Consequences revisited

If the discipline system is so flawed, you may have asked after “Consequences”, what should be employed instead?

Many of us remember discipline based on fear and threat: fear of our parents being called, fear of being ostracized, physical punishment (spanking) or loss of privileges.  In the modern education system, blinded parents (my child does no wrong), political correctness, and the fact the punishments are not particularly effective have weakened these techniques.  So what should be done?  Ah, I am glad you asked.

The behavior management system that my wife previously employed was based on Love and Logic philosophy founded by Cline and Fay (  The system relies on teaching kids to think about their actions and think through solutions to the problems (Logic).  It focuses on fixing the problem rather than simply serving the punishment.  It works because the kids know that you care about them.  It requires that you spend time developing that relationship (Love).  Most importantly, it does works.

In previous years, my wife spent a ton of time at the beginning of the year establishing community in her classroom.  She had daily class meeting encouraging students to share their lives with each other, both happy and sad.  She too participated as she detailed things in her life, especially details about her wonderful husband (me).  At first, I worried that the kids would know too much about us.  But as I thought about it, I realized my wife was investing in her relationship with her kids.  By trusting them, they could trust her.  Her investment paid off.  While she would often have tough interactions with the kids, they knew she cared for them.  When she responded, “I care too much to let you get away with that.”  They knew it was true.  Based in love, the kids in her classroom could approach the problem and find solutions knowing that no matter what, their teacher cared for them.

Does this mean discipline was easy? No.  Often the kids would attempt to circumvent this process through techniques that worked previously with parents or other teachers.  In fact, one of the biggest lessons for my wife was when she started at the urban charter school.  In her previous school, this love and logic had been used throughout the younger grades and the kids were used to it. In the new school, the system was completely foreign and resulted in vociferous protests.  She learned that she needed to spend even more time establishing the system and building community.

So what does this system look like?  Take the child from “Consequences.”  If the child had screamed out at the teacher, the child would be removed from the rest of the students, either in the hall or another part of the class, as quickly as possible.  They would be told to think about their action and possible consequences.  Then, when the teacher is ready (and only when she has time), the issues would be addressed.  If the child was not ready to talk or if their consequences were insufficient, the teacher would continue to let them think until again, the teacher was ready.  The result of this process was that the student really thought about their actions and came up with their own suitable solutions/punishments.  Often, the students were harder on themselves than my wife would have been.  In addition, while they were thinking, the teacher and the rest of class could move on with instruction.  The child got no extra attention for acting out.  Most importantly, they learned to process through their action and the results, allowing them to learn from the experience.

But wait, what if the teacher doesn’t get back to the kid in a few minutes, but makes him/her wait 20 or 30 minutes.   That kid just missed all that instruction and that is not fair even if the child was in no state of mind to learn. The missing instruction time is the main concern of the discipline program that is employed in my wife’s current school (again, no more than 5 minute time-out).

My argument is simple, which is fair: the offending child potentially missing instruction, or instead, the rest of the class losing instruction time while the teacher deals with 12 (12!) disruptions, documents them, and eventually sends the child off with work.  Perhaps this is what no child left behind intended: to make sure that the other students should wait until the most disruptive children have decided to stop being ridiculous, so they can all proceed together. You know, until someone else acts up.

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