle royal.
This is a common situation, one so many teachers find themselves stuck in every day. It’s frustrating. It’s stressful. It puts you at odds with your students and turns you into the ogre you never wanted to be.
The good news is that it’s entirely avoidable. All of it—the lying, the denying, the arguing, and the stress—it’s all avoidable using the following three steps:
1. Know the truth.
You should only approach a student to give a consequence when you know the truth. This underscores the importance of letting misbehavior play out, of eliminating any plausible deniability, of leaving no doubt who is responsible and what rule was broken.
If you’re unsure, then get to the bottom of it first before confronting the student. This step alone will save you a mountain of headaches. Still, like the teacher above, it isn’t always enough to avoid a confrontation. The next two steps are crucial.
With the truth on your side, there is no reason for debate. There is no reason to ask why. There is no reason to allow the student to lie to you or deny their involvement. Simply approach and say, “You have a warning (or time-out) because you broke rule number three.”
Most often, that’s all you need to say. However, if you’re uncertain they know what misbehavior you’re referring to, then you can add, “You were kicking Darren while getting science materials.”
3. Move on.
After delivering your consequence, turn on your heel and walk away. Nothing else needs to be said, and waiting for a response is an invitation to argue. Because you’ve taught, modeled, and practiced your classroom management plan thoroughly, the student knows exactly what this means.
They know you have them dead to rights. They know that in your classroom, rules that protect learning and enjoyment are sacred and nonnegotiable. They know that arguing, denying, or complaining is fruitless.
The only thing left for them to do is take responsibility.
Avoidance Is The Key
Many teachers contact us wanting to know how to respond when students lie, yell, throw tantrums, refuse to go to time-out, or engage in other aggressively willful behaviors, and we gladly cover these topics.
But the trick is to avoid them from happening to begin with. The three-step strategy above is a perfect example.
By calmly—even matter-of-factly—delivering your consequences with truth on your side, and then walking away, you avoid the behaviors students have used since time immemorial to sidestep accountability.
You avoid the arguments and protestations. You avoid the deceptions and shocked faces. You avoid the manipulations that have worked with so many other adults in their life, including teachers.
And here’s the thing:
When you do what you say you will, when you handle accountability fairly and consistently, when you show your students how much you care by safeguarding their right to learn and enjoy school without interference, chaos, or drama . . .
They’ll love and respect of you because of it.
Note: We’ll be taking next week off to celebrate Thanksgiving, but will be back with a new article December 6th.
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