Randy Sprick's Safe & Civil Schools – Practical Solutions, Positive Results!

Fall 2009


Spare the Rod, Spoil Teach the Child

By Randy Sprick

U.S. map describing states allowing and disallowing corporal punishment in schools.

Although illegal in 30 states, corporal punishment continues to be used as a means of disciplining students in 20 states. According to a recent report, Impairing Education, published jointly by the Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), approximately 223,190 children were paddled in American schools during the 2006-07 school year.

Effects on Students

In an earlier report, A Violent Education (2008), the Human Rights Watch and the ACLU document how corporal punishment in schools:

As noted in these reports, current research on corporal punishment refutes its effectiveness in changing inappropriate student behavior. Yet the practice has long-lasting adverse affects on society in general. Corporal punishment perpetuates violence in our culture by sending the clear message that adults think hitting is appropriate.

Honey vs. the Paddle

At Safe & Civil Schools, we think along the lines of, “Spare the rod, teach the child.” Models of Positive Behavior Support (PBS) do just that. The research literature on PBS indicates that prevention and positive feedback are more effective in managing student behavior than strictly reactive techniques such as corporal punishment.

The old adage, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” loosely summarizes the principal on which Positive Behavior Support is based. Students respond positively to respectful treatment and negatively to degrading treatment.

Positive Behavior Support describes a generic set of strategies designed to improve behavioral success with nonpunitive, proactive, systematic techniques. A PBS approach incorporates proactive, positive (nonpunitive), and instructional strategies exercised over time with consistency. The emphasis is on, “How can we change the system, setting, or structure to help Johnny stop talking out in class and learn to be academically and socially successful?” rather than on, “What can I do to Johnny to make him stop talking out in class?” The acronym STOIC outlines the major strategies of a Safe & Civil Schools approach to PBS:

Structure your classroom for success. The way the classroom is organized (physical setting, schedule, routines and procedures, quality of instruction, and so on) has a huge impact on student behavior. Effective teachers thoughtfully structure their classrooms in ways that prompt responsible student behavior.
Teach behavioral expectations to students. Effective teachers explicitly teach students how to behave responsibly and respectfully (in other words, to be successful) in every classroom situation — teacher-directed instruction, independent seatwork, cooperative groups, tests, and all major transitions.
Observe and supervise. Effective teachers monitor student behavior by physically circulating whenever possible and visually scanning all parts of the classroom frequently. Effective teachers also use meaningful data to observe student behavior, particularly chronic misbehavior, in objective ways and to monitor trends across time.
Interact positively with students. Effective teachers focus more time, attention, and energy on acknowledging responsible behavior than on responding to misbehavior—what we call a high ratio of positive to negative interactions. When students behave responsibly, they receive attention and specific descriptive feedback on their behavior.
Correct fluently. Effective teachers preplan their responses to misbehavior to ensure that they respond in a brief, calm, and consistent manner—ensuring that the flow of instruction is maintained. In addition, with chronic and severe misbehavior, teachers think about the function of the misbehavior ("Why is the student misbehaving?") and build a plan that helps the student learn appropriate behavior.

Only the fifth and last strategy—Correct fluently—is reactive. The first four strategies—Structure, Teach, Observe, and Interact positively—describe techniques effective teachers use proactively to prevent misbehavior before it occurs. To accomplish true behavior change, the proactive strategies (Structure, Teach, Observe, and Interact positively) must be implemented.

When it is necessary to Correct fluently, we can recommend procedures that are effective and do not include the adverse consequences of corporal punishment.

Correcting Fluently

When you treat student misbehavior as an instructional opportunity button.

A certain amount of misbehavior is bound to occur in any classroom. The trick is learning to respond in ways that lead to fewer occurrences of the inappropriate behavior. Correcting fluently is such a response.

An effective correction is one that:

(For more in-depth procedural information, see CHAMPS, 2009).

Correcting fluently is a strategy that can help you rectify misbehavior in a manner that helps the student whose behavior is chronically problematic, reduces the degree to which that student’s behavior interferes with the learning of others, and makes it easier for you, as teacher, to feel more effective, useful, and valued in your classroom.

Sparing the Rod and Teaching the Child

STOIC, with its proactive and corrective procedures, can actually accomplish more toward changing student behavior than corporal punishment. This follows from the many studies that show students respond positively and productively to teachers who take the time to build warm and trusting relationships with them, who treat them with dignity, and who punish fluently, consistently, and fairly.

More information about setting up a classroom management plan based on tenets of Positive Behavior Support is available in CHAMPS: A Proactive and Positive Approach to Classroom Management, Second Edition. Chapter 9 deals extensively with correcting severe and chronic misbehavior and elucidates the information presented here.

You may also want to read more about corporal punishment in U.S. schools. There are a number of sources you can check:

[Graphics courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons, used with permission granted under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license.]