Consequences….Shifting the way we Frame Them for Students

 There have been many occasions where a team member at the school or a parent has said something like, “I don’t want to attach consequences to this,”or “I don’t want to punish him for his behavior,” or something of that sort when presented with a behavior support plan that involved consequences (both positive and negative).

But a few years ago when I was working at an international school in the Dominican Republic, and part my role was serving as the Behavior Probation Case Manager, I came to the realization that it was important for me to flip the paradigm a bit and approach consequences in the framework that:

We are not taking things away from the students, but rather the students need to earn the privileges they are normally allowed, and they need to earn the things they want.

In essence, reframing the way we look at consequences for student behavior.

For example, one thought that I have continued to have, and have only shared with a parent once while discussing a next step approach in supporting their child is that having a smartphone is not a UN human right.  Going out to parties on the weekend after a week in which the student had an in-school suspension, or got caught cheating, or failed a test, is not a human right.

Consequences for School Behavior Makes Sense

Whether it be consequences of a student doing well in school and earning things at home as a result, or whether it be consequences for getting an in-school suspension.  School is the student’s job…and positive and negative results should be correlated to how well they do at school.

Students need to earn these things and as a special educator, and the parent as a parent, it is our job to be the extrinsic force to help motivate these students to do their best by saying, “If you do (blank) you will earn (blank).” By doing this we help them develop good habits of behavior.

I have had students think I’m hating on them out of a personal vendetta.  I have had them think I have no life so am just hounding them.  I even had a parent once say that I was involved with the student’s effort and behavior so much because I was trying to provide myself job security (a few months later he invited me for drinks so it worked out well).  But at the end of the day it’s all about the child’s future.  If we don’t push the students to do their best, they may have continued struggles for years and decades.

It’s not easy for me to potentially make my relationship with the student tenuous as I help their parents hold them accountable for their effort and behavior at school.  It’s not easy for the parents to switch gears and hold their child accountable after (sometimes) years of enabling them (especially when the child turns on the begging and tears to get their gaming console back).  But I’m thinking long term.  I’m thinking how their transcript will look when they apply to colleges in 3 years.  I’m thinking about bad habits that are developing and that could get them into academic probation when they get to college and ultimately kicked out.

Maybe not everyone is thinking that far ahead, but at the minimum, it’s the student’s job to be a student, and if they aren’t putting in the effort and are not behaving well at school, then I contend that they should not be allowed all the things in their lives that go beyond Maslov’s hierarchy.

Maslov Hierarchy FINAL
Maslov’s Hierarchy 

That may seem harsh, but the top of Maslov’s hierarchy talks about self-actualization, one reaching their full potential.  That’s my goal….not that a student is going to party and have the latest games and phones.  But after some months of working with a behavior plan I find that we can get both those things going on.

Does Reframing how we hold Students Accountable for their School Behavior Work?

Since switching how I frame this idea of consequences over the years I have had more buy-in from admin, counselors and parents….maybe even students, but student buy-in is hard when you are impinging on their life outside of school. 

But reframing this concept of connecting what happens at school with what they earn at home makes the conversation with parents and team members a little smoother compared to in the past where I would say something like, “He’s gonna lose his phone if he can’t turn in his homework 90% of the time this week….”  But now, just by framing this differently it keeps colleague support high and parent buy-in a little higher. 

I now say, “We set the goal that he will turn in Homework 90% of the time this week if he is to earn gaming privileges next weekend”. 

Excerpt of the Ticket to the Weekend system I use with parents in order to connect at school student behavior to what they earn at home.
Excerpt from a school-to-home behavior plan

My argument, or my standpoint, is that having a gaming console and playing video games for hours on a Saturday is a luxury.  It’s a privilege.  And if a student isn’t doing the basic things they need to be doing at school in terms of effort and behavior, then they shouldn’t expect to indulge in these activities at home.

Ultimately the goal is that students will start to see how easy it is to turn in the homework 90% of the time, and they do it because they want to have a Fortnight gaming marathon that weekend.  Then they get a good grade on the math quiz because they did the homework, then they see how easy it can be to do good on the quiz, and bam!….slowly we start to see some positive movement in their behavior in school, and from there we are just looking at positive consequences.


We can’t tie negative consequences to student behavior

Although since I shifted how I frame the concept of consequences there hasn’t been push back like there was at times in the past before the reframing, I still hear ideas out there in the world that makes me think that some people don’t think there should be ‘negative’ consequences attached to certain things we are working on effortwise and behaviorwise.

Some people say that with systems like Positive Behavior Support we have to be positive….no negative consequences…but that’s not how I see it.  My understanding is that we should put a hyphen in between positive and behavior so we are looking at supporting positive behavior or:

This is an image that shows positive and behavior with a hyphen with an arrow pointing it out and goes on to say how you can use consequences to support positive behavior

This means that we are helping students develop positive behaviors through all the tools we have available at school and with the families.  Which means if a student has to earn certain privileges at school or at home and that will help them develop the adaptive behaviors needed to be successful….let’s make it happen!

I always say that it’s very motivating for a student to act well and work hard in class on a Tuesday morning when they know their weekend plans are contingent on them hitting their behavior tracker goal for the week.  And after some time of supporting these positive behaviors, we see the habits build and we can use the evidence-based practice of EXTINCTION of reinforcers as students develop the intrinsic motivation and habits.

Final Thoughts on Reframing the way we Discuss Consequences:

As a learning support teacher one of my first goals when working with students is to make sure the student is giving close to 100% effort.  Sometimes it takes a lot of work and time to get the student, parents and others on board, but your attempts at supporting the academics of a student who isn’t giving their best efforts are leaning towards futile if the students aren’t engaging with the supports and interventions.  If they don’t do the work outside of school, or aren’t putting the work in inside school, it almost neutralizes our teacher collaboration and planning efforts.

This is to say that similar to what Paulo Freire said about education being a two way street, we need to work together.   Parents need to put in the effort, counselors, admin, gen ed teachers, special educators…..and the students.  It can’t be just one doing all the work. 

And making sure there are consequences such as rewards, and also consequences such as students not earning certain things they want, is just one of the ways we can help them do their best at school.  And I have found over the years that adjusting the way we look at consequences for student behavior helps get the most buy-in possible from the whole team and the students.

If you have any thoughts that run contrary to the stance expressed here I would love to hear about it in the COMMENTS below.  I am always open to expanding my schema or changing my viewpoint entirely.


2 thoughts on “Consequences….Shifting the way we Frame Them for Students

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