Categories
Anger Management Behaviour Management

Should teachers punish?

The question in the title is a great conversation starter. I find that everybody has an opinion on this topic with merits to all sides. I believe there is no black-and-white answer but I do find that applied behaviour analysis (ABA) provides some great value and a great framework for discussing it. They provide food for thought and its important to note within ABA itself, there is a division over the use of punishment. Some of the points below might help you make up your mind about your use of punishment (or if you will use it at all!).

A Clear Definition of Punishment

This first thing I love is ABA clearly defines punishment. They discuss two contrasting types of punishment: 

1. Positive Punishment 

Positive punishment refers to the contingent presentation of a stimulus that decreases the likelihood of a behaviour. For example, the child performs a behaviour and the teacher verbally reprimands the child which reduces the likelihood of the child performing the behaviour again.

2. Negative Punishment 

Negative punishment refers to the contingent removal of a stimulus that decreases the likelihood of a behaviour. Negative punishment typically refers to response cost and time-out. A standard example of this may be a student losing access to privileges, reward tokens or golden time etc.  

While many discuss punishment as a cruel and old-school practice delivered in no relation to behaviour, punishment in ABA terms is strictly discussed as a procedure to decrease a behaviour. If it is not to decrease a specific behaviour, punishment is not used and if it is not effective at decreasing the behaviour, it can be adjusted or removed. This definition appears reasonable and gives a clear rationale for its use i.e to decrease behaviour.

How and When to Punish

As well as using punishment only to decrease a target behaviour, five key points struck me as thought-provoking when reading the literature. These were:

  1. Punishment is discouraged unless it is considered to be the best way to intervene to cause a behaviour change.
  2. Punishment should be used with reinforcement. If one behaviour is being decreased, reward the behaviour that would like to be increased.
  3. Avoid punishment unless avoiding it would be of greater cost to the child than engaging with it.
  4. Use the least amount of punishment that is effective (lowest intensity, shortest duration).
  5. Punishment can be useful when the reinforcers (the thing that causes the behaviour) cannot be identified or controlled.

Should teachers punish?

To bring it back to the original question, I still think there is no clear answer. If you have tried positive approaches to cause specific behaviour change and it is not forthcoming, then there may be a case for punishment. Using the principles above, if punishment is being used, it should be the least amount of punishment necessary and the teacher should know what behaviour they should like to increase in its place while rewarding that behaviour when it occurs. If the teacher is cognizant of all the above points, I believe punishment may have a place in a teacher’s behaviour management toolkit.

Categories
Anger Management Behaviour Management

I-ASSIST-YOU-WHEN-ANGRY

As teachers, we can often end up mediating conflicts or handling crises throughout the day. Successful management of these situations where tensions or emotions may be running high does not need to be a win-lose scenario where the teacher wins and asserts their control while the student or students back down, or worse, when the student wins and the teacher backs down! Anger is an emotion that adults can struggle to deal with when children are in a full tantrum or heightened state. However, meeting anger in a child with anger from the teacher is a bit of a hypocritical response when you think about it. Managing these scenarios most effectively can result in a win-win for everybody as the situation is de-escalated and the student is offered a way back that is respectful of their anger, yet, assertive that there are other ways to deal with it.

The I-Assist model is a great strategy for diffusing such situations and ensure that everyone feels safe. It offers the student an avenue to avoid making a difficult situation worse in a few clear steps.

  1. Isolate the situation: Get the student on their own by either removing them or removing the other pupils present. This should be done in a calm manner rather than authoritative or accusatory. Managing a conflict in front of an audience can make it hard for both the teacher and student as nobody wants to be perceived as “losing face”.
  1. Actively listen: Listen to the student and paraphrase back to them how they are feeling to demonstrate you are listening and understanding. Take the focus away from blame and insults and put it on their emotions and feelings.
  1. Speak Calmly: Using a calm tone of voice despite what might be being said about you or others is important in ensuring the situation doesn’t escalate. It is very hard to argue at somebody who won’t argue back.
  1. Statement of Understanding: Use statements like “I understand you are angry with _____ or because of _____, however, there might be a different way to deal with these feelings”.
  1. Invite them to consider positive outcomes: Ask them what might happen if they were to calm down and deal with this a different way. Offer them a way out rather than trying to talk them down or impose a solution on them.
  1. Space to person to consider: Give them physical space to think about their next step. We’ve all been angry before and having an individual rushing us or in front of us when we are trying to calm down does not speed up the process I think we can agree.
  1. Time to think: Once you have made a request or given them choices, let them have some “wait-time” to decide. Pushing them can lead to further inflammation or escalation that we want to avoid.

There are steps here that we might already do in our classrooms as it is but the nice thing about the I-Assist strategy is it puts a nice consistent structure for dealing with conflict or anger outbursts to ensure that the teacher responds in a structured manner when situations arise and the children will learn what to expect if they are to react a certain way. If you incorporate this strategy, it can easily be shared with others who come in contact with your class so there is a consistent method used. It is a calm approach to a difficult situation that I am on board with.

Credit to the Therapeutic Crisis Intervention programme developed at Cornell University, New York for the idea.