Classroom Expectations

Classroom Behavior Consequences: How to Focus on the Positive

alt="3 naughty children with their arms crossed and scowling faces with the text overlay that reads how to create a positive approach to classroom behavior consequences."

Does Positive Behavior Intervention Allow for Classroom Behavior Consequences?

The short answer is absolutely positive behavioral intervention allows for classroom behavior consequences!!! The longer answer is below 😉.  

Actually, classroom behavior consequences are an essential part of reinforcing positive behavior in the classroom.

But first! Remember that a consequence is just the natural outcome of any action, so a classroom behaviour consequence applies to both good choices and bad choices.

So, the best way to provide classroom behaviour consequences is to provide as much support as we can in leading students towards good choices.

How do we do that?

When we establish classroom expectations together (hopefully) we are providing our students with the “what”. 

What are we supposed to do? 

What can I expect from other people? 

We have not yet provided the how, or sometimes even the why.

When we are reinforcing classroom expectations we are teaching them the how, and oftentimes the why.  I am teaching the students every time I walk around the classroom and say something like, “Clarissa, nice work practising what we just learned about counting the sounds in your words.”

I am teaching them that:

  1. I expect them to implement what I teach them.
  2. I will hold them accountable to that expectation.
  3. I will acknowledge their hard work.  
  4. the consequence of their good choices is an affirmation.

I have seen students counting sounds incorrectly, and I have still reinforced the effort positively. I can still reteach the concept if they are doing it incorrectly, but first I am reinforcing desired behaviours in the classroom to teach them to make good choices.

alt="little boy wearing a cap is writing on the blackboard, and looking back towards the camera. The caption reads, "Students love to hear you tell them thay are doing "it" right." as an image reflecting the importance of affirmations in positive behavior consequences."
The easiest, and one of the most effective, classroom management tools we have is a loving voice coupled with words of affirmation.

Consequences for Not Following Classroom Rules

Well, I don’t know about you, but I have made a whoooole lot of mistakes in my life. 😇 

I have had the best of intentions, and I have even chosen not to listen to the wisdom of people I trust, and then gone ahead and made poor choices. Does that make me a bad person?

Nope, it doesn’t. Strong-willed (yuppers!), independent (beyond a shadow of a doubt), and an experiential learner (you better believe it!). But not rotten to the core. I just make poor choices sometimes.

Okay, so the first thing about giving students consequences for not following classroom rules is to remember that there is a difference between a bad choice and a bad person. With a student who frequently and repeatedly makes poor choices, it is most important to keep this in your mind.  I use “choices” language all the time.

“Show me carpet choices please.” 

“What do our chapel choices look like?” 

“Put up your hand to share  an example of a good walking in the hallway choice?”  

Did you notice that I am integrating Social Emotional Instruction into classroom management just by naming their behaviours as choices?  👏

Rights and responsibilities baby!

But what about reinforcing classroom rules that have been broken?

alt="dusty blackboard in the background, young brunette girl with a challenging smile, wearing a pink backpack in the foreground standing beside a caption that says, 'A bad choices is not the same as a bad person', reminding the teacher that when choosing classroom consequences examples it is important to remember a good child can make poor choices ."
There are so many reasons that could lead a child to make a poor choice, and remembering that helps us, as teachers, to respond rather than react.

Classroom Behavior Consequences for Poor Choices

No matter how kind, affirming, loving, patient, hard-skinned and hard-working you are there will always be poor choices to address in the classroom.  Why? Because these are kids, and they are learning.  

But also because sometimes the evidence of them feeling safe with you in the classroom is testing the limits.

Oh joy ….

So regardless of whether the behaviour stems from confidence or more difficult emotions such as anger, frustration, hurt, sorrow, illness, parental quarreling, being excluded by friends or siblings, and the list goes on, there will be poor choices.  

So what now?

This is when we start by reinforcing classroom expectations that they have committed to.  There are so many ways to do this, but let’s look at some core consequences for negative behavior in the classroom.

alt="a black and white image of a little boy looking up as though to an adult. his face is sombre as if he is receiving classroom consequences elementary level. The caption says that sometimes when a student feels safe, they will test the limits. Illuminating the reality that sometimes poor choices from a student indicate a growing relationship that has been built on appropriate classroom behavior consequences."
I have actually taught children, both my own and students, how to say no appropriately , and how to challenge me appropriately. This is part of teaching them healthy boundaries, and if they feel safe they will challenge you.

Classroom Consequences Elementary

Consider Preemptive Planning 🥰

Yes, I know, I did say I focus on positive behaviour reinforcement, but providing classroom consequences that work means you have to strategize. So, let’s look at strategies:

  1. Post Classroom Expectations – I only ever had the expectations that we created together posted at the front of the room, but I referred to them all the time. For many classroom contexts, it is appropriate and essential to post anchor charts at various times or places throughout the classroom such as:
    1. Center tables
    2. Doorways for line up, recess, chapel, music, whatever you may need.
    3. Carpet
    4. Prior to hands-on activities in Science, Math, Socials or before Silent Reading
  2. Review Expectations Regularly – Even if the charts aren’t posted all of the time, put them up to review them prior to transitions. 
  3. Teach what those expectations look like – Students love to do this.  Always start with having a student show what the good choice looks like, then have them or another student who a poor choice, and finish off with another example of a good choice so that is what they remember.  
  4. Connect the expectations to classroom activities – Help the students to see when and where in the classroom these expectations are necessary and appropriate.
  5. Celebrate –  affirm good choices.
  6. Refer Back – When a student is making poor choices, refer back to the expectations, and ask a simple question, “How does this choice fit into our classroom expectations?” Or, even simpler, “Are you doing your job right now? Could you help me to understand how you are doing your job right now?
alt="Sage green background, classroom anchor chart with I can statements for keep my hands to myself, help others, wait for my turn to speak, share and stay on task written on it.  Beside that is a bulleted list indicating how to use the anchor chart: Post, review, teach, connect, celebrate, refer back. This image reflects the importance of posted classroom expectations as an essential precursor to carrying behavior consequences for elementary students"
Maintain the focus on positive language when creating anchor charts. Then use them all of the time to guide student choices. These charts are the best way to make the discussion about expectations created by the group rather than teacher imposed rules and consequences.

Preemptive Planning Isn’t Working. 🤔

Now it must be time to take the gloves off!!

Nope!  Not at all.

Your next strategy is to smile with empathy and understanding.  

“I can see that this is very difficult for you.  Sometimes we need to practice hard things. Like riding a bike, swinging, or playing soccer need practice, so does meeting some of these expectations.”  

“I am happy to give up my time at recess to sit here and practice with you. Sometimes when we love someone we have to give up something to help them, and I will give you my recess time.”

How does that even work? 

If they are blurting out, have them sit there and “practice” not blurting out. 

If they are not doing their writing during class time, have them practice doing their work at recess.

If they are handsy with other students at the carpet, have them practice sitting at the carpet with their hands in their laps.

Meanwhile, you “help” them by continuing in the role of teacher while they practice.  In other words, you do whatever you need to do.

Works like a charm for most kiddos who are just being mischievous.  Carry through on the first recess with the first kiddo. Depending upon the class it may require 1 or 2 more, but then they will start to do a cost-benefit analysis.

alt="an image of two paths converging in the woods with the caption, 'Hmm... which choice will put me on the path I want to be on?' as a demonstration of the efficacy of reinforcing rules as a part of natural classroom behavior consequences."
Carry through early in the year, and with mercy and grace. For most students there will be a cost-benefit analysis, and they will choose recess over poor choices.

Really Running Out of Gas Here 😕

Behavioural Reflections; at one point my whole school did these for any behaviour with a student.  They were printed on green, yellow and red paper all depending upon the severity and frequency of the event.

There was some applause for the positive impact they had, but I find the efficacy is highly connected to how the students’ reflection is discussed with an adult, and whether or not  relationships are rebuilt afterwards.  However, they are definitely a research-based option. 

Personally, I love student reflection under these circumstances:

  • in person
  • with the student(s)
  • quietly
  • at my desk
  • as a conversation
  • everyone’s opportunity to speak is protected. 

In my class, a behaviour reflection meant bringing your snack or lunch to my small group table, and we would talk it out. As the student or students took their turn sharing, I expected “I” statements, and I protected their turn for them.  When we were done they were expected to look at each other to resolve things, and I did not demand them to apologize.  I did mention it, but I did not demand it. Over time this would build classroom community.

alt="Profile of 3 girls sitting at a table eating lunch. At the far end is an African American girl in a green shirt, in the middles is a platinum blond girl in a turquoise shirt, and closes to the camera is a brunette girls in a long sleeved cream shirt eating a bunwich. This image helps teachers to visualize the process of managing behavior at a friendly lunch time together as a way to manage clasroom behavior consequences whlie implementing social emotional learning."
Bring students together over snack or lunch to resolve an issue calmly. This teaches them conflict resolution, and, if done well, build classroom community out of a conflict.

What to do When Positive Classroom Behavior Consequences Don’t Work

Full confession here.  I am not a believer in sending students to the office or sending them to work in the hall.  I can quite literally count on less than two hands the number of times I have sent a student into the hall for poor choices.  

Before you implement anything sterner please, please, please, make certain you have these things in place, or at least you are trying to.

  1. Positive Teacher-Student relationship.
  2. Ongoing Social-Emotional Instruction developing self-awareness, emotional intelligence, a growth mindset, and interpersonal skills.
  3. Restorative Practices – when students fall out with you or their peers, have a plan in place to bring them back to the place of positive relationships.
  4. Grace and Mercy – model this to the student who is struggling and to the other students.  Although specific research on this is limited, the research on the above strategies implies that by incorporating grace and mercy along with these other practices will be powerful and effective.
alt="Two 2 by 4 blanks on a black background, each one cut to a point with the points facing  in opposite directions and one reading reality painted in red expectations , and the other reading painted in green. This represents the truth that when managing classroom behavior consequences even research based strategies are not effective with all students at all times, and it is important to learn to ask for help when determining consequences for disruptive behaviors in the classroom."
Even when using research-based strategies there will be students who do not respond. Although there are strategies that you can implement independently, it is essential to know that if you haven’t asked for help yet, now is the time.

Positive Classroom Behavior Consequences Just Aren’t Working

Okay, it is true, Positive Behavior Intervention does not work in all circumstances.  There are students that need more and some that need much more.  

The list of reasons why is long… and can be very sad:

  • trauma
  • neglect
  • illness
  • too much responsibility
  • bullying at home or at school
  • verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • transiency
  • poverty
  • physiological such as ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or more
  • and so much more.

People write books on these, I know this because I have read many of them.  We will discuss more strategies in future blogs.

You may also want to consider a behavioural contract. If so, check out this blog post on Behavioural Contracts at A Fresh Breath on Teaching.

For now, keep implementing the core strategies I have mentioned in this blog, and in other posts.  Then affirm yourself for loving the child who is struggling enough to do all of the work that creates a positive classroom environment.

Thank you for checking out this blog on Classroom Behavior Consequences.


alt="Sage green background with the author and her husband dressed in swimming clothing sitting at the back of a punta in Mexico. On the right of the photo is the caption, Non-negotiable, To care for others, you must first care for yourself.  To emphasize the importance of self-care in implementing classroom management having done your best to be reinforcing expectations in the classroom."
This is my husband and I on a punta in Mexico enjoying being outdoor enthusiasts. There will be students for whom they are not working, and you digging in further won’t change that. Start the year with self-care and maintain that self-care as the year goes on, and remember that sometimes self-care means asking for help.

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