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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What are we teaching kids if they don't have consequences?

This will be a long post that is not politics, it's a different soapbox altogether. ;) Before I begin, I do want to clarify that this post is not directed at any one person or group of people. My children have had amazing teachers and we have been nothing but impressed with all of the growth they've made each year. I just didn't want anyone to think this post was written directed toward them, because it's not. 

Recently, it has been a big trend to move away from behavior management systems such as clip charts, Class Dojo, etc. I have been working on wrapping my head around this but am struggling to do so. For a brief moment, a few years ago, I almost did but then I dug into some research and reevaluated that notion. I understand the idea of shaming kids is not appropriate. I don't support that and I can't imagine doing such. I don't know anyone who does. I do believe that consistent consequences are important to teach for a number of reasons. Let's talk about those... First and foremost, can I apologize to my third grade classes for my awful behavior management? When I started teaching 12 years ago, we were in the age of cards and flipping them. I, like multiple others, had this system in my classroom. I'd have a kid flip a card, they'd get upset, I'd make them promise to make a better choice if I let them flip their card back, they'd flip back, the cycle would continue. My classroom was a ZOO. I hope and pray those kids were able to learn something in the chaos of my classroom. It was no fault of their own, but the kids quickly realized that I wasn't consistent with expectations and they had no real consequences due to that. Parents would come to conferences and have no idea behavior was an area of concern because I WAS NOT consistent in communicating it. In my third year, I moved to first grade and quickly realized that I needed to up my consistency. I felt that I had spent all of my time correcting behavior and waiting for kids to meet the expectations that I had set but not maintained, which again was no fault of their own and the fact is we have to much to do in a day to use so much time on a system that wasn't working.

My first year of first grade, I worked very hard on setting up a structured classroom and being consistent. I couldn't believe it....the kids listened and my classroom was so much more successful! The kids knew what the expectation was and understood what it meant when that expectation wasn't met. I'm not claiming it was a walk in the park, but it was SO much easier. I don't believe in public humiliation but I do believe that it is important to teach kids that every action has a consequence, whether that be good or bad.. I believe in positive reinforcement and use it. I use the idea that I have learned after the years of PD from PBIS of 4 to 1 for positive interactions. I actually try my hardest to have more of a 8 to 1 ratio. I view behavior in the same way I view all of the things I teach my students. We make a mistake and we learn from it, we don't just not address it and keep making the same mistakes. I personally use Class Dojo and love it. I have only had one or two parent complaints about the system in the 4 years I've been using it. Other than that, parents love the constant communication and the fact they can see how their kids are doing during the day.  I teach my students that we don't worry about the points of others and we don't talk about them. We are only focused on our own choices and points. 

My class also uses a belt system where I add a belt to their monsters on Friday depending on the points they've earned that quarter. At the end of each quarter, my class holds an auction where they cash in their points on "treasures" (I'm sure parents would agree ;)) and the points start again the next quarter. This helps the kids to set a goal for how many points they want to earn so they can "cash" them in for the next auction. Even the students with the lowest amounts of points are so happy to see their hard work pay off. We are entering an era where we highlight the effort and the mindset it takes to meet goals. We are highlighting work from students that shows effort in action. Why do we treat behavior so differently?

Here's the thing, the talk is always about the feelings of entitlement this generation of kids feels. If we take away consequences, aren't we just reiterating that there isn't a need to have responsibility for our actions? As with anything we teach, certain kids need modifications or an individualized approach. Currently, I have a student begging me to re-instate the behavior check sheet he had at his old school because "it helped him make good choices".  We have to take into account that certain students have home lives that are more difficult than others, which I think all the teachers I know do take into consideration. The fact is simple...consequences are a part of life. If we are trying to prepare our students for the real world, how can we expect them to do well if they never have any negative consequences? Think about your job, does your boss just stop giving you positive reinforcement when you've done something against the rules? I'm going to guess, no. Take a minute and think... when kids are making appropriate choices, they earn positive reinforcement, whatever that may be. If they are making poor choices, what will they learn if there is no consequence?  Isn't it our responsibility to help them learn how to be responsible for not only their learning but their behavior?

There is rhetoric that says just having conversations with kids about poor choices is enough and that behavior systems aren't needed. What in the world? Of course, I have conversations with my students and talk about what to change the next time. Also, I'd like to add I know how many siblings each of my students has, what they like to do for fun, what motivates them, and how they feel about school, among other things. Having a behavior management plan is not hindering my relationship with my students. I find that to be more insulting than anything.

I am also a parent. I am that annoying parent who will ask you a million questions about a situation, just so I know how to discuss it with my children. I have two kids as different as they can possibly be. Chase, my oldest, came home from kindergarten one day refusing to show me his folder (obviously I knew he had something to hide) thinking he'd had a note written in it (he didn't). I dug deeper and found out he had been talking after the teacher told him not to. I am the crazy parent who said, "Good! I am glad he felt bad about it!" I am not heartless but I think he needed to learn, if his teacher tells him to stop talking, he needs to stop talking. He knew he shouldn't talk after being told not to, but in his mind what he had to say was just that important. Therefore, I fully supported the consequence he received. The other day, he "forgot" some homework and begged me to go get it from his classroom the morning it was due. I told him no, again not heartless, just realistic, because how in the world would that teach him to be responsible now or later in life? I told him he had chosen to forget the work (which has been a lifelong battle) so he had chosen to accept the consequence.  Now, let's look at my younger child. Time will tell with this one, but I have an inkling that focus is not his friend. He is only four so it's not something we are too worried about now, but we will address it if necessary once he enters kindergarten. He can be impulsive, loud, and play hard. I fully expect that his teacher puts him in time-out or whatever other behavior system she uses because I WANT him to learn that it is not okay to do things he is asked not to. On the flip side, four year olds are not great problem solvers and understandably so. When he is kicked, hit, bit, etc., I thoroughly expect the child who impulsively did so to have some sort of consequence. If they don't,  how are they truly learning it is not okay to do such? 

If you made it this far, I'm super impressed and happy you let me get that off my chest. Okay, back to reading all of the political posts and Dirty Dancing lip readings.