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Consequences, Not Punishment

Infractions of Classroom Rules Require Outcomes that Teach

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Consequences are an important part of the behavior management plan for your classroom, whether it is a self contained special education classroom, a resource room or a partnership in a full inclusion classroom. Behaviorist research has clearly shown that punishment does not work. It makes a behavior disappear as long as the punisher is not around, but will reappear. With disabled children, especially children on the autistic spectrum, punishment may only reinforce aggression, self injurious behavior and aggression sublimated as self urination or even fecal smearing. Punishment includes inflicting pain, removal of preferred food and isolation.

Consequences are the positive or negative results of the behavior choices a person makes.

Natural versus Logical Consequences

According to Adlerian psychology, as well as Jim Fay an author of Teaching with Love and Logic, there are natural consequences, and there are logical consequences.

Natural consequences are the consequences that naturally come from choices, even bad choices. If a child plays with fire, he or she will get burned. If a child runs into the street, the child will get hurt. Obviously, some natural consequences are dangerous and we want to avoid them.

Logical consequences are consequences that teach, because they are related to the behavior. If you ride your bike into the street when you are three, the bike gets put away for 3 days because it is not safe for you to ride your bicycle. If you throw your food on the floor, you will finish you meal at the kitchen counter, because you don't eat nicely enough for the dining room.

Classroom Routines and Consequences

Why would you punish for failure to follow a classroom routine? Isn't your goal for the child to follow the classroom routine? Have him or her do it again, until he or she does it right. This is not actually a consequence: it is over-teaching, and it is also truly negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is not punishment. Negative reinforcement makes the likelihood of a behavior to appear by removing the reinforcer. Kids will remember the routine rather than have to practice it over and over again, especially in front of peers. When over-teaching a routine be sure to stay objective and non-emotional.

"Jon, would you please walk back to your seat? Thank you. When you're ready, I'd like you to line up quietly, and keep your hands and feet to yourself. Thank you. That was much better."

Be sure you practice your routines ad-nauseum. Be sure your students understand that you expect them to follow the routines properly for the good of the class and because your class is the best, brightest and is learning more than anyone else on the planet.

Consequences for Breaking School Rules

In most situations, the principal is responsible for enforcing school wide rules, and in a well managed building, consequences will be spelled out clearly. Consequences may include:

  • After school detention under the principal or dean of student's supervision.
  • Conference with parents. I'm not always sure how this works, as it often just alienates the parents.
  • Loss of recess privileges.
  • Suspension

Consequences for Classroom Rules

If you have successfully established routines through modeling, practice and relearning, you should have little need for consequences. Consequences should be kept for serious rule breaking, and children with a history of disruptive behavior need to have a Functional Behavior Analysis administered, either by the special educator, a psychologist or a behavior specialist. In those situations, you need to think seriously about the purpose of the behavior and the replacement behavior you wish to see take it's place, or replacement behavior.

In most cases, post stepped consequences for infractions. Start every student at zero, and find a way to move children up the hierarchy of consequences due to the number of infractions. A hierarchy may go like this:

  • One infraction: Warning
  • Two infractions: Loss of 15 minutes of recess.
  • Three infractions: Loss of recess, note home to be signed by the parent.
  • Four infractions: After school detention, note home to be signed by the parent.
  • Two consecutive days with 4 or more infractions: Conference with parents to discuss plan of action, contract or loss of privileges at home.

Loss of Priveleges

Loss of privileges is perhaps the best consequence for infractions of rules, especially privileges related to the rules. If a child fools around in the bathroom, swinging on the stall doors or peeing on the floor (trust me, it happens.) The child should lose independent bathroom privileges, and only be allowed to the use the rest room when supervised (This can be a slippery slope with some parents. Be sure to have a conversation with parents about this problem.)

It is helpful to have a class agreement to cover the rules and consequences. Publish the rules and the consequence hierarchy, and send it home with a receipt to be signed by the parents. That way, if you use detentions, you can let parents know that it is a consequence. You may especially have problems with after school detention depending on whether parents have transportation, or are free to walk their child home after school. It is always good to have alternate consequences

Consequences should always be related to what is important to the children in your class. A teacher should take care that a child does not use the consequence system to get attention, for then it is counterproductive. For those children a behavior contract might be a successful step before pursuing a Behavior Intervention Plan.

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