Julie A. Cunningham

Academic Advisor

Heartfelt Consequences


I’m struggling with the dichotomy of being a parent and being a teacher.

George Couros @gcouros just posted a list of potential interview questions on his blog, The Principal of Change.  One of them struck me because it cuts straight to the heart of my current dilemma. He offers the following:

Classroom Management

1.  Are all consequences the same for each action in your classroom?  Why or why not?

I have struggled with how to address the issue of equal consequences this week as a few of my more responsible students created teacher accounts on our online classroom, Edmodo.  They violated the Edmodo terms and our own school Acceptable Use Policy.

Foolishly, I believed that elementary children are too young to think through the ramifications of the teacher account privileges.  I actually shook my head when I read some posts by other teachers who had this problem with their students because I really didn’t think mine would do so.  I didn’t address it directly because I didn’t want to put the idea into their heads if it wasn’t there already…. all I can say is that it took them 5 short weeks to learn how to use the tool well enough to find a way to work around the constraints.

Nonetheless, I have two students who knowingly lied to create an account online, and then invited classmates to their groups.  The groups were amazing things, like one for Young Artists and one for Tech & Fun Times.  Neat stuff.  Good motivation and desire to collaborate.  Bad initial decision.

As a parent, I have always believed that context and motivation are more important than the actual deed- it’s about heart attitude.  I want to drag that into the classroom with me, but I hear a lot about the ‘rules’ being the same for everyone.  I’m not sure I agree with that philosophy.  In a family, fair is not when everyone gets the same thing, it’s when everyone gets what they need.  Big difference.

In this case, I know my response would differ radically if one of my challenging students did the same thing.  In fact, I believe my knee-jerk response for one of those kids would be to yank them out of the online classroom and make them do something silly, like typing, every computer lab. However, that does nothing to teach them better Digital Citizenship skills or helps them grapple with online ethical issues.  I knew that using an online classroom would grant me multiple opportunities for real-life digital citizenship and internet safety teachable moments…. and that’s one of the main reasons we are using one.  Now that I have my first ‘serious’ offense, I’m not quite sure how to handle it.  It’s more difficult because of the students involved, and my desire to show grace and at the same time be fair to other students.

Actually, I think I am talking apples and oranges.  I can’t even compare the two because it would not have been the ‘same thing’.  If one of my challenging students had tried this, it would have been behind my back,not in front of my face, and it would have been with mean-spirited groups and exclusivity, rather than curious learning centered ones and inclusivity. It is different.

I’m still not sure if there will be additional consequences beyond a sobering discussion, a warning, and a written apology to the creators of Edmodo for misusing the tool and creating additional work for them in deleting accounts and groups.  I know that these students are already showing contrition and remorse.  They immediately apologized, and deleted their posts.  In the context of this situation, these students were trying to create a group about a topic to share with everyone.  They are consistently trustworthy and respectful.  In the context of my relationship with them, they made a single bad choice in a stream of wonderful decisions.

What do you do?  Do you believe the consequences are the same for all students?  I’m not sure I do. Life is not fair. People are different.  Children are different. They each have individual needs, strengths and weaknesses. Do we differentiate instruction, and then fail to differentiate when it comes to behavior issues?

Guess I need to get this one figured out before I start applying for jobs, huh?

Image courtesy of stock.xchng


7 thoughts on “Heartfelt Consequences

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Heartfelt Consequences | Tartan Learning -- Topsy.com

  2. great post sweet. love the transparency you maintain.

    my question…should we maybe question our own parameters that seem to mandate those (any) consequences.

    should we maybe question how/why this happens in the first place
    ….students who knowingly lied to create an account online, and then invited classmates to their groups. The groups were amazing things, like one for Young Artists and one for Tech & Fun Times.

    what are we doing in not allowing for those opportunities in the first place.
    how can we unleash and liberate so that this isn’t a crime. so that students (all people) feel free to be as open and honest as you have just been in sharing the story. i know if they would have come to you asking for a way to do that.. you would have found it.. and it would be happening.

    i guess i’m asking, are our rules helping or hurting. how do we build trust, so that no one feels the need to sneak or lie. so that transparency is not only accepted, but it’s honored and craved.

    how can we focus more on crafting trust in our communities than crafting consequences.

    i love that you shared this.

    • What troubles me the most is that they didn’t come to me about incorporating those ideas…. do they really think I’d tell them no? That’s a concern. I’m all for unleashing and liberating. (And I hear a silent, hanging “but” at the end of that in my mind…. need to ponder that unspoken response.)

  3. Great thoughts Julie…The term “consequence” is a reality that sometimes has a negative connotation. Sometimes there are positive consequences as well and for every action, there is a consequence. With that being said, I also agree with Monika about “rules”. They force us to actually lose our common sense about things and sometimes push us away from doing what is right. (I wrote about this as well: http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/1026)

    My formula for dealing with every incident is deal with every incident individually. You are right when you say that kids are people and we need to treat them that way. As a principal, I always start any conversation with, “Tell me why you are here.” The kids usually do all the talking, and I try to guide them with questions to what is right and wrong. I also ask them, “what should your consequence be?” With that, students learn to focus on their action as opposed to how much they despise me in that moment, while teaching the child to learn to deal with their own mistakes. I would NEVER set up consequences where, if you do A you get B. It doesn’t work and it takes away from all of our personalities.

    Just my thoughts 🙂

    P.S. I love your blog.

    • Connotations and assumptions are tricky things, aren’t they? And thank you for sharing the ‘deal with every incident individually’ formula. That really frees me trust my instinct on this, and to be less pedantic. (Getting re-inspired to do Project 365 from your blog Flickr feed… the iPhone app was a fail last year.) Appreciate your thoughts.

  4. Just a quick thought… I’m a big fan of restorative actions. Rather than focusing on the consequence, I think we need to focus on what will make it right again. This means that each situation will need to be handled in the individual manner that our students deserve.

  5. Truly a great post. To see this amount of reflection coming from an educator at any point in her career is inspiring. Though I’ve never gotten the opportunity to meet you, after reading this, I know with great certainty that a one size fits all education system bothers you to the core of who you are. This may not be what you want to hear, but…BRAVO! Thank goodness your reaction is one of serious, thoughtful meditation. Thank goodness for teachers who care. I’m not convinced that we are the minority that some would have us believe we are. As Sir Ken Robinson so eloquently related our education system should never resemble a factory…not even where discipline is concerned.