Thanks again to Jo Bailey for her fabulous ‘Part 1’ guest post. ‘Part 2’ of Natural Consequences (a response to Unnatural Consequences) comes to you from Andy Vasily (who has guest posted for me before!).
In reading Doug’s blog post, it brings several thoughts to my mind related to the archaic, punitive, lead as I have been led, type thinking that many leaders and teachers still unfortunately hold on to at the very core of who they are and the work that they do in education. You can understand that leaders and teachers do need to think carefully about the interventions that they use (and endorse) in order to more effectively manage students who misbehave and/or have difficulty following classroom and school rules.
However, there is definitely an element of ‘we better protect our asses in case something goes wrong’ that is happening here in regards to the reasons why leaders like Brenda Koch have reservations about supporting policy proposals such as this. Leaders, like Brenda, still operate from a ‘protect me and us’ mentality on a daily basis, instead of positively moving toward more pro-active and empowering solutions when dealing with potentially troublesome students.
So, in knowing what we now know about the power of movement, disciplining with dignity, and ensuring that building relationships with students is at the heart and core of what we do in education, those who still think that punishing students by taking away recess, physical education time, and other critically important social-emotional type activities (field trips, excursions etc.), are operating from such a traditionalistic, out of date and broken model of thinking that just doesn’t work anymore.
As my role in education has shifted to more of a coaching/consulting role when working with teachers, we often talk our way through creating more efficient structures and routines that support student learning rather than fall into the trap of blaming students for not being able to sit still, follow instructions, interact with others positively, or stay engaged with their learning.
So, when teachers need to see more examples of options available to them in regards to how to better manage students who misbehave, perhaps the more pressing question that should come to mind is:
“How do I manage the routines and structures that I have in place to ensure my students are less likely to get off track?”. In particular, how do I need to structure the transition times in my classes?
Evidence shows that kids are more likely to misbehave and cause problems during lengthy and unorganized transitions between tasks/activities and lessons. Rather than continually reacting to bad behavior and stressing out about how to deal with it, teachers can instead look at refining their structures and routines to ensure more of a smooth flow to their teaching.
And lastly, the importance of INVESTING in building strong relationships with students should never be underestimated. Invest your time and your energy even more than you feel is necessary because human connection can go a hell of a long way when working to bring out the very best in young people.
My friend, Andy Dutton (@PEAndyD), told a story during his opening keynote address at a recent workshop we were running together in Poland. He talked about working with a student much earlier in his career who was belligerent, disrespectful and arrogant. He admits to giving up on the relationship early on in the school year and coming down on him with an iron fist, often sending him out of the gym. One day, as Andy describes, the student started misbehaving again and being very disrespectful. Andy admits to losing it on him…. then the unthinkable happens. The boy pulls out what appears to be a hand gun. Andy and all the students hit the floor in a panic. The kid laughs as the gun actually turns out to be a toy bb gun. Andy then sets in immediate motion the boy being expelled from school. The next day the boy was expelled and Andy never saw him again.
Why Andy told this story was that, even though this happened nearly 15 years ago, he has never once stopped thinking about the fact that he never attempted to get to know the boy or invest in building a relationship with him. He still thinks about how much of a difference he might have made in this student’s life had he actually attempted to build that relationship and get to know him and what he was going through. To give a bit more back story, the boy was held in a refugee camp for several years in Africa before immigrating to Australia. He was then given a new life and sent to Andy’s school. Imagine what that student had gone through? Imagine the horrors he had witnessed?
Although this story might seem way off topic as it relates to Doug’s post, it’s not! When our default setting is to react with anger at our students and discipline them in traditionally punitive ways by taking away things that they so badly need (recess, physical activity etc.), we also take away the lenses of compassion, empathy, and support that these young people so badly need to experience life and school through.
It is our responsibility, as educators, to model to students how to work through issues in a proactive way in order to ultimately empower them to be more responsible for their own actions.
Instead of asking “How do I deal with troublesome kids?” or “What options are available to me when dealing with these kids?”, we might need to reflect on how deeply we try to connect with these kids and reach them in a way that lets them know they are cared for and supported. We might need to think about the structure of our teaching and what we might need to change, rather than the punishment we’ll deliver when kids misbehave. When we work to refine these fundamentally important areas in our teaching practice, it can have a positive impact on the behavior of our students. As well, it can make a huge difference to their social and emotional well-being as we are genuinely supporting them in ways that will benefit them now and in the long run.
Please feel free to add your thoughts on ‘natural consequences’ in the comments below, or contact me to contribute a post to this series!