In part 1 of this 4 part series, we looked at the importance of consistency when setting and enforcing limits. If you missed part 1, you can read it here. You can also download the entire article as a PDF file here.
Now I’m guessing that at this point some of you reading this article are experiencing a negative reaction to this idea of limits and penalties. You may be picturing a harsh disciplinarian running a joyless classroom with an iron fist, a classroom that builds resentment in children and interferes with their learning.
But here’s the reality. It may be common for consistency in limits and penalties to walk hand-in-hand with harsh discipline. But they are not inseparable companions. Order in your classroom can be maintained through gentle but determined consistency.
So what does gentle, determined consistency look like?
Well, first off it has an absence of harshness.
But to understand what an absence of harshness is, we first have to understand what it means to be harsh.
What It Means to Be Harsh
I think harshness consists of any or all of the following things:
1. Yelling or screaming at a child.
2. Punishing a child when the child had no reasonable way of knowing that his behavior was out of bounds.
3. Singling out a child and her behavior in a way that creates excessive embarrassment.
4. Punishing a child for behavior he can’t control.
5. Belittling or berating a child with insulting words.
6. Punishing a child with penalties that are excessive when compared to the inappropriate behavior.
7. Acting with an attitude in class that feels to the kids as if you’re always angry or in a bad mood.
So the absence of all of these things is what I have in mind by an absence of harshness.
Now here’s the deal. Even with all of these things excluded from your classroom, it is still possible to set limits and enforce them consistently.
The Proper Role of Limits and Penalties
But I don’t want to be misunderstood here. I don’t mean to be saying that limits and penalties are the primary way to maintain order in a classroom. There are many positive things besides limits and penalties that you can do to help children stay within the limits you set. The greater your ability to keep children’s interest through the activities you do in class, the easier it will be for you to keep your class orderly.
I certainly think positive activities form the foundation for your your classroom order.
But in this article I am focusing exclusively on those times when limits are crossed and you must take direct action to keep your classroom order intact.
So if you have trouble consistently enforcing limits — and I believe that’s the biggest problem that many teachers have when they fail to maintain classroom control — I expect that a big part of your trouble comes because you fear that you’ll come across as a harsh disciplinarian.
And if that’s your fear, it’s important for you to really get ahold of this idea I’m presenting — that’s it’s possible to enforce limits through gentle, determined consistency while maintaining a positive, learning atmosphere.
So I’d like to suggest that you look through the “harshness” list above again and firmly fix in your mind that limits really can be enforced without harsh actions.
In part 3 of this 4 part series we’ll look at an example of what gentle, determined consistency looks like.