Flip the Script

Every year, without fail, the power play begins. In the first week of school, there’s always at least one class with That Kid. You know, the one who’s testing you. Rolling his eyes. Not-so-covertly texting on her phone. Or, more aggressively, dropping a snarky comment in the midst of your lecture. The battle for control of the class has begun.

Instead of launching the usual path of warnings/referrals/calls home, try using the most effective tool in your Classroom Discipline Arsenal – Respect. Wait, what? Yeah, respect the kid even when he/she doesn’t deserve it. Here’s how the script rolls each and every year:

[Inappropriate moment has just occurred]
Me [in a calm tone]: Steven, I need to talk to you after class. [I continue teaching.]

[After the period is over and the classroom has emptied]
Me: Thanks for hanging back for a second, Steven. I noticed that you were [insert offending action] today in class. In fact, I’ve sort of read a strange energy coming from you and [slight pause] I’m wondering if I’ve done something to offend you.

Steven [stunned silent because this is not what he was expecting me to say]: Um…no…

Me [exhaling deeply and dropping my shoulders in relief]: Oh, good, because I was worried you were offended by something I didn’t realize I had done. I couldn’t understand why you were behaving so disrespectfully in class today.

[Steven remains silent, not knowing what to say.]

Me: You know, I realize we’re just getting to know each other, but you seem really sharp to me. I can tell the other kids look at you as a leader, and I’d love for you to use that gift to lead us all to have a really good year together. What do you think?

Steven: Yeah, okay…

Me: Great. I’m so glad we cleared the air. I’m really looking forward to working with you. And, let’s just forget about [whatever annoying thing happened today] and start tomorrow with a clean slate, yes?

Steven: Yeah.

Me: Awesome. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Do I have anymore problems with Steven? Nope. In fact, I haven’t had to send a referral to the front office in more than a decade. When I start with respect (even when they haven’t yet earned it), teens respond in kind.

In my teacher training classes (many, many years ago), I still remember a visiting high school teacher who talked about his positive discipline methods. Specifically, he told us that teens will always be able to bark louder than we can, so don’t engage in that fight. Instead, use your wit and your professionalism. By having private conversations with students, you preserve their dignity and allow for tomorrow to be a better day.

UPDATE: I posted a YouTube video on this topic, showing the script in action and talking about three more things to keep in mind when handing out consequences for poor classroom behavior. If you find this information helpful, be sure to comment, “like,” and/or subscribe to my YouTube channel, which will help other teachers find my video and blog. Thanks so much!

Teach on, everyone!

9 thoughts on “Flip the Script

  1. Janet Garrett says:

    I like and appreciate your advice. I teach in a rough school with 7th and 8th graders. I’m going to try your suggestions! I hope I have as much success with them. Thank you!

  2. Allison Delort says:

    This is really sound advice Laura -thank you for this. I am looking forward to trying this approach when we are back at school in September. I taught Primary school for nearly twenty years and have just spent my first year in High school. I am loving the teaching but the discipline aspect with teenagers has been a steep learning curve!

  3. Wow, Allison! From elementary to high school? Oh, I bet you’ve got some great stories…
    Glad you found my blog!

  4. Nikki Feldy says:

    As a 3rd year teacher changing schools this year, I find this to be the best advice I have ever heard! Referrals and talking to That Kid in front of the entire class always felt extremely wrong to me. Wit is my strong suit, so thank you for fully explaining how you handle this type of situation. Your help could not be more appreciated 🙂

  5. Thanks so much, Nikki! Glad this was useful. And, yes, discipline in front of an audience of That Kid’s peers is a recipe for disaster. Calm. Fair. Private. That’s the best way to handle this situation. Have a great school year. Go get ’em!

  6. So true! Thanks for reminding me that respect and professionalism are indeed the keystones to good discipline.

  7. Chaya Kashani says:

    This is awesome!

    But….I can see some kids who will be too smart even for this, and will still resist and play as if they don’t care. I’ve had students stomp out in middle of the conversation, or actively refute what I was saying (yes this was in a calm, cool professional, private conversation). I’d like to think that my words and efforts are not in vain, and that someday, something I said or did will influence these students or help them for the good.

  8. Indeed, Chaya, this is just one tool to add to our list of ever-evolving teaching techniques. It works a lot of the time, but there are still kids who will need more. I think of those kids as a garden. I’ll need to plant a lot of seeds and give them water/attention and time before I’ll seem them bloom…and even then, I don’t win every kid every year. None of these positive moves are in vain because even if our intentions don’t land on that one particularly difficult kid, there are 30 other kids in the room watching us model kindness and respect. That’s a win, too.

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