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Stop using the word 'punishment' if you want to improve behaviour

If the word "punishment" pops up in your behaviour management terminology, you could be doing more harm than good, according to education guru Dr Bill Rogers.

“Most of our students are not criminals. Most challenging behaviours in schools are not crimes. We need to have a fundamental educational purpose in any behaviour consequence, which should be distinct from punishment,” says the education consultant and author of several behaviour management books.

Writing in the 28 November issue of TES, Rogers says that the use of "punishment" harks back to his own schooldays in the 1960s. “I suspect that some of my teachers thought they were running a kind of benign Château d’If,” he adds.

Rogers argues that we should have moved on from this attitude and should now be applying relevant and proportional consequences to unwelcome behaviour, instead of unconnected punishments.

"If we are going to use writing as a consequence, we should at least direct the student to write about their behaviour: what they did, what rules or rights were affected by their actions, and what their version of events is," he argues. "They should then write about how they could make the situation better and reflect on how a teacher could help."

Any consequence of a student's behaviour, Rogers says, should be relevant to that behaviour.

“We should not have students picking up litter as a consequence for being disruptive in class," he writes. "Instead, this should occasion a conversation with the teacher in question, in the student’s own time.

"The consequences that do require reparation – whether that is through civic duty or in financial terms – also have to be connected to the problematic behaviour. For example, I once had a student who snipped the ends of a female pupil’s hair with scissors in class. After discussions with the student, he apologised and agreed to pay for a haircut.”

Finally, he says that consequences must always be proportional to the behaviour.

“Incomplete homework, for example, hardly merits a detention; the student is in need of help and support. Detention is a serious behaviour consequence and students need to understand the relative moral weight between, say, a uniform misdemeanour, swearing at a teacher and bullying. The latter is one of the most serious behaviour issues in a school and the response needs to reflect that.”

This philosophy of behaviour management needs to be present throughout the school, Rogers concludes, otherwise any attempts at ensuring good behaviour will be flawed.

“Behaviour consequences are essential in a school’s discipline policy and practice – punishments undermine it,” he writes. “Students need adults who will enable restorative behaviour support. This is a crucial part of our professional responsibility as we seek to create a positive teaching and learning culture.”

Read the full article in the 28 November edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents

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