Why Avoidance Is A Terrible Classroom Management Strategy

Smart Classroom Management: Why Avoidance Is A Terrible Classroom Management StrategyForgive me if this article sounds like a rant.

I don’t mean it to be.

It’s just that . . . well, it’s a topic, or classroom management practice, that really bugs me.

It involves a strategy many teachers and administrators use in response to misbehavior.

And although I believe their heart is in the right place, the strategy is terribly misguided.

It’s also knee-jerk, shortsighted, and harmful to students.

So what is it?

It’s avoidance. It’s limiting the healthy freedoms of students in order to avoid the possibility that misbehavior could occur.

Some examples:

“Let’s keep Josh, Raymond, and Jocelyn separated because they don’t get along (or they goof around together).”

“Let’s no longer allow students to use clay (or paint or glue) because they throw it at each other and get it all over the carpet.”

“Let’s close the playground equipment because students are running, playing tag, and standing atop the bars.”

“Let’s not allow certain learning games or activities anymore because the students get excited and start misbehaving.”

Not to be confused with the effective use of consequences, these broad reactions punish students unnecessarily and send the message that they don’t have the capacity to improve or do things the right way.

They also limit their social and academic development, rob them of creativity and joy, and cause more problems than they avoid.

So what’s the alternative?

The alternative is to teach students in detail what your expectations are. Model for them, show them, how to behave during every activity, transition, task, and routine throughout the school day.

Establish clear rules and consequences to support and enforce those expectations. Lay everything out ahead of time, supervise closely, and then faithfully hold them accountable for the high standards you set.

No more, no less, and no exceptions.

In this way, students learn self-control, patience, and poise. They learn how to get along with others and work together for the common good.

They learn responsibility, accountability, and the skills they need to succeed and be valued members of a community.

This is why they’re in school.

We want to put them in situations that challenge them to make good decisions and to work with those who are different than themselves.

When we systematically and arbitrarily remove people, things, situations, and ideas they don’t naturally handle well, or may not like or agree with, we do them a disservice.

We cause them to become less mature, less tolerant, less empathetic, and less self-controlled.

So instead of trying to avoid misbehavior by limiting the very things that help your students grow into responsible adults, outlaw the actual misbehavior itself.

Continually challenge them to improve by showing them the way and then holding them to it. This is how we create great schools and classrooms.

We teach our students how to deal with it.

We teach them patience, kindness, understanding, appreciation, self-restraint, discipline, discernment, and the tools to handle themselves with grace and aplomb.

We teach them to see the world from many perspectives.

To communicate.

To live and love others and contribute to the greater good.

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.

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32 Responses to Why Avoidance Is A Terrible Classroom Management Strategy

  1. Linda G November 11, 2017 at 8:37 am #

    Love this. These are things I try to instill on a daily basis.

  2. Jackie November 11, 2017 at 8:44 am #

    Michael do you do workshops at Pro D Days? (In Canada, beautiful British Columbia, Vancouver Island) need I say more?😊

    • Michael Linsin November 14, 2017 at 8:59 am #

      Hi Jackie,

      I’d love to do it, but I just don’t have time to add professional development, seminars, and such to my schedule. Thanks very much for thinking of me.

      Michael

  3. Anne November 11, 2017 at 8:56 am #

    I️ really appreciate the insight in the articles. I’m a veteran middle school teacher and find these articles helpful. I️ have what will seem to be a ridiculous question. I️ need suggestions for specific consequences. We are not allowed to keep kids after school. Parent contact works for only a percentage of kids who have parents who will actually respond to texts, emails, phone calls. The only time left during the day is lunch detention, which really doesn’t seem to improve behavior. What other consequences can I️ employ?

    • Jenny November 11, 2017 at 4:35 pm #

      Hi Anne,
      I had the exact same question so maybe others do too and so maybe it’s not so ridiculous. I experience the same problems- no after school detention (I teach Art in primary school); parent phone calls are effective only so many times; lunch detentions pretty ineffective and bad for your relationship with the student.
      At my school, teachers do use “community service” as a consequence. It might involve picking up rubbish (with gloves and tongs) in the schoolyard at recess or lunch; leading a game with younger kids at lunchtime; sweeping tanbark back into garden beds; sharpening pencils in the Art Room.
      Many teachers also get the student(s) to walk with a teacher on yard duty for a portion of the lunchtime.

    • Nathan Jacobson November 11, 2017 at 4:58 pm #

      Both Michael’s books (Dream Class, The Classroom Management Secret, and Classroom Management for Art, Music and PE Teachers) and the Rules & Consequences section of this website cover that in great detail!

      Good luck! I empathize with the frustrations of a less than supportive administration and teaching staff!

    • Ryan Bowler November 11, 2017 at 8:35 pm #

      Anne,
      You may want to try a different strategy that just consequences. Motivation is guided by antecedents as well as consequences. You may want to change the classroom, the environment, or the stimuli of the classroom. There are many evidence-based behavior strategies out there that follow changing the classroom rather than just changing consequences. Here are a few that you might want to research: Using Learner Preferences, Increase Predictability of Environment, Provide Opportunities to Make Choices, Decrease Discomfort, and Create a Positive Atmosphere.

    • Michael Linsin November 14, 2017 at 9:01 am #

      Hi Anne,

      I’ve addressed this topic extensively here on the website and in our books. You may also want to check out the high school plan.

  4. Gail everhart November 11, 2017 at 9:00 am #

    Question. What is a good response to a teacher who uses shame and guilt as a form of discipline.

    • Calam November 11, 2017 at 2:32 pm #

      Yeah that’s something I’m never sure I do effectively as well.

      What are some meaningful consequences and also rewards?

  5. Chris November 11, 2017 at 9:18 am #

    Michael, I love how you don’t just inform or instruct, you always INSPIRE!

    I get tired of hearing students blamed as though something were intrinsically wrong with them, when too often I see the issues you write about, such as a lack of accountability or poor modeling, on the part of the teachers.

    Thanks for consistently taking the high road on your blog rather than easy fixes that avoid the root issues! I’ve seen great changes in the worst of classes by applying these principles–not as “techniques” to control students, but as training to help them be the best they can be. As you wrote in a previous post, we should “do it for them.”

    • Michael Linsin November 14, 2017 at 9:02 am #

      Thanks Chris! Glad to hear it.

  6. Dan November 11, 2017 at 10:23 am #

    Great article, Michael! This really got me thinking about how we can serious limit the possibilities to “grow” for students with behavioral difficulties.

    I am an elementary music teacher, and this article particularly reminds me about how sometimes a class will come to me and one student will raise their hand and say, “[So and so] cannot sit next to each other.” Meanwhile, those 2 student are sitting next to each other and completely behaving themselves just fine! Of course, it might be good to know which students might have problems together, but I don’t want to give them a consequence, as you mention, when they have done nothing wrong.

    That being said, I think that some students ought to be separated temporarily–as a consequence. You seem to imply that the problem is when the class receives the message that so-and-so cannot and never will be able to behave themselves while together. After all, though we want all students to improve in their ability to get along with others, wouldn’t it be too idealistic to expect all students to be able to get along?

    Thanks again for your help through the years

    • Michael Linsin November 14, 2017 at 9:04 am #

      Hi Dan,

      Yes, when you get a chance, please read the linked article (within the article above) “they don’t get along.”

      • Dan November 14, 2017 at 10:08 pm #

        I will! Thanks, Michael.

  7. Backroads November 11, 2017 at 8:06 pm #

    Teach 2nd grade here. Two boys could not, could not for the life of them be together. Near each other. Barely in the same classroom. To make things harder, one is severe ADHD, the other in the process of being test for the same or for Autism. Huge personality struggle and both still learning the skills to deal with it. Well, they obviously had to be in the same classroom. I couldn’t kick one out. One kid refused to work near the other… so he missed fun activities.But no, avoidance was not an option.

    Yesterday they were playful with each other.

  8. Elvira November 12, 2017 at 8:11 am #

    Hello,

    This is an excellent article and most that I had read are helpful and meaningful to me.
    I’m a Spanish Teacher in a elementary School and I love it. My objective is that all my students get immerse into their L2.

    However, I have times that I would like some magic and remedy the situation.
    In one of my classes there are four o five kids that their bad behavior is difficult to manage.
    I will like to have suggestions/advice.

    Thanks in advance,

    Elvira A B.A.

  9. Cynthia Fawcett November 13, 2017 at 3:17 am #

    Dear Michael.

    Thankyou soooo much for just simply re-affirming it all, and for giving us confidence once again.

    We value your Smart Classroom Management. Your mails and support in helping us is always ever sooo fruitful. Thankyou.

    May God bless you
    Kindest Regards

    • Michael Linsin November 14, 2017 at 9:07 am #

      It’s my great pleasure, Cynthia. Thank you!

  10. Melinda November 13, 2017 at 7:10 am #

    First off- love your site- I recommend it to everyone.

    Second- ever since reading one of your articles, I stopped the practice of telling certain kiddos they could not stand together in lines/sit together at lunch, etc…
    However, in the last couple of weeks, four of my boys have begun playing inappropriate games with each other/ saying awful things in each others ears (recess, lunch, specials, before & after school). There parents are very concerned. To help ease their concern/ hopefully help the boys make better choices, I literally just emailed all the specials teachers to please help make sure these boys are not sitting together for the time being.

    I appreciate your opinion on this situation in regards to the topic “avoidance.” Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin November 14, 2017 at 9:07 am #

      Thanks Melinda!

  11. Adrienne Warren November 13, 2017 at 8:02 am #

    This practice is so pervasive in my school. And it’s not working. I feel like the kids see themselves as failures, and the teachers frequently view them as such. In a Title One school, I have to constantly go against the traditional practices around me, but I receive reinforcement with each of your articles. I’ve tried sharing them with my team, but I don’t think they want to look at them. Nonetheless, all of your techniques and practices make so much sense to me and are what I’ve been searching for, for years. Keep them coming. Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin November 14, 2017 at 9:08 am #

      You’re welcome, Adrienne! Thanks for being a reader.

  12. Becky November 13, 2017 at 12:44 pm #

    Can you recommend an alternate strategy to avoidance in this situation? I’m a specialist. There is a 2nd grade class that has three very challenging boys. Most of the time they are not challenging because they are together, but among them, teachers feel as though they are constantly putting out little fires, so it’s very hard to get any instruction done. Admin’s response was to separate them during specials. This will not solve any of the boys’ challenges. Ideas are welcome! Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin November 14, 2017 at 9:09 am #

      Hi Becky,

      The strategies are explained in the article. For more, however, you may want to check out chapter 11 in Dream Class.

  13. Gary16 November 14, 2017 at 5:25 pm #

    Completely agree, as with most thing you write. I have had this argument many times when some teachers threaten to take away an activity. Like trying to impose a soccer ban on the oval after a skirmish. Thirty or forty kids getting exercise and having fun for a half hour every day for weeks, a fight happens and they blame and ban soccer? Much better ways of dealing with it, duty teacher can keep an eye out, kids can be given strategies – and like u say, they get vital practise in dealing with slightly aroused passions. Bans stop learning and threats are silly anyway – as you point out, consequences don’t need to be framed as threats.

    • Michael Linsin November 15, 2017 at 8:30 am #

      Thanks for sharing, Gary. Well said.

  14. Andrew Savenye November 15, 2017 at 8:27 pm #

    Michael,

    First, I want to say thank you for addressing a concern with a strategy that unfortunately being practiced with students in many classrooms and schools. I am the principal and K-2 teacher in a small independent school in Regina, Saskatchewan. As you can imagine being a Kindergarten teacher I am continually put into a place where I can easily choose the avoidance strategy. As a teacher, it is easy to take things away from students as a way of dealing with situations they may find themselves in. However, this is not good for students to witness in their classrooms or on themselves as individuals.

    It does take time to implement alternatives to avoidance, however, in the end, students know you care about them as individuals.

    As teachers, we are called to a high calling and we should remember this each day we enter our classrooms. It does take more time to set up your classroom expectations, explain things over and over just to have them try to push the limit once more, or to have to implement consequences, however, if you take the time to invest your dividends are worth it.

    As you said, therefore, they are in school. As teachers, we have an opportunity to be a part of shaping this young individual into a citizen of our city and world. We have opportunities every day to make positive changes, to be a contributing factor to education. So, I leave with the question: What are we doing with these opportunities.

    Andrew Savenye

    • Michael Linsin November 16, 2017 at 8:39 am #

      Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for your comments and sharing your insight. Indeed, it’s a good, important question to help guide and focus us as teachers and educators on what is important.

  15. Andrew November 19, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

    Micheal,

    Thank you for your reply to my post. I agree with you that the question I ended with does help to guide and focus us as teachers and educators on what is essential. At times, as educators, it is easy to lose your focus with the students and become involved with the politics an coffee shop talk. As you stressed in your blog, our focus should be on the what is essential to the students.

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