Using Sanctions

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Calibrate your consequences: using sanctions wisely

As you can tell from the previous sections, you will find that calibration is key in keeping your classes onside, reducing confrontation and allowing you to focus on teaching and learning as opposed to getting drawn into continual behavior management issues. The more you calibrate the fewer sanctions you will need to use. This rule also applies to the range of 'consequences' at your disposal. I will discuss each one in turn.

Sending pupils out of the room

Apart from learning how to physically and vocally play high status, mastering the Art of sending pupils out of the room has been the most effective strategy that I have found for behavior management, for a number of reasons.

The physical act of making a child leave the room is a tremendously high status sanction, particularly for a cultural architect, it reinforces who, when the chips are down, who controls the learning frame and the room.

It is a classic use of assertive discipline because you are effectively saying that; 'I respect your right to privacy' and not trying to humiliate you in front of your peers

It demonstrates your fair handedness and control to the rest of the class.

What should you do next?

On sending them out, you need to explain that you will ' come out and talk to them in a minute'; so that they know that you are coming out to see them. Leaving them outside indefinitely is a recipe for disaster and almost certainly would contravene health and safety regulations.

The best way of dealing with a pupil you have sent out is to leave them there for anything up to five minutes (usually around two or three), make sure that the class are occupied with an activity which does not require your direct control and then calmly go outside and ask the pupil:

'Why did I send you out?'

By far the best way is to wait for as long as it takes for an answer. The silence can and should become uncomfortable. More often than not a pupil will then own up to whatever they have done.

This is where the section of this site that deals with assertive discipline needs to be used. As a teacher you need to explain your rights and the rights of the other pupils in the class

'I cannot do my job if you behave in that manner and no-one else can learn'

Also an attempt at rapport building:

'What's going on? Why are you behaving like this?/You are perfectly capable of doing this work and I would not expect this from you'.

Hopefully comments of this nature will re-assure the pupil that this is not personal. Finally, you should try to get agreement on good behavior before letting them back in:

'Are you going to be able to behave or do I need to sanction you further?.

This technique normally has the effect of establishing your status over the offender, at least for the remainder of the lesson.

Alternative Scenarios

When you speak to the pupil and ask them why you have sent them out, a pupil will occasionally say:

'I have no idea'.

The subtext of this comment is: 'I'm up for a fight. I don't accept your authority or your judgement about who you should have sent out of the class.' This scenario will occur for one of two reasons:

A. THE HIGH STAKES SHOWDOWN. Both you and the pupil know that the pupil is in the wrong but they are unwilling to take responsibility for their behaviour and do not at this point accept your authority in the class. They are unwilling to play ball at this stage and are waiting to see what you will do. The simple answer is to face up to this challenge head on. There are a number of possible high status responses to this, all of them demanding that you remain emotionally in control. My preferred option is to say:

'Well, I'll come back when you've worked out why I sent you out'

At this point I would go back into the class. I like this one because it clearly demonstrates that you are not going to let the pupil off the hook and that you are insisting that they 'play the game' of teacher/pupil with teacher in control. It also demonstrates a lack of emotional reaction to their disruptive behavior, which lowers their status. In this scenario, give it another couple of minutes and repeat the process, offering a detention to discuss the matter further if the pupil refuses to ultimately take responsibility for their behavior. Some teachers use this as an opportunity to 'top' the pupil in terms of status and to shout at them. I would use this technique sparingly and choose your battles carefully as it is a high stakes tactic. The last thing you want is a slanging match in the corridor. However, as a young teacher, this was very occasionally the only way of getting respect from one or two very challenging pupils. My advice, if you are going to shout, would be to do it in a controlled way and to use a short, sharp burst rather than an extended rant.

B. 'IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO'. The pupil has convinced themselves that they are the innocent party whereas the actual offender is still in the room. A quick way to diffuse the indignant rage that this pupil will have worked themselves into is to quickly say:

'I am going to talk to X after I've talked to you. Right now I am talking about what you did/said yourself'.

This response will prevent the offender from blaming another pupil and force both you and them to examine the inappropriate nature of their response.

Having said this, there also many other aspects of pupils leaving your classroom, which need to be discussed.

Using this technique without first having established high status with your class opens it to abuse. Firstly, never, for example, allow a child who asks to go outside to leave. Occasionally a child may say:

'Can I go outside to calm down?'

A teacher who is unfamiliar with status playing may not realize that the person in question is trying to lower your status. There may well be an extremely rare occasion, when a child with anger management issues has the maturity and self-awareness to recognize that by leaving the room, they may stop themselves reacting inappropriately to a classroom situation. Generally speaking though this pupil is having a joke at your expense by seeing if you will be gullible enough to believe the story. Letting them out of the room simply reinforces your lack of awareness and ability to be manipulated out of your own power to use appropriate sanctions. More and more students will follow their lead and start spinning yarns, whereas a simple, assertive 'no' and a high status look away would have communicated the unambiguous message; 'I'm way too aware and in control to fall for that one. Get on with your work.'

Pupil tries to re-enter or distract the class

This is a classic status lowering technique, the subtext of which is:

'You think you lowered my status by sending me out but in fact you just gave me a stage from which I can lower your status by attracting attention to me and away from you. Your sanctions have backfired!'.

The simple response to this is to remove the stage immediately. Don't try to ignore the show, walk outside and tell the offender where to stand so that they cannot be seen by the rest of the class. This instruction should be accompanied by a warning about further sanctions if the behavior continues.

Pupil refuses to leave

This is the highest stakes hand that a pupil can play and the closest thing to a wild-west gunfight that a teacher and pupil can have. The sanctions and scenarios above are fairly common occurrences but if handled properly can be effective and simple to use. Hopefully you won't have to deal with a showdown. If you do however, your school should have briefed you about procedure in this situation. Normally one would ask a pupil to call for a senior member of staff to remove the child and then apply appropriate sanctions. It is vitally important to know the procedure for all worst-case scenarios before you start teaching any class.

'Illness' and bathroom breaks

Pupils who misbehave in class will often try to find ways of leaving the room, partly to lower your status as a teacher and partly out of boredom. The obvious answer to this is that if you deliver lessons with pace, which are well differentiated, they should not be bored. However, some children will routinely attempt to leave class for a variety of bogus reasons, often feigned illness, bathroom breaks or having 'lost' something 'important'.

Generally, it is advisable to give a blanket, assertive 'no' to these requests, particularly when you are first getting to know these children and to look away quickly and carry on with what you were doing. Often the request is being made simply to test your boundaries and you want to give the impression of having very firm boundaries. In general, if you say 'yes' early on then you are simply encouraging the pupil concerned to ask you again at a later date. If the pupil objects to your first 'no' I always use the phrase:

'you use the toilet in between lessons not during them, you're going to have to wait'.

I have found that once this first boundary has been established, the pupil in question will rarely ask again as they have added you to their mental list of staff who 'will not let them out of class'. However, if another five minutes elapses and the same pupil asks again then it is likely that for whatever reason, they really do need to use the bathroom. I am not inhuman and I do appreciate a child's need to use the bathroom. However, I would signal my displeasure and try to allow them to go whilst keeping my status high. Pointing to the door, I would make it clear that they can leave but add:

'Do not ask me again'.

The same principle applies to illness or 'needing to look for something'. The point is that this is your class and once they are in it, they leave at the appropriate time. In the vast majority of cases, any 'urgent' business can wait until after the lesson. Some pupils will use the medical room as a kind of common room and be very adept at feigning illness in class in order to get there. Once again, this act is often simply designed to get attention and to fool the teacher into believing the fiction. Whilst it may seem cruel to ignore them, I have often seen pupils with terrible 'headaches' or 'fevers' suddenly perk up once they have begun to engage in conversation with their friends. My general rule is to approach these 'illnesses' as 'work-itis' and tell the pupil to go to the medical room after this lesson rather than during it.

The less your classroom door opens during your lesson, the better your behavior management and teaching will be.

The importance of school systems: detentions

Most schools worth their salt will have some kind of policy on when and how to give most sanctions, including detentions and what to do if you need to eject a pupil from the class. This is something that I advise you check thoroughly before you start working in a particular school. In fact, I would go as far as suggesting that you think twice about working in schools without such a sanctions policy as the ensuing confusion can cause great stress for a new teacher and reduce life expectancy for more mature colleagues!

In general, ejecting pupils from a room should be done as a last resort, when a number of warnings have been given or when a particular pupil has done something serious. As long as you know where they should go and how they should get there, then I would not hesitate to use this sanction, particularly as you build a relationship with a new class. It demonstrates that you are not afraid to use all the sanctions available to you, that you have firm boundaries.

One school that I worked in insisted on a 'resolution meeting' between teacher and pupil after a pupil had been sent out, before the next lesson with them and in the presence of one of the pastoral team. I found this to be an excellent system as it allowed the teacher to build bridges with the pupil and assure them that having used sanctions with them was not a personal thing, but simply a reasonable response to their unreasonable behavior. It encouraged teachers to use their rapport building skills in order to avoid any future occurrence of the same behavior. If such a system does not exist in your school, you could suggest it or use it informally for your classes.

I find that detentions are only as effective as each school wants them to be. One example of good practice is for schools to make non-attendance at staff detentions punishable by longer, school detentions. This means that a pupil knows that if you ask to see them after school for example and they choose to forget then there will be consequences, in the form of further sanctions. Schools would also do well to specify what detentions can be given for; no homework, lateness or behavior for example.

My problem with detentions is one of status. By setting sanctions of this nature, you are in many ways giving pupils the opportunity to lower your status by not attending. It is my contention that its more important to keep your status high with your pupils, than to have them come to your detentions. That is my personal view and I know that not everyone will agree. I would far rather wait for the situation where I can keep a pupil because the lesson runs into either break, lunch or the end of school, than rely on them to come to a detention. Some staff get round this problem by collecting children for detentions from other classes. Again, my problem with this is the unwritten message that: 'I don't believe that my status is high enough for you to come to my detention on your own so I am having to lower myself and collect you'.

My preferred method of changing a pupil's behavior is to have them put on behavior report. Your school should also have systems for this, where pupils carry a monitoring sheet for you to add comments to after each lesson with you. I like this system because it has the full blessing of the pastoral staff in the school and the pupil will normally have to report to and explain themselves to them at the end of each day, in order to avoid further sanctions. It connects your expectations of behavior with other staff in the school and allows you to use the report as leverage:

'I'm looking to give you a good report today. Are you going to help me out?'

Colleague Support

Colleague support is absolutely vital in your first year or two of teaching. Unfortunately this is something that ultimately you cannot control as it depends entirely on how motivated your colleagues are to help you and how competent they are in offering good advice. Here are some signs of truly supportive colleagues:

They will help to raise your status among the children by making positive comments about you in the pupil's presence.

They will offer help and advice in a non- judgemental way.

They will ensure that you are familiar with all the school systems, sanctions and procedures early on.

They will make regular time to sit with you and discuss your classes, your behavior management and lesson planning.

They will observe you teaching and give you positive and useful feedback.

They will offer practical help with the most challenging classes/pupils.

They will offer moral and emotional support whenever necessary.

If you find all of this in one school, you are indeed fortunate so make sure that you show your appreciation on a regular basis.

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