Consequences.

Yesterday,  I attended a second year teacher induction class in my district.   Each of my induction classes focuses on different aspects of teaching through the lens of the Danielson Framework.   The class yesterday focused on the classroom environment.

Throughout the course of the session, the facilitator had teachers discuss the importance of different aspects of the classroom.   As I expected, most teachers recognize the importance of respect, routines, and the various other elements of the classroom environment.  With differences in wording and personal experience, these elements of a classroom environment transcend content areas and grade levels.   We teach students, not content, and its great to have these discussions from time to time to remind ourselves of this truth.

Among the items discussed, one element really stuck out for me.   When it came time to discuss expectations and consequences, I noticed a disconnect in the room.   All of us have positive expectations (respect, responsibility, honesty, etc.) that communicate that students can uphold these values in their actions, but the vast range of consequences described in the room seem to communicate a slightly negative tone.  For instance, an expectation of respect is balanced by a consequence that can be phrased, “If you don’t be respectful…”  While this difference is not huge, I feel like students can pick up on the change in tone and mindset.

When I thought back to my understanding of consequences, I recalled that consequences can be positive and negative.  In fact, a positive consequence probably has more strength for promoting expectations than negative consequences.  Even with PBIS programs that offer incentives, usually there’s more detailed explanations of expectations and negative consequences over the positive incentives.  It made me share the following idea with the class:

I feel like consequences are usually viewed as events that will occur as the result of misbehavior.  I’m wondering how different our classrooms and our schools would be if we stressed positive consequences for meeting or exceeding expectations over negative consequences.   Instead a gentle reminder to warn a student about misbehavior, what if we emphasized giving individual compliments when a student is meeting expectations?   Instead of a phone call home for continued misbehavior, what if we stressed that we will make positive phone calls home when students are meeting expectations over many days?   Instead of mentioning referrals to the office for repeated infractions, what if we stressed to students the ability to earn a positive referral to the office where the assistant principal can personally recognize a student’s strong character?

It’s a strange idea and it might just be the second year teacher in me being an idealist, but I wonder how different my classroom will look as I try to bring approach into my teaching.  If a whole school embraced this philosophy (emphasizing the positives over the negatives), how different would students be after one year?

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