13 Rules for Effective Communication in the Classroom #9 - Threats


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http://createdforlearning.blogspot.com/2014/08/13-rules-for-effective-communication-in_15.htmlWhen we aren’t careful, it’s not hard for our demands to morph into threats. Just stick an “If” at the beginning and a “then” in the middle, or a “You’d better” at the start and an “or else” at the end, and we just switched from demanding to threatening. We might not want to call them threats or think about how our words might be angering our students. We just want to keep things under control. We want control. But we need to be aware of our threats because our students’ feelings are real and we made them feel them.
Here’s a common example of a threat: “If you don’t sit down right now, you’re getting a referral.” Or another example: “You put that phone away, or it’s getting confiscated.” But those are just normal consequences, you might be thinking. If those are threats, how do we survive without them?
First, our tone can make all the difference. The same exact words said with different vocal tone can change normal words to a threat, or vice versa. And our tone leaks out of our hearts, from those dark corners we have that are lacking joy, peace, patience, gentleness, and self-control.
But let’s back up a step. The best time to discuss consequences is when tension is low. In other words, not right in the heat of things. In a place of calm, talk about the things that need to be done around the class and ask your student what the consequence should be if they don’t do what they’re supposed to. They might not have a clue, but you respected them enough to ask. The older the student is, the more and more this step will become vital. If they don’t have any ideas, offer yours, then ask if they think that sounds fair.
This can be done class-wide or individually. After you’ve come up with a class-wide list of fair consequences, display them somewhere visible, probably by your classroom guidelines. Or if it’s an individual situation, have them write it somewhere obvious in their Binder.
The key is that these are agreed upon beforehand. Then when the situation arises, we don’t have to use threats. We just ask, “What happens when you do (or don’t do) that?” And we point to the rule. It keeps our heart in check and doesn’t provoke them to anger.
What if they do something that you know is wrong but that you haven’t discussed before? We still don’t get to use threats.
In my classroom, I usually don’t give consequences for a 1st infraction of an un-discussed rule. I’ll either discuss it publicly (if it can avoid embarrassment for the student) or privately, “Please come here. I want to talk with you. You’re not in trouble.” Letting them know they aren’t in trouble breaks down defensive walls and opens their ears to be able to hear. We discuss what happened and how it might even be similar to another rule. Then, “Next time, what do you think should happen if you break that rule?” And often, our student will come up with a fair consequence. For the other times, we help the process along.
Even when we’re talking with older kids who might be tightroping the line between legal and illegal, we can present the facts and consequences without resorting to threats. Maybe it’s fights or drugs or weapons or cheating or any variation of big stuff, or maybe it’s petty crimes like uniform or gum violations. No matter the circumstance, we never need to resort to threats.
The choice, after all, is always theirs.


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These rules are adapted with permission from Roger and Becky Tirabassi's premarital workbook for seriously dating and engaged couples - The Seriously Dating or Engaged Workbook. Roger and Becky have also co-authored a book for married couples called Little Changes Big Results for Crazy, Busy Couples. The principles in these books have changed so many areas of our life. We highly recommend them.

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  1. Hi Jonathan,
    First, it was a pleasure spending time with you and Lisa last night at the So Cal get together for teachers. It is nice to be able to meet each other, earn from each other, and build upon our best practices. Now to your "Rule Number 9".... there are many profound statements in this article....When you step back and think about the statements that start with "If..." or use the term, "or else...", many of us realize that we have used these terms before, but have never thought about how these words might make students feel. I do agree with having students help develop the consequences for themselves in the classroom. Even though my students don't arrive until Wednesday, I already have butcher paper with a Circle Map up to brainstorm, develop, and agree upon our "Classroom Rules". This way the students have "buy in" and feel that they own these rules. We also then create consequences at the same time, on the first day of school, so students feel a sense of ownership to rules and consequences. I will go back and read the rest of the rules that you have posted prior to today... it's a great article, and thanks for sharing. Carol of The Teacher Team http://theteacherteam.com/

  2. Don't know how we missed your comment last year, Carol, but it's timely for us to be reading it today too! It is so good to remember the if thens of teaching, parenting, and life. How did your Circle Map of Classroom Rules go last year?


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