being a teacher, being me, classroom management, new year, punishment, Uncategorized

So How Do You Manage Your Classroom When You Don’t Punish?

image from etsy


Following the debate over public behavior charts, many people wondered what they could do in its place to still keep students engaged and on track?  I referred to a few posts but then realized that I did not have just one post that laid out exactly what I do in my own room, tips and ideas are in many different places.  And then I realized, I don’t really have one system because my approach changes every year depending on the needs of the students and the type of community we strive to make.  And yet, there are threads that run through every year with my students of what we do.

  • I don’t set the rules.  The students know how to do school, in fact, by 5th grade they are experts at it.  So instead of me telling them what the rules of the room is, I ask them to make them.  They discuss expectations in their table groups and then share with the class.  Nothing is written down on paper but instead we get a feel for what type of classroom we want.
  • We create a vision.  Every year, I ask the students to create a vision of the room.  Sometimes a theme emerges and other times it is just our hopes and dreams.  This is one of the first steps in our community building.
  • We do community building all year.  Even on the last day of school we are trying to create family, and so we do challenges throughout the year, we have “huddles” (meetings led by me or students), we discuss how our room is doing, we change our rules, we set up new expectations, we sometimes even call people out.  Building community is not a beginning of the year thing, it is an all the time thing.
  • We do challenges together.  The very first day we do a bloxes challenge simply so I can get the students working together, this has to do with seeing them grow together and how they function without my guidance.  I love what this simple challenge shows me about the students.
  • When a problem arises, I consider my option before speaking.  Rather than call out a student for misbehaving I often pull them aside, ask them to leave the room to think about it, or do a quick check in.  Humor also gets me far in many situations.
  • When a larger problem arises, I stop if I can.  Often when a students is very, very angry, it needs my intervention or if more than one student is involved.  There is a root to the anger and something needs to be done to uncover it.  While it is very hard to stop what you are doing if you are the one passing out the information, often my students are engaged in a self-driven project r investigation.  This therefore frees me up to discuss/deescalate situations.  Not always, but often.
  • Engagement matters.  If my students are engaged, they misbehave less.  So if behaviors seem to be out of control it is often because of what we are doing.  If we need to stop, reevaluate, and re-think whatever we are doing then we do just that.  Yes, there is curriculum we need to do, but there are many ways to get through it.
  • I ask the students point blank what is going on.  I used to assume I knew why a child was misbehaving, now I ask them instead.  If its because they are bored, I dig deeper.  If it because of some other reason, we find the time to figure it out, even if it means for now they sit and take a breather for a bit.
  • I ask the students how they think their day is going.  If a child seems off, I can guarantee I am not the only one that notices.  That child, more often than not, is acutely aware of it as well.  So why not take this opportunity to build a deeper relationship?  If a child is acting out, there is a reason, we have to try to find the time to work with them and uncover it.
  • I look for the good.  I used to get so fixated on all of the things that were going wrong in the room, all of the “naughty” things a child kept doing that I forgot to see all of the good.  I now remind myself to look at the moments of kindness, the hard work, the laughter and learning that happens within a room on a daily basis.  I hold that up higher in my mind than the bad.  Sometimes it is all about mindset.
  • Every day is a new day.  Rather than label my students, I try to wipe the slate clean every day (of course, this is easier said than done).  Just like I want a new chance every day, I afford that to my students as well.
  • There are consequences, but they make more sense.  When I tell people I don’t punish they assume kids get away with whatever they want in our room, but that is not it at all.  There are consequences yes, but they are not meant to publicly shame a child, but rather to have them reflect and work on their behavior.  This can certainly still be viewed as punishment in the eyes of the child, but I do try to have a growth opportunity for them instead of just a  one action fits all solution.

In the end, I believe student motivation is a huge part of why students behave in a certain way in our rooms.  In fact, so much so, that I wrote about it in my book, “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students.”  I therefore leave you with an excerpt from the book to help you peek into my brain some more.

Not punishing students does not mean letting things slide or letting them walk all over you. It simply means handling situations calmly and figuring out the “why” behind the behavior and then working on that rather than enforcing a set of rules. How you react changes from situation to situation — something that’s much more difficult to do when you have cut rules into stone the first week of school.

Much of misbehavior comes from students’ perception of control within the classroom. That perception also affects their intrinsic motivation for wanting to be successful participants. A problem with punishment and reward is that it often only motivates in the short term. And yet many teachers do not know how else to get students to behave. I certainly was not consistently successful until I realized that the problem wasn’t the students, it was more often the curriculum and how I taught it. Meaning, it was really me. While I may not be the one who decides what to teach, I am most certainly the one who decides HOW to teach it. If I thought that mostly lecturing (which even put me to sleep in

college) was going to capture the imaginations of 9-year olds, then I was in the wrong job. So I began to think and learn a lot more about motivating learners.

My lessons in motivation

Here is what I know about motivation from shifting my own teaching practice:

  • Choice matters. When students choose not just what they will do for a project but also what they would like to learn about (within some boundaries), you get buy-in. This continues to be one of the most simple and exciting realizations I have experienced.
  • Motivation is contagious. When one student gets excited and has an opportunity to share that enthusiasm, the contagion spreads. My students get to blog about projects, we have huddles where we share, and we are a bit louder than we used to be. But guess what? Those loud noises are usually indicators that my students are super excited about something inside those boundaries I mentioned.
  • Punishment/reward systems stifle learning. This short-term approach to motivation proved to be more harmful than helpful. It created a toxic learning atmosphere. Now we have class parties when we feel we want one. I have lunch with all my students several times a month because they ask me to. No one is excluded from anything. When homework doesn’t get done (I have limited homework when kids don’t get enough time to do it in class or they don’t use their time well), I ask them how they plan to fix it, and most students choose to do it at recess. This is fine by me; they are free to go out and play if they choose.
  • Be excited yourself. The fastest way for kids to lose interest is if you are bored. I faced up to the fact that I hated some of the things I taught and how I taught them (goodbye grammar packets). Something had to change. Now my students joke about how I almost always introduce something new with “I am so excited to do this…”
  • Consider outside factors. Some students have a lot more on their plates than we could ever fully imagine. We need to ask questions, get to know our students, and be a listening ear. When my husband lost his job, it was hard for me to be excited about everyday life. I was too busy worrying. I understand how outside worry can influence the way we function within our school. I’m sure you do, too.
  • Manage and guide what’s in front of you. We will never be able to control what our students go home to, but we sure can guide what happens in the room. Good teachers choose to create a caring environment where all students feel safe. Students let their guards down and feel it is okay to work hard and have fun. It’s the first essential step toward building a learning community.

And finally, read more about old and new ways to deal with common forms of misbehavior in this chart I’ve put together.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

19 thoughts on “So How Do You Manage Your Classroom When You Don’t Punish?”

  1. I’m all for giving students more ownership! Good read. You may also want to read Teaching with Love & Logic. It has a lot of the same ideas and I’ve used it with my own children too. It’s a fun way to have kids learn and decrease your own stress.

  2. Again…it makes much more sense to choose communication over name and shame. All these things you do are what I am doing too…and it does work…my community of learners enjoy the discussions and choices they have regarding how we run the classroom.

  3. Reblogged this on LearningMYway and commented:
    Another post from Pernille…the discussion continues regarding classrooms which use the creation of a community of learners over rewards and punishments. Brilliant.

  4. From my soon-to-be published memoir (If I Survived Thirty Years of Teaching, So Can You: Three Decades of Missteps, Mishaps, and Murderers). I have a friend who used a poster with cars moving along it to indicate student behavior. Rather than walk to the poster each time, she kept index cards on her desk and used a hole punch to indicate transgressions, then moved the cars at the end of the day. One day she said to a student, “If you don’t stop that, I’m going to punch you again.” The superintendent was walking past her door, and he turned around, came back, and looked at her with wide eyes.

  5. Great concept. It was a change for me to move from one particular kind of management style to more of what you describe here. It takes work to not get pulled back in, because most of my school still uses the old style. Outstanding article.

  6. Now, that you teacher 7th grade, do you have multiple classes a day? If so, do you have each class write rules or do you combine? Thanks.

    1. Each class will come up with their own for it to still be authentic, plus my class sizes range from 17 to 26 so that makes a difference too in what they envision.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s