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Randy Sprick's Safe & Civil Schools Newsletter

April 2007

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Progressive Consequences — Do They Work?

By Randy Sprick

          "Many teachers in our school use a classroom management plan in which each student has a set of colored cards contained in a pocket chart located in a prominent place in the classroom. When a student misbehaves, a card is pulled from his or her pocket. Each card is a different color and represents a progression of consequences such as, when the green card is pulled it serves as a warning, when the yellow card is pulled the student loses recess, when the orange card is pulled it is a parental contact, and if the red card is pulled the student is sent to the office. What do you think about this kind of system?"

This is a question educators often ask in my workshops, so I thought it might be helpful to publish an answer.

When evaluating any disciplinary intervention for use in your classroom, I always begin by asking myself two questions.

First, “Does the intervention treat children with dignity and respect?” If the answer to that question is no, reject the intervention immediately.

In this case, I believe it is entirely possible for a teacher to assign progressively more serious consequences and do it in a manner that is respectful.

Which brings us to the next question—is the intervention working? Is it helping in your efforts to motivate students to be responsible and actively engaged in instruction?

If the answer is yes, then you have a disciplinary plan. If it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it! However, if the answer is no…

In this case, I believe the answer could easily be no. It would be very difficult for a teacher to be consistent in handing out progressive penalties, especially if that teacher is with the same children for the entire day. For a middle or high school teacher, the system probably works better. For an elementary teacher, it would be almost impossible. Let me show you what I mean…

Johnny absentmindedly begins to tap his pencil on his desk. He is not doing this purposefully to cause trouble. It’s a habit that he is virtually unaware of. However, his action is disruptive to the lesson. The teacher issues a warning and pulls his green card. Johnny stops immediately.

Twenty minutes later, Johnny starts up again. The teacher, who genuinely likes Johnny, pulls his yellow card. Now, he’s lost his recess. But, he does stop the misbehavior.

Ten minutes go by—Johnny starts up again. What does the teacher do now? Pull the orange card and call his parents. What if he taps his pencil another time? Would the teacher send him to the office?

At this point, the misbehavior is too trivial for the severity of the consequence. Yet, that is the progression. To be consistent, the teacher should pull the orange card. But, she (or he) doesn’t really want to send Johnny to the office for tapping his pencil four times. So instead, she looks him straight in the eye and says firmly, “Don’t make me pull this card!”—a phrase that can only lead Johnny into thinking that he has the power to “make” his teacher do something she doesn’t want to do. Or even worse, she says, “I really don’t want to pull this card,” leading Johnny to wonder what she does want to do and to continue the misbehavior just to find out.

The problem inherent in a progressive consequences system is that all misbehavior is addressed with the same increasingly severe penalties. However, misbehaviors are not equivalent. Tapping a pencil is not the same as pushing someone. If the government used such a system, we could easily end up in jail for parking tickets! Fortunately for most of us, the government puts parking tickets on a different plane than speeding tickets or DUIs, and treats us accordingly.

Making Progressive Consequences Work

To make a progressive consequences system work better, consider following the government's example—recognize that misbehavior can be minor or serious and respond appropriately.

In this case, set up a parallel system for misbehaviors. On one side are the “speeding ticket” misbehaviors. Those are the ones that will receive progressive consequences. On the other side are the “parking ticket” misbehaviors. Those will be treated with consequences that you hold on the same level.

For instance, tapping a pencil is a minor misbehavior. A teacher might simply choose to take time from the student. For instance, every time Johnny taps his pencil, he loses 15 seconds on the computer. If Johnny misbehaves 12 times, he is corrected 12 times but still has only lost three minutes of computer time. If you get 12 parking tickets, it does not bankrupt you, but is annoying enough that you become more likely to put money in the meter when you park downtown. The point is, you are not escalating the punishment over some trivial offense, which allows you to be calm and consistent in correcting the misbehavior every time it occurs.

It is important before you implement to clearly and explicitly teach your students what to expect—which misbehaviors will merit progressive consequences, which will merit non-progressive consequences, and what those consequences will be.

Using Non-Progressive Consequences

On the other hand, you might consider implementing a non-progressive system for all misbehavior. In this system, you will identify four categories.

First, misbehavior that receives no consequences at all, just reminders—this might be the case in kindergarten, for instance. Your young pupils will simply forget that they are not supposed to shout out an answer. No need to issue a consequence when a simple reminder will do.

Second, misbehavior that receives minor consequences—like Johnny with his pencil. This category is like the parking tickets and consequences remain on the same level. Every time Johnny taps, he owes 15 seconds.

For most teachers, these two categories will take care of 90-95 percent of the misbehaviors that occur. The final two categories deal with the other 5-10 percent.

Third, more serious misbehavior that earns more serious consequences—these include displays of disrespect, use of bad language, and so forth. For these actions, you can devise a menu of consequences that all of your students know about and understand. When any of these misbehaviors occur, you select one of the consequences from the menu—for example, time owed, time out, detention, parental contact, or parent conference.

Fourth, those misbehaviors that violate your school’s code of conduct or involve physical or emotional violence—for these you issue the ultimate consequence (office referral, parental notification, etc.).

Once again, you must make sure that your students understand your system. Teach them exactly what consequences apply to which behaviors.

This system allows for some flexibility between classrooms. Not every teacher needs to use the same classification—with one exception. Consequences for category four misbehaviors should be consistently implemented throughout the entire school.


Results from the Field

In the News!

In February, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction identified 35 Super Safe Schools—schools with the best plans in the state to keep students safe on campus.

Among those 35 schools were four from Onslow County — Richlands Primary, Hunters Creek Middle, Southwest Middle, and Swansboro Middle. All of these schools participate in the Onslow County Schools' Safe and Civil Schools project.

Only two other districts in the state had as many or more schools receive this recognition!

Read the article, Four Onslow schools rate 'Super Safe' in the February 13, 2007 issue of the Jacksonville Daily News.

Safe & Civil Schools congratulates the students and staffs at Richlands, Hunters Creek, Southwest, and Swansboro! Thank you for your committment and your hard work!

Seems like we hear a lot of negative news about schools these days. But good things are happening out there every day. Don't you think it's time people heard about them?

Contact your local paper and arrange good press for your school. Then, let us know about it! We'll feature your school's successes in our newsletters.

Voices from the Field . . .

Last summer, we presented several CHAMPs workshops to educators in South Carolina, many of whom were coaches who took CHAMPs procedures and techniques back to the teachers with whom they work. Recently we heard from one of these coaches who forwarded us an email she received from a teacher. With permission, we are reprinting it here.

          I did not attend the CHAMPs workshop, though I received some of the information from my colleague.  I was quick to make a poster containing CHAMPs and what each letter stood for.  The very next day I introduced the poster to the students and we discussed, modeled and practiced all the conversation levels.  Most students welcomed this change except for one, my most difficult student.  I made sure that I did not acknowledge his call outs unless he raised his hand, I did not start a confrontation with him no matter how disruptive he was, I continued to refer back to the chart to remind him of the conversation level, but most of all I continued to reward those students who were following CHAMPs.
          The first day was the hardest for my one student.  However, like a switch, the second day was a complete turn around.  He entered my classroom, began to work quietly on morning work, did not talk back, did not disrupt, and the biggest prize of all, he raised his hand when he had a question.  I was delighted to see that the third and fourth day were the same behaviors.  In fact he has continued these wonderful behaviors for three weeks and counting.  The class as a whole has recognized his change and has welcomed him into classroom games, playground games, and even argue over who gets to work with him during group work.
          I look forward to the next CHAMPs workshop.  I feel that CHAMPs can and will improve any classroom situation and make the environment conducive to learning.
— Ginger Standish

Ms. Standish is a first-year teacher with Charleston County Schools.

We wish her continued success and are delighted to hear that we have played a part in helping her establish a quiet and cooperative classroom climate!


Thought you'd like to know...

Safe & Civil Schools is currently serving in six of the ten largest school districts in the United States—and in many of the nation's smallest districts, as well. We are honored to be a part of these districts, large and small!


APA survey identifies teacher needs—classroom management tops list

According to the American Psychological Association, teachers want more, and better, instruction in classroom management.

The APA recently published the results of a teacher needs survey that they conducted in 2005-2006 in association with their own Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education and 14 APA divisions.

The purpose of the survey was to determine if the field of psychology could support teachers in any way and, if so, how. The Teachers Needs Survey queried educators in four areas: instructional strategies, classroom management, classroom diversity, and parent/caregiver outreach.

According to the Executive Summary, released in August 2006, teachers had a lot to say about the professional development they receive. At Safe & Civil Schools, we were most interested to find that teachers, especially first-year teachers, want more instruction in classroom management.

Teachers also indicated that they want staff development in the form of in-district workshops with teams of teachers—a model that we have long used in our trainings.

A total of 2,334 teachers from 49 states and the District of Columbia participated in the survey. To read more about the APA findings, download the five-page Executive Summary.




Our 11th Annual Train the Trainer workshop begins this July 15! Mark your calendars now (July 15-19) and come see us in Portland. This year we are offering new classes in Interventions, Coaching, and Highly Structured Classrooms. Please register soon—classes are filling quickly! For more information, visit our website and download the brochure!


Pacific Northwest Publishing launched its latest book, Coaching Classroom Management with a book signing at the NASP 2007 Annual Convention in New York. Randy would like to thank all of you who stopped by to chat with him as he signed copies of the book. We all had fun! Thanks for making it such a success!

We'd also like to thank all of you who came by our booth in the NASP Exhibit Hall. We were delighted to meet new people and visit with old friends!


We are pleased to announce that the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) will honor Randy Sprick at their Annual Convention and Expo in Louisville, Kentucky this year. Randy will receive the 2007 J. E. Wallace Wallin Special Education Lifetime Achievement Award at the General Session on Wednesday, April 18.

According to their website, the CEC awards the J. E. Wallace Wallin Special Education Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of "an individual who has made sustained contributions to the education of children and youth with disabilities."

We couldn't agree more! Congratulations, Randy!

If you are attending the CEC Convention, come to the General Session and celebrate this prestigious honor with us!


Randy will present a one-day workshop at the CEC 2007 Annual Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. The workshop, A Multi-Tier Approach to Provide a Full Continuum of Positive Behavior Support, will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18.


Watch for the interactive multimedia program, In the Driver's Seat, coming soon from ORCAS! This program offers training for bus drivers and transportation supervisors in Safe & Civil Schools methods. By Randy Sprick, Lynn Swartz, and Susan Schroeder.


Speaking of books — you can read a review of Randy Sprick's Discipline in the Secondary Classroom online at the Michigan State University Libraries site.


Randy Sprick and Safe & Civil Schools consultants continue to provide presentations across the country. Some of these include open registration. Registration may be limited and/or may involve a fee. Contact information is provided for each on our website.



As we approach the end of the school year, thoughts begin to turn to summer vacation. All of us at Safe & Civil Schools hope yours is both relaxing and rejuvenating!

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