Bad Behaviour: Are we right to punish first? Reacting to negative behaviour positively.

I know its a bold idea, and it’s not that I don’t think we shouldn’t punish bad behaviour, but it seems to me that the cycle of bad behaviour and punishment is a common school theme for many students across the UK. How can we break this cycle? If the punishment isn’t working and the student continues to behave badly and disruptively, then surely we should be looking at another way of combating or preventing this bad behaviour; thus breaking the cycle. 

Why is it a cycle? A student behaves negatively, and so we punish them, which in turn is a negative action. And this negative action of punishment leads to students having a negative emotional reaction, again probably leading back to negative behaviour. It may not be instant. In some cases, the punishment may work for a short amount of time, but its not a long term solution. 

What happens if we stop to work out what is leading that student to behave badly, and instead of thinking of a punishment, think of a solution?

Are they disengaged with the work? Why are they disengaged? Are they finding it too easy? Is it too challenging? Are they given the support they need to work through the challenge? Do they find it relevant? Or even interesting? Do they have a good relationship with you and/or the classmates? Are they lacking something they need? Are they eating properly? Are they sleeping properly? Are they stressed? Are they happy? Do they think you care? Do you show you care? Do you ever really talk to them?

That was a lot of questions, but they are all questions I think are important to ask, and perhaps not even all the questions we should ask. 

So what happens if we don’t react to bad behaviour with a negative response, but instead react with a positive response. I definitely don’t mean praise the bad behaviour… do acknowledge the bad behaviour but do not condone it, and make sure the student sees that. The aim is to help resolve any issues there may be for that student (it is also important not to let the student use bad behaviour as an attention seeking device with no consequences). Does this student ever get a positive response from you? Does the student ever feel supported by you? Do they see that you care? Does the student ever feel that you are working together, rather than against each other? 

Positive rapport with students is so important. Emotional engagement helps promote behavioural engagement, in turn allowing deeper cognitive engagement – and thats what we are aiming for as teachers, right? Students are less likely to act out if they enjoy what they’re doing and there’s a positive climate in the room. If there is persistent bad behaviour in the room, how can we adapt our teaching to promote a positive and healthy climate in order to lower the chance of bad behaviour? This is perhaps the biggest and most challenging…challenge of teachers. If something isn’t working, can thinking about it differently lead to ideas that promote positive change, and perhaps even resolution?