A recent comment by an educator “Punishment by any name, even consequences, ruptures the safe & caring alliance that must be nourished at all costs between teacher & student”, made me take a step back. This resulted in my connecting with him, which resulted initially in a passionate discussion, but eventually, it resulted in connecting with an educator with an actual, practical plan rather than theories. Putting the conversation aside, I chose to reflect on my beliefs and understanding consequences.
The statement resonated in my mind, making me think, “a classroom without consequences, that maintaining a relationship is more important than consequences”. I disagree (obviously), I believe that relationships are key, actually that they are essential, not only in a classroom, but in life, and I understand that a learning environment should be more focused on learning and growing than on consequences and restrictions. However, I also believe that consequences add to the learning experience, that they build character, values and responsibility and that the possibility of consequences makes us think critically about our actions and comments before we present them.
There are many thoughts, ideas and theories that exist in relation to consequences and punishment. The camps that identify with each belief are well versed in their thoughts and ideas and can often present alternatives, and suggestions as to what to do, but most would agree that consequences exist in nature, which resulted in the term natural consequence. A simple example, if you put your hand on a red-hot stove element you’re going to get burned. The natural consequence is that you’re going to get hurt, you won’t be able to use your hand for a while. The learning experience is that one shouldn’t put their hand on a red-hot stove element.
This is great, if it weren’t dangerous or unprofessional to allow some natural consequences to occur, but that will be discussed in another post called Life without Consequences. In school we have consequences as do parents and in real life, many of these have transitioned away from the traditional punishment to what has been termed logical consequences. Logical consequences are not perfect but are the most applicable given a situation. An example would be that if someone is swearing at all of their peers that, if you have the power to ask the person to remove themselves until they are calm or willing to talk about what is bothering them. Some may not see it, but yes this is a consequence, the person is being asked to do something that they don’t want to and it is a reaction to an action. Is it logical, well I think it is, they are creating a negative and hostile environment and there are times when everyone else in the area may remove themselves, which would be natural. Therefore a consequence has been given that can take the place of the natural one, but a consequence none the less.
Consequences must exist, why, well they exist naturally, but we can’t always wait for it to occur naturally. Sometimes we can’t wait due to time constraints, but most often because inaction is either immoral, unprofessional or unethical. So how do we decide or determine a consequence? After speaking with many colleagues in the teaching profession, friends in the legal and social services fields and those in business. The largest advocating statements for having consequences in an educational setting are:
What are we teaching youth if they are not given consequences?
What kind of adults are produced from a setting that does not believe in consequences?
Lack of consequences, can result in lack of responsibility.
These statements raised the question, then what; in my experiences I have noticed and attempted to use the following criteria when determining, discussing and presenting consequences.
- A logical consequence is a real choice. Both options must be acceptable to the parties involved.
- Designing consequences to prevent specific misbehavior’s
- The consequence is related to the child’s behavior.
- The consequence must be gentle and firm. Make your voice pleasant and factual. Presenting in a loud or threatening form is punitive and in some aspects abusive.
- A consequence needs consistent follow-through.
- Consequences should be short term.
There are also some situations and occurrences when I may ask the student themselves, what a consequence for an misbehavior or action should be. During these times I also apply the above criteria. One last thing I do in my own classroom is to have the expectations listed within the classroom, as many other teachers do. However in addition to this, I also have the consequences of misbehavior’ displayed in the classroom, to be both informative and consistent. I have noticed that displaying the information is something the students I teach appreciate and will remind myself and others of.
Natural consequences occur, and when they are obvious children learn from them quickly. If they are not obvious we as educators and adults explain them and attempt to provide children with an understanding. However when it is too dangerous or negligent to allow natural consequences to occur, it can be necessary to use or implement logical consequences. Consequences are not about punishing a child and it is not always necessary to consequence a misbehavior. It is our professional and moral responsibility to teach children, to teach children about feelings, values, character and responsibility. To teach children to about living, functioning and surviving in “The Real World” and the real world has consequences . . .use appropriately.
Please feel free to comment and share your ideas, I would appreciate hearing the idea’s opinions and suggestions of others.