Classroom Management Strategies: How to use consequences effectively

Before we discuss the ‘consequences’ that may feature in your classroom management strategy, I want to hammer home the important message that there is a multitude of effective preventive strategies that we can use to encourage and support students in school to stay on the right track before we need to resort to sanctions. It’s not that I’m against sanctioning; I feel there is a danger that we can come to rely on consequences (and the threat of them) as the only course of action available to us in response to inappropriate behavior. Managing the classroom in these below-mentioned ways can create a very punitive and oppressive atmosphere, which in turn can cause more problems rather than solving it. Teachers should avoid such classroom management strategies as they are harmful in the long run.
Classroom management strategies to avoid:
  • If you don’t do it when I say you’ll get detention.
  • If I hear one more person shouting, you’ll all be staying behind at the break. Take that off right now, or I’ll call your parents.
  • You haven’t done any work from the lessons, so I’m putting you on the report. 

Don’t get me wrong. We need consequences to enforce boundaries, and students need boundaries to feel secure and learn appropriate behavior, but like any other tool, there is a right way and a wrong way to use them.

How to apply consequences effectively:

Consequences, when applied correctly, can put a near-instant end to the behavior infractions at all levels. They can provide a clear, final, definite endpoint which the students can understand completely while bringing the to and fro of warnings, cautions, threats, and other ineffective tactics to a close. Furthermore, they can prove out to be a surprisingly effective means of building stronger bonds, particularly with fierce and historically defiant students. When the students sense that their teachers are trying to help by encouraging and supporting them to make sensible behavioral choices by imposing boundaries firmly yet fairly, their respect, trust, and affection for those teachers grows.

Here are four ways to make consequences useful:

Classroom management strategy number 1: Don’t use your big guns straight away – consequences must be stepped

When I first started teaching, I didn’t have a clue on how to control rowdy students who ignored my instructions. My immediate response was to repeat the same guidelines or threats in a bit louder tone, and when that didn’t work, I shouted even more emphatic. It’s fair to say my skills were limited.

Before long, I was sending my students out of the room left, right and center, making threats. I didn’t have a hope of following through and generally getting myself in an awful mess. Such behavior of a teacher sends a clear message to the students that “I am incapable of controlling your behavior, so I’m going to send you to someone who can.’ If you’re looking for a quick way to lose your respect among the classroom students, this is it.

Classroom management Top Tip: The turning point

The tables turned when a more experienced colleague told me that the only way to use consequences effectively was to step them: ‘Don’t use your big guns straight away, Rob. If you start by shouting and sending kids out of the room for relatively minor incidents, what are you going to do when the student continues to misbehave? By prioritizing your steps of consequences, you always have the option of adding more if necessary.’ Since that day, I can honestly say that my classroom management changed dramatically for the better. It was one of those ‘aha’ moments when you realize the error of your ways.

Classroom management strategy must be followed by every teacher who thinks their students have gone wild. Consequences such as loss of break, being kept back after school, or before lunch are great because you can start with quite small increments of time to get your point across and then keep adding to them. You don’t have to take students’ whole break time away if they are chatting in your lesson, and you certainly don’t need to jump straight to the (mostly ineffective) threat of after-school detention. Start by taking two minutes, and if that does not affect you, you can move up from there.

Even a two-minute delay can be an incredibly practical consequence because students always have somewhere else they would rather be, especially when their friends have already left. It may not sound like much of a sanction, but at the end of the lesson, when their friends are all leaving for lunch-break, and they have to stay behind to explain themselves to you, even a minute can seem like an eternity. To make consequences fair, it’s about the certainty and the fact that something happens when rules are not being followed, rather than the severity.

Classroom management strategy Tip Tip: Go step-by-step

Let’s take an example where you’ll see that by starting small, we have multiple options to step-up the consequence and continue to address the student’s behavior should it continue.

  • Step 1: Jonny, you can stop talking and go to break with everyone else after the lesson, or you can carry on talking, and I’ll keep you behind for two minutes at break time. It’s your choice.
  • Step 2: Okay, Jonny, you’ve already lost the first two minutes of your break. If you don’t want to miss your whole break time, you need to pick up the eraser you just threw on the floor.
  • Step 3: Jonny, that’s your whole break gone, I warned you. Now, unless you want me to keep you behind after school, I suggest you settle down and get the work finished.

Beyond this, of course, you do need to be prepared for students who continue to ignore you. You, as a teacher with a noisy class, are likely to encounter students who may even need to be removed from the class at times, so this response should feature in your hierarchy of consequences. And you should, ideally, have a ‘stock hierarchy’ in mind, or even written down, which you can use in response to general incidents of inappropriate behavior. 

Teachers must follow the hierarchy of consequences:

  • Warning.
  • Move to an isolated seat in front of the classroom for a set amount of time (e.g. ten minutes).
  • Removal from the classroom.
  • Two-minute follow-up (Find it in Take Control of the Noisy Class!)
  • Ten-minute detention.
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