Saturday, January 26, 2013

Consequences: Certainty Is More Important Than Severity

Classroom management. The two words strike fear in many teachers' and subs' hearts. It seems to be one of those things that you are either naturally good at, or you constantly struggle with. I am in the "struggles with" category. This year seems to easier, but I attribute it more to my students than to me. Somehow the stars aligned, and I have no major behavior issues my class this year. The worst things I seem to deal with are incessant talking, reluctancy to work, and immaturity issues.

So, when my vice-principal came into my classroom and offered me the chance to attend a two-day classroom management workshop, I jumped at the chance. This week, I attended the first day, and it was well worth it. And it's not even that I was learning a ton of new things. Most of what the presenter said, I had heard in grad school and some of it I even already do, but it was nice to hear it again, get some validation for what I am doing, and commiserate with other teachers. It seems you very rarely get the opportunity to talk about the realities of teaching with other teachers.

Anyway, this session focused on classroom organization, educational psychology needs theories (a student cannot learn or be focused if certain needs are not being met), and useful classroom strategies. I will write more on those topics another time.

The thing I want to focus on in this post is my big a-ha moment from that workshop session. There was a quote the presenter used, and she only briefly dwelled on it. But for me, it made the choir of angels sing in the room. It struck me this way because it hit so close to home. What the presenter said was this:

"It's the certainty of the consequence and not the severity that makes the consequence effective."

Now, I will come clean and fess up to you right now. I am one of those teachers who gives waaaaaaay too many warnings. I don't like to punish kids. I don't want to punish kids. Not even my own kids. I am the teacher who says for the tenth time, "I am not going to say this again." And, in a classroom with some behavior challenges, that gets me in trouble every time.

The presenter compared this concept to driving through those neighborhoods or small towns notorious for their traffic cops. You know the ones. We all know the ones. In San Antonio, it's Castle Hills and Leon Valley. They are the places where if you even think about rolling through the stop sign or not using your blinker to turn or accidentally go 1 mile and hour over the speed limit, you instantly look around for the lights and listen for the sirens. Because you are CERTAIN that one minor infraction is going to warrant a ticket. And how do you drive through those areas? Well, of course, you drive through those areas with extra caution, paying close attention to your speed and the traffic signs around you. In short, you do you best to make sure you follow all the rules... even the ones you may not follow in other areas of town.

You need to be that notorious area of town as a teacher. Your students need to know that there will most definitely be a consequence every time they make a less-than-desireable choice.

What I really like about the statement is the severity part. I don't have to be mean, slam-down-the-hammer-of-classroom-justice teacher. I don't have to stop class and administer a consequence for every rule breaker. For many students, just "the teacher look" can be consequence enough... or a simple statement of redirection... or even just your walking close to them. I can administer the consequence based on the infraction AND the student. For example, the student who has had an issue and is in tears about it (I mean genuine tears because this is the first time they've ever been in trouble) does not deserve the same consequence as the student who had the same issue, but comes to you with arms crossed and smirk on their face. It goes back to another of my favorite quotes:

"Fair isn't everybody getting the same the thing. 
Fair is everybody getting what they need to be successful."

So, what I took away from this part of the session is that I need to have a wealth of consequence ideas of varying degrees of severity, ranging from the "teacher look" to office referral. Students need to know you will enforce those classroom and school rules at all times.


  1. I, too, am in the struggles part of this as a sub! I don't think I'm too nice but I do give way too many warnings with not enough follow through. I loved that quote- definitely true for subs :).

    Thanks for sharing- Great post!

    Sparkles, Smiles, and Successful Students

  2. Great post! I tell parents this at curriculum night when I'm going over my classroom management plan. I have never heard this speaker before, but I use traffic tickets as an example. I think it is something adults can relate to.


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