Unnatural Consequences

Sorry, this is my angry face…

I have to admit, I am a little frustrated. And actually a bit angry too. Let me explain.

Despite all that we know about the importance and life-changing benefits of physical activity, physical education, recess, joy of movement, etc. it seems that the education ‘system’ continues blissfully on it’s not-so-merry way.

My concern was ‘tweaked’ in two specific ways. First, I received a communication from a parent about their grade two child’s punishment for a recess incident – the second half of this post will be about that. Second, this news article appeared on my Twitter feed: In most circumstances, recess shouldn’t be taken away from naughty kids, Billings schools proposal says  Excerpts from that article include these statements:

The School Health Advisory Committee approved changes to a policy proposal that would recommend that physical activity, like recess, not be withheld as a punishment. The proposal notes several circumstances in which that recommendation might not hold up, like concerns over student safety or time-sensitive academic issues. It also encourages using physical activity as a reward and says excessive exercise shouldn’t be used as a punishment.

Administrators had previously expressed concerns about “unintended consequences,” citing the recommendation against withholding physical activity. “I just think it really begins to limit some of the options that are available to teachers and principals,” Brenda Koch, who oversees SD2 principals, said at another committee meeting Tuesday.

Nice work School Health Advisory Committee! Don’t withhold physical activity as punishment? Gold star. Use it as a reward? Gold star #2! Don’t use physical activity as punishment? SWEET (and about time…)!

However, there are still those that disagree – talking to you Brenda Koch. Of course a policy such as the one proposed limits options – THAT’S THE POINT (sorry for the all caps – did I mention that I am a little PO’d?). Removing options that are detrimental to the development, learning, well-being and happiness of kids is a step in the right direction. A BIG step.

OK, on to exhibit A and the concrete, real-life reason for the title and content of this post. Please take a look at the ‘Formal Discipline Notice’ below (all identifying information redacted for anonymity).


First, please note that I think kids punching each other on the playground is not a good thing and certainly needs to be dealt with. My issue lies with the unnatural consequences (see what I did there?) that were applied to the grade 2 boy in question. Please direct your attention to:

3) will miss all recesses and gym on Monday.

Second, I get the fact that the young man misbehaved at recess and therefore needs a consequence that reminds him of the rules of recess. But taking it away? How about having him walk with a supervisor for a recess or two, pointing out and discussing all the kids behaving appropriately and having fun. Certainly have him discuss playground rules with his parents/ guardians and come up with some conflict resolution strategies and maybe a contract for recess time. However, kids have little enough activity at school as it is – don’t take that away – it’s counterproductive to what (I think) you are trying to do!

Third, and leaving aside the ‘gym’ misnomer/slur for the moment, why does the punishment involve missing curricular time in the most important (is that biased of me?) subject in school?


So, if I don’t return my library book, I lose a Language Arts class?

If I stuff a kid in a locker at lunch time, I should miss science for a week?

How about if I throw a pencil at the ceiling (you know you can make them stick, right?) I miss 1 mathematics class for each pencil thrown?

Make sense?

Of course not. Then why do we still have those among us who’s knee-jerk reaction is to take away ‘gym’ (and therein lies part of the problem – language indicates value and values) as some sort of panacea for misbehaviour in any part of the school day? In the context of this ‘discipline notice’ the boy in question only gets 3, 30 minute physical education blocks a week as it is.

Just. STOP.

Physical Education is a (vastly important) curricular area.

Physical Education is not a privilege to be denied as punishment.

Yes, Brenda, you should find other options.





16 Comments on “Unnatural Consequences

  1. To be honest if we take the time to connect with students, let them take part in creating the classroom, recess etc code of conduct (May call it something different) seems to truly help with difficult situations with students. Bottom line is school is much much more than LA and math… it’s about the whole child and our job as educators is to support the development of the whole person and that includes the social, emotional, physical etc. As for consequences my experience with students is the more they feel connected and feel like they have a say in things they take more responsibility and that has helped me immensely with dealing with challenges. Just my few thoughts! Thank u for sharing this Doug!!

  2. Pingback: Natural Consequences – Part 2 – purposefulmovement

  3. Pingback: Natural Consequences – Part 1 – purposefulmovement

  4. Anyone remember the old Hulk TV show? “You won’t like me when I’m angry…” Well, I like this angry (yet thoughtful) response! Teachers, stay ANGRY about this topic! It’s a righteous anger that can give us the opportunity to educate our fellow classroom teachers on the nature of our subject matter (and by proxy, the education of the whole child!).

  5. Pingback: The PE Playbook – March 2018 Edition – drowningintheshallow

  6. Thank you Doug, love this post! Similar to Shay’s question above, this is often the question we hear most (what to do instead). I know you stated that it is contextual, but are you aware of a list that already exists that you would recommend- sort of like a menu of choices? Teachers are often looking for these concrete actions. Perhaps another blog post?! 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment Alison! Hmmm, I am not aware of one, but perhaps it is time to create one? Great idea! Maybe I’ll put it out to the #physed community of Twitter and see if we can compile a menu like you suggest.

      • That would be fantastic Doug! I think it is very much needed! Look forward to seeing what those in the field come up with. Please keep me posted. Alison

      • Hi again Doug! Just wondering if the #physed community had any insightful suggestions for alternatives? this is very timely with some work we are doing here in Hamilton! Thanks!

  7. I complete agree with you. How do you deal with consequences in your class when a student isn’t following directions? This question isn’t directly related to your blog but curious about your strategies.

    • Thanks for the comment Shay! Consequences are very contextual for me: class, activity , student, etc. lots of variables! I treat management a bit like reffing – infraction, ‘tweet’, clear consequence (timeout bench, thinking card, etc.), back in the game.

  8. This is awesome! Not so awesome that PE is being taken away as a punishment, but awesome you are bringing attention to the fact that this is still happening in our schools! It’s deplorable!

Come on, MOVE me!

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