'Let's talk about classroom management #ESL. #clilrocks,' photo (c) 2013, Lui Palacios - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Anyone who has regularly read this blog or my books know that I’m a big believer in “positive,” not “punitive,” classroom management strategies (see The Best Posts On Classroom Management).

At the same time, however, there are some occasions that negative consequences are called for — for “serious” offenses and for those times (and for those students) when all the positive classroom management tools in one’s toolbox aren’t working.

A key issue, though, is how — in those situations — can we maximize the chances of making a negative consequence part of a positive classroom management strategy….

I’ve written extensively about one way to do it — see a previous post (see Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”? and in my books where, in one, I devoted an entire chapter to that particular strategy).

Another way is doing what a number of teachers do — when an offense is committed, asking the student what consequence they think is appropriate.

Recently, though, I’ve tried a different version of that second strategy — instead of waiting for the offense to happy, engaging with students in advance about what negative consequence would get them to think twice about committing the offense.

Two of my students — good kids — have had a very difficult time controlling themselves. For months, I had tried every tool in my toolbox, but nothing seemed to work.

Then, in an individual and private conversation with each, I asked how much time out of our fifty-five minute class they felt they were focused on what we were studying. Each of them replied — quite accurately — about twenty minutes. We sort of repeated what we had gone over in previous meetings — talking about what they wanted to do in the future, how self-control and “grit” was important in making those future dreams happen, etc. I shared my frustration that we had tried many things in the past, including many of their suggestions — changing seats, stress balls, etc. — and nothing had seemed to work. I told them I wanted to continue to be flexible and positive, and it had also reached the point that I wanted to explore negative consequences.

I asked what would be a negative consequence that they thought would deter them from their typical misbehavior — what would they remember to keep in mind that would make them think twice about acting out in class? Both identified an immediate call to their parents, and we worked out how I would be able to get a hold of them. Then, I asked them what positive behavior interventions they thought had been more effective, and asked each to develop a sequence of escalating interventions. They each said they would like to try a permanent seat change (which we had tried before) to see if that would help, and they chose the seat. They said if they were acting out, they would want to be sent out of class for a few minutes, which I agreed to (though I told each that I would rather they took responsibility and went out on their own when they felt they were “losing it” instead of waiting for me to tell them).

If those didn’t work, they then said I should immediately call home and tell their parents how they were behaving.

Since that conversation, we’ve done the seat changes, and neither has chosen to go outside or had to be sent outside, and I’ve also not had to call home, either. It appears that it took them identifying a potential negative consequence in order for the positive strategies to work.

It’s not a strategy I would use all the time, but it’s just another tool in my teacher’s toolbox.

I guess in classroom management a positive plus a potential negative can sometimes equal a positive….

I know teachers have used this kind of process in developing class rules and consequences, but the idea of trying it in advance individually was a new one for me…