Be the change, discipline, punishment, students

So I Gave Up Punishment and My Students Still Behaved

image from icanread

When I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress last summer I mistakenly assumed that all posts would seamlessly transfer.  I have since found the error in my thinking and have decided to re-post some of my more discussed posts.  This post first appeared in June of 2011  but still rings true to me.

Three years ago I gave up my inane punishment plans.  Out went the sticks, the cups, the posters, the pointed fingers and definitely the lost recesses.  No more check-marks, or charts to explain what that check-mark meant, no more raised voice telling a child they better behave or else.  Some thought I was crazy, I thought I was crazy, and yet, here I am now a complete convert.  So what happened?

Well, a lot of conversations.  If just one child was off that day, disruptive, disrespectful and so on, it was usually handled through a quiet conversation off to the side or in their ear.  Sometimes we went in the hallway.  I tried to limit the times I called out their names and I spoke to them as human beings.  No more teacher from the top, I am going to get you if you don’t listen, but rather, “Do you see what your behavior is doing for your learning?”  Believe it or not, framed in a way where they understood what the loss was = the learning, there was better behavior or at least an attempt to behave.  And that was a central part of my plan; make the learning something they didn’t want to miss.  Most kids do not want to miss recess because they have a lot of fun and hang out with their friends, which is why it is such a favored punishment.  Hit them where it hurst kind of thing.  So I decided to make my classroom fun, exciting, and collaborative.  That meant that students actually wanted to participate and not miss out.

Sometimes my whole class was off; jumpy, jiggly, or falling asleep.  In the past I would have yelled, droned on, and probably lectured about the importance of school.  No surprise there that usually didn’t work at all.  So then I would just get mad, tighten the reins and exert my control.  Yeah, didn’t work so well.  Now I instead change my teaching and learning.  While we may have had certain activities planned for that day they are modified to require movement and discussion or totally changed if I can.  The learning goals usually stays the same, the method of delivering them doesn’t.  Often this takes care of a lot of behavior that would have led to a check-mark before.  And I think that is central to this whole thing; bad behavior often comes from disengagement and boredom.  So when we change our classrooms to give students more outlet for their energy, bad behavior reduces.  My worst days were the days that I hadn’t considered my students needs enough, the days were there was too much sitting down and not enough choice.

In the beginning it was hard.  I so instinctually wanted to say “Move your stick!” that I actually had to grind my teeth.  With time it got easier.  The students knew when they were misbehaving because we discussed it.  If the whole class or a majority of students were off we had a class meeting.  Sounds like a lot of time spent on talking?  Yes, but I would have been spending the same time yelling at the kids and doling out punishment.  The kids got used to it and many of them relished the fact that they were given a voice in their behavior and how to fix it, rather than a dictation from me.  Kids started keeping each other in line as well, asking others to be quiet when need be or to work more focused.  They knew what the expectations were for the different learning settings because we had set them together.  This was our classroom, not mine.

So did it work?  Absolutely, I would never go back.  I don’t take away recess but have it reserved to work with the kids that need it, I make fewer phone calls home, and I rarely send a kid to the office.  I am sure there are tougher classes out there than mine, but this is your every day average American elementary class.  We have the talkers, the interrupters, the disrespectful, the fighters, and the sleepers.  And it works for them as well.  The kids feel part of something big, and they let me know on  just how much it means to them.  They relish the voice they have, even when it comes to their own consequences.  They relish that rewards are no longer personal but rather classroom-wide whenever I feel like it.  Kids are not singled out for horrible behavior and so I don’t have “that kid” that everyone knows will get in trouble.  Instead we are all there as learners being rewarded through our community rather than punished.  I remember the relief I felt when I placed my old punishment cups in the staff lounge and finally let go of my old ways.  To this day I  hope no one picked them up.



classroom expectations, classroom management, community, discipline, punishment, student choice, student driven, Student-centered

Don’t Act Like An Idiot – My 5th Graders Make Our Rules

image from icanread

Silence…not something that happens in a room full of 27 students.

Then one hand cautiously rises, then another, but still mostly silence…

A minute ago I had asked my students, “What do we do in this classroom when you don’t behave well?”

This was now the reaction I faced; confused looks and silence.  4 years ago, my students would have prattled off a list: we write our name on the boards, you give us a checkmark, we lose recess, we lose free time, we call home, we go to the principal’s office.   All very common consequences in classrooms.  But now, 4 years later, I have unintentionally stumped my students.

One student finally says, “Well, you expect us to not act like idiots, so we don’t.”

Another student jumps in, “Yeah, and if we do something stupid then you tell us to fix it.”

And a third, “So we just talk about it and figure it out.”

Aha!  We discuss their behavior and then we fix it in whichever way it needs to be fixed.

I threw away punishment because I always punished the same students.  It also never solved the problem but just added a grudge between the student and myself.  Today, some question whether students can truly act well when you don’t punish.  When they don’t know the consequences of their behavior.  Some think that no punishment equals no rules, no perimeters, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

No punishment means no public shaming, no loss of privileges, no loss of recess unless we need private time to talk.  It doesn’t mean no structure, no expectations, or a free for all of student chosen behavior.  It means I expect my students to make the classroom rules.  I expect them to behave well.  I expect them to make good choices.  I don’t have a perfect classroom, but I have kids that try.  I have kids that know what the expectation is.  I have kids that make a choice everyday, whether to be active participants in our learning journey, or whether to act like idiots.  They don’t always make the right choice, but if they don’t, then we deal with it on a situational basis.

So no, I don’t need to punish my students into behaving, and not because they are all angels (ha, far from it) but because as a classroom we have decided to learn, to share, to behave like a typical 5th grader.

Don’t act like idiots, in true 5th grade language, and represent.  Those are some of the rules for our classroom.  I din’t make them but I do give them to grow and become part of our culture.  Most kids know how to act in school, it is time we gave them our trust and a chance to prove it.

Edit:  As you can see from a comment, the word idiot can be taken to something much deeper than is its intention here.  When my students and I use the word “idiot” it is meant to convey a 5th grader that deliberately chooses to do something they shouldn’t, not someone with an intellectual disability.  I never mean to offend but here I chose to let the word stand since it portrays the conversation we had. 

Be the change, being a teacher, discipline, punishment, reflection, students

Put Your Name on the Board – A Tale of Why I Gave Up Classroom Discipline Systems

image from icanread

When I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress last summer I mistakenly assumed that all posts would seamlessly transfer.  I have since found the error in my thinking and have decided to re-post some of my more discussed posts.  This post first appeared in June of 2011 but still rings true to me. 

Put your name on the board! Those words spoken in a very stern voice accompanied by a teacher look was enough to whip the toughest student into shape. Except when it didn’t which for me was enough times to make me wonder. Could my discipline systems really be thrown out and replaced with nothing? Would chaos then reign supreme?

If you had come by my room last year you would have seen them. Those sticks in the cups or the names on the boards with checks, sometimes double checks and plenty of stern looks to go around. I was doing exactly what I had been taught in school, exerting my control as the main authority figure and if students misbehaved, well, then there was some form of punishment. Oh don’t worry; there were plenty of rewards as well. If students didn’t move their stick or get their name on the board for a week then their name got entered into drawing for pizza with me. At the end of the month if they didn’t have their name in my book for not doing their homework, they could also enter their name, and then I would finally draw names and five lucky students would have pizza with me. Confused? I was! I could hardly keep check Of all those names, checks, and punishments.

However, last year I realized something after reading Alfie Kohn; I knew I had to change. By perpetually focusing negative energy on the same students, who, lets face it, are most often the ones having their name singled out somehow already, I was indeed just adding more to their self doubt. While I believe in discipline for all students, I also believe in compassion and that philosophy simply was not fitting in with my chosen system. So I did as many teachers may do; I threw it all out. However, instead of hunting for a new system, I decided to detox myself, start this year with no system for reward and punishment and instead strive to create a classroom community where students just know what the expectation is.

I was petrified that first month. I run a tough classroom in my expectations for my students and I know that if you do not set the tone those first weeks, it can be detrimental to the rest of the year. And yet I held strong in my conviction that even the more unruly students would eventually figure this out through repeated conversations and respect. And boy, did we talk. We talked about expectations, rules, how to speak to one another, and what to do when something goes wrong. A lot of the time, I just listened to these amazing students come up with solutions to problems, listened to them explain how they envisioned our classroom, how they wanted fourth grade to be. And I was in awe; these kids knew how to behave without me telling them over and over. And they certainly would figure it out without me alternating punishment and rewards.

So after the first month I started to breathe again. I let our new system flex itself and watched the students help keep the classroom stabile. Sure, there are times when I think ooh if I just had a way to “punish” it would fix this and this and then I realize that perhaps I just need to find some time to speak to that particular student. Now instead of an exasperated tone and a system to keep them in check, we discuss, we try to fix, and we reevaluate. I don’t run the classroom with a complicated system of checks and balances, rewards and punishments, but rather with an atmosphere of community, of belonging. Is it perfect? No, but neither am I, nor my students. I am just glad I believed in my own skills enough to realize that perhaps, just perhaps, my students would know how to behave without me rewarding them for it. Once again, they blew away all of my expectations.


being a teacher, classroom management, discipline, punishment

Red Cup, Green Cup, I Even Had a Blue Cup – Why I Threw Out My Sticks in A Cup

image from icanread

I remember the first time I displayed my classroom management cups; I was so proud.  Although the idea was not my own, far from it, I felt that here was something I could embrace, here was something I could stand behind and really make my own.  My old system of putting names on the board had proven to be too complicated, I had given up on it and so had searched for something new.  Inspiration struck in another classroom and I too had gone to Target and purchased my cups; big fancy tropical drink cups.

The system was so easy; a stick with your name on it starts out in green, when you misbehave you move it to yellow – warning! – and then when you disobey again you move into red.  But that wasn’t enough, oh no, I needed another level of bad, another level of punishment; enter the blue cup!  The blue cup was an immediate phone call home to parents.  It didn’t matter what we were doing,  blue infractions meant stop the class and make that phone call in front of all of the class to tell your parents just why you were calling home.  Proponents of in-class embarrassment can clap their hands with glee here.  It was great!  Not only did I get to call students out in front of their classmates to move their stick,  I also got to have the cloud of warning hanging over them all day, and that stick of theirs could never move backwards in a day, only forward so the whole class knew exactly who had been bad that day with absolutely no chance to redeem themselves, power to the teacher!

With some kids the system was great, they misbehaved so often I didn’t even have to speak the words, we had a hand motion and a certain look that told them exactly what they needed to do.  Move that stick or else!  Or else… or else I publicly humiliate you in front of your peers, or else I make sure that if your day didn’t start out poor it is now guaranteed to be.  Or else I call you out for any little thing because I am so focused on you now with that stick in the yellow cup.  Those cups were central to the power in the room.  Their placement was at the front of the class right by the white board where everybody could see them.  No slinking to the back to move your stick, oh no, get up here and do it.

So what were these stick moving infractions because they must have been bad, right?  Well, to the teacher I was then, where it all had to do with keeping the control, they were definite deal breakers.  They were kids speaking out of turn, blurting out, or not paying attention.  Kids coming in late from recess or not having their supplies ready after they had been asked.  How about leaving your homework at home and then forgetting to come in during recess to do it.  Or if I was in a bad mood it might be a snarky comment or the attempt at a joke; move your stick!  You see, there was no rhyme or reason, some days it was easy to move your stick, other days I let things slide because I was in a better mood.  And yes, some kids moved their sticks more than others because they just couldn’t sit still, because they just couldn’t get it together, because they were that kid that just keeps getting in trouble because we are so focused on them and their misbehavior.  Poor kids.

So  I stopped when I realized, too late, how much damage this system had created.  Students had relinquished the power to me, sure, but it was because of fear not out of  respect.  They knew I was the boss because I made sure they were at the edge of their seats hoping to not be called to the front.  I had created the type of classroom I swore I would never teach in and it had all been so easy.  I knew I had to change when I saw their self-esteem suffer.  I knew I had to change when it was the same kid day in and day out moving that stick.  I knew I had to change when those parents didn’t answer the phone call because they knew it was not good news.  I knew I had to change when I couldn’t recognize the teacher I saw in the mirror.  So I threw out the cups, threw out the sticks, took a deep breath and swore off all systems.  No more sticks, no more calling out, no more cups.  And guess what…the kids behaved.  The kids started to have more fun, to show respect, to pay attention.  Was it perfect?  Of course not, this is real life not a movie.  But by throwing out the cups we shifted the power to be more balanced.  The room became theirs again and I got to fulfill the role as teacher, not just punisher.  I got to show the kids that I loved my job and more importantly that I loved having them in my life and that will always be more important that a cup and a stick.   I have never looked back.

choices, classroom management, discipline, punishment, students

If We Would Just Stop Talking We Might Learn Something

Image from icanread

Note: After publishing this post today, its original title “If They Could Just Sit Still They Might Learn Something” didn’t seem to fit it anymore.  After all, that title once again puts the blame on the students.  Thus this new title which focuses on where the problem lies; within me.

You know the group of students; those impulsive, blurter-outers that poke each other during class and never quite seem to be listening to what you are doing.  Those kids that are in every class who the more we yell, the less they do.  Those kids I thought I had figured out until recently.  Well those kids have been teaching me quite the lessons lately.  Those kids have reminded me why I changed my teaching style in the first place and now I stand renewed, refocused, and definitely re-humbled.

First lesson; Don’t assume they don’t know something.  After a few days lessons with some students I kept thinking that their gaps were huge, that their knowledge was lacking, that they had missed out on so much.  Until I started to pay attention.  Then instead of whole concepts missing, I realized there were small misconceptions that needed to be tweaked, things that needed to be defined, items that should be refreshed.  It wasn’t that they were missing entire units, rather that some of their remembering was just a little off.

Second lesson; Talking more will not teach them more.  I kept droning on trying to cover everything that I thought they had missed or needed reinforced; is it any wonder that they grew more and more restless?  When raising my voice didn’t seem to change the situation, it dawned on me that I needed to stop talking.  Let them work, switch up the task, and stop hogging the lime light.  Have mini projects, get them moving, even use mini whiteboards, anything to make them active.  Switch it up!

Third lesson; Give them time to think.  I was so excited when one student knew the answer that I called on them to be more efficient.  That way we could cover more material since all I was looking for was the answer anyway.  When we take away students’ time to think though we rob them of the chance to explore their procedures, to gain confidence, and to learn something.  It is not about the answer, it is about how you get there.

Fourth lesson; Bring back the fun.  Often when faced with students who seem to be struggling with concepts we switch to drill and kill mode.  We take away the “fun” projects because that wont teach them enough.  Unfortunately those projects and hands-on activities are just what we need.  These students have already been taught something the traditional way, now lets think of another way to explore it.  Anything hands-on activity always seems better than just more and more practice.

Fifth lesson; Let them teach.  When a student gets something, let them explain how they did it.  Let them get the confidence they need to speak to a whole group of peers.  Let them boast a little to build confidence.  Don’t just tell them, “Good job,” let them have their moment because perhaps that hasn’t happened very often.

Sixth Lesson; Don’t punish.  When students were blurting out and drowning me in side conversation, my brain immediately switched to consequence mode.  Amazing how it still lurks below the surface, ingrained somewhere, even now after almost 2 years with no classroom punishment.  Instead of punishing though, I came up with a solution; a simple post it on their desk.  Now when they blurt out an answer or jab at each other they have to put down a tally mark.  I just make a check motion with my finger and they know, it is between the student and I.  Nothing is done with the amount of tallies, it is simply a way for them to see how much they blurt out.  Several students have already told me after two days of this that they cannot believe they blurt out so much.  Self-awareness beats punishment any day.

When students are loud, out of their seats or simply not focused, we tend to blame the student.  We tend to think that something is wrong with their concentration rather than looking inward and wondering what can we change about ourselves?  What can we change about our delivery?  And while these lessons are not a fix all plan, they are helping me teach these students better.  They are reminding me what it feels like to not understand something and still want to learn.  They are reminding me that I can be boring and dry as a teacher and that it has a direct effect on the students.  Once again, my students taught me something important and for that I am thankful.

being a teacher, discipline, discussion, students

But Wait, You Didn’t Tell Me I Wasn’t A Disappointment

Today I was embarrassed, so utterly left without words and ashamed that I didn’t know what to say.  A child did this to me and I deserved every moment of it.  That child and I had had an interaction more than 3 weeks ago where I had scolded him for improper video camera usage.  The task had been simple; film a short film telling me everything you know about a topic.  This child had decided to goof off and create bloppers and then forgotten to delete the evidence.  In my best teacher voice, I had reprimanded him and told him how very disaapointed in him I was.  I had then left it at that and dismissed him thinking nothing more of it.

Today, as he walked down the hallway, I stopped him to ask him about a rumor I had heard and whether it was true.  When he affirmed its validity I couldn’t help but tell him I was surprised he had been involved, that it seemed out of his nature to make such choices.  He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Well, Mrs. Ripp, I thought you didn’t care because you were disappointed in me.”  Confused, I asked him what he meant.  “You told me you were disappointed in me back in social studies…” 

And then it all clicked; this child had never been told that I was no longer disappointed.  This child, whom I care for deeply, had never been let off the hook but instead I had left him dangling, wondering where our relationship stood.  I stammered out a hurried reply about not being disappointed any longer and then walked away ashamed.  How could I have left him to think that for so many weeks?  How many times have I done this before?  How many other kids assume that I view them unfavorably because of how they have been spoken to?

So as I sit here defeated, I vow to change, to speak to these kids and then follow up.  When we use such heavy sentences as “I am disappointed in you” do we ever come back to tell them that we no longer feel that way?  Do we repair the void we create with our words or do we just let it grow?  As for this kid, I wrote him a note saying I was sorry.  What will you do if this happens to you?