Give Students the Opportunity to be Responsible

A teacher recounted one of her tough discipline experiences: She asked a misbehaving student (middle school) on which level he was choosing to behave, and he answered, “On a lower level.” The student did this a few more times, so the teacher gave him the reflection form. But even after filling it out, the student still operated at a low level. The teacher, extremely frustrated at this point, didn’t know what to do except give the student a detention (imposed discipline). She came to me wondering what she should do next time this occurred. Following is my reply.

Think “Elicit” rather than “Impose.”

After the student has acknowledged lower level behavior and continues to act on level B, ask the question, “What do you suggest we do about it?” Then follow up with the next question, “If you get the urge to do this again, what procedure will you use so that you will be a victor, rather than a victim of your impulses, unless, of course, you want to remain being a victim?” (This paradoxical questioning is often very effective with this type of person.)

The key question to keep in mind is, “What can I ask to make the responsibility his?”

After a procedure has been elicited to redirect future impulses, then elicit a consequence in case irresponsible behavior continues. In this way, the student has ownership of the consequence. People don’t argue with their own decisions.

When a consequence or discipline is imposed, negative feelings erupt in both the student and teacher. This not only damages relationships but often is not very effective. If the same students keep getting detentions, one should conclude that detention is not effective with these students.

When anyone TELLS or IMPOSES a punishment, the other person is being deprived of an opportunity to become more responsible. Give your students the opportunity to become responsible.