By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The role of punishment in Behavior Manager

Research shows that the most effective approach to student behavior is a combination of carrots and sticks: positive supports and mild punishments. Behavior Manager offers support for a balanced approach to carrots and sticks interventions.

Punishment is any intervention that tends to decrease an unwanted behavior.

By that definition, punishment is an effect on the student's behavior, not the intervention itself. Is sending a disruptive student to ISS punishment? If the student was disruptive in order to avoid being in class, then no, it's not punishment for that student at that moment. In fact, it's a reward for that student's disruptive behavior. 

Behavior Manager helps educators to think through what an appropriate intervention would be by offering a menu of Motivations, often also called function of behavior. For any intervention to be effective it must be applied in the context of the motivation. In the example above, if a student's goal is to escape class, assigning her ISS is an ineffective punishment.

Beware of a transactional mindset. Punishment is often thought of as "the price you pay" for misbehavior. For example, an after-school detention is often the price a student pays for being tardy. However, from this transactional point of view, some students may figure that detention is an acceptable price and they'll go ahead be be tardy and pay with a detention. In other words, the detention-for-tardy price is not an effective punishment if it doesn't decrease the unwanted behavior.

Punishment works. But usually punishments do work as intended. Usually punishments quickly put an end to an unwanted behavior. And that's why punishments have been used so widely and for so long, in schools and in society in general. So, why is punishment getting a bad reputation?

Punishments can have unwanted side effects.

  • Students often resent being punished. The resentment can grow into a dislike and aversion of school. That's a high price to pay for dealing with minor behavior infractions. No one wants to feel anxious, always anticipating the next punishment.
  • Students may not have the skills or knowledge to act according to the teacher's expectations. If not, they may be particularly resentful and may be justified in thinking the teacher is being unfair. This is why PBIS strongly emphasizes explicitly teaching expectations and practicing desired behaviors and skills.
  • Punishments often remove students from classroom instruction. If a student's not in class, he's not going to pass. Although removal may solve an immediate behavior problem, it may exacerbate a more important achievement problem.
  • Out-of-placement punishments (ISS, OSS, AEP, expulsion) are considered to be the most destructive. Since they take the student out of the classroom, she loses instruction time. Even when assignments are given in these out-of-placement punishments, they are often not of the same quality as classroom instruction. Adding achievement problems to behavior problems isn't a solution.

How can we minimize resentment? First, use the techniques of PBIS to avoid misbehaviors. Teaching expectations is more effective than starting off with punishments.

When punishments are applied, they are most effective when they are applied consistently, fairly and with necessary follow-through. Behavior Manager includes the tools and information to make consistency and follow-through easy. That's because Behavior Manager focuses on providing support for the entire behavior process. But that doesn't mean that rules must be applied without regard to judgement.

Consider punishments that teach. Getting detention or ISS only teaches one thing: something bad will happen if you misbehave. But punishments can be more instructive than that. The Behavior Questionnaires in Behavior Manager is a punishment of a sort (it's designed to change behavior and it's not particularly pleasurable) but it's one that students can learn about the implications of their actions. Another Behavior Manager punishment that teaches is Restorative Discipline. Unlike most punishments, restorative discipline is designed to have the student understand what he has done through his misbehavior and what can now be done to "make things right." The student learns through restorative discipline. Another example is Mentoring. The student may be required to have mentoring sessions (a punishment) but may learn through the course of mentoring how to better deal with tricky situations in the future. You may retract Merit Points. When a student is accumulating merit points for exchange for a desired reward, a merit deduction can teach that behavior works in two ways. Good behavior leads to rewards, misbehavior cancels rewards. This can be automatic in Behavior Manager where misbehaviors are associated with Demerits which automatically deduct from the student's merit point balance.

Be equitable. Behavior Manager provides tools for examining racial bias in referrals and assigned consequences. You can also identify and help teachers and administrators who appear to be biased in their treatment of different students.

Be open to improvement. Educators handle student behavior issues with a wide range of knowledge and skills. When the statistics show that a few teachers generate far more referrals than others and especially if those referrals are for matters concerning cooperation and respect, there is a good chance that the teacher's classroom management skills need improvement. Behavior Manager provides the data to identify classroom management skill problems as well as a tool, Practice in Classroom Management Skills, that provides deliberate practice for improving classroom management skills.

Keep your eye on the ball. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal is student achievement, not rule enforcement. Punishment is a useful tool but it is not for revenge or instilling fear of authority. As mentioned in the definition above, it is for modifying behavior so that learning in school is something that students want to be doing.

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Keywords: carrots and sticks, motivations, punishment, Behavior Questionnaires, Restorative Discipline, Practice in Classroom Management Skills

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