Working to make a difference for children
who display challenging behavior



Preventing Your Rules From Falling Apart
Chapt. 12

Excerpts from Prof. Howard Seeman's book/video:
Preventing Classroom Discipline Problems, 3rd Ed.:

Why do Mr. Smith's rules work and last throughout the whole year, and Mr. Johnson's rules fall apart in a few weeks, leaving him screaming louder and louder, and sending more and more students to the office? No one can tell you what rules to make in your classroom. That is because if they are not congruent with your personality and teaching style, these rules and their warnings will come off phony, the students will sense that these are not your rules, and these rules will eventually become ineffective. But, I can give you good guidelines that will make your rules effective and still fit who you are, what you believe in, and your specific teaching style. I will suggest here: Twenty One Guidelines that you should follow as you design your rules (and their warnings) for your classroom: Of course you must be consistent with your school's rules, but then what?

1. Decide on a consequence that you will enforce, in the form of a warning, if the rule is broken.

2. You should feel congruent with your rules. Don't blurt out something you don't really believe in or that you later realize is too harsh. How do you stop such incongruent blurts? Again, go back to the list of misbehaviors on pages 260-261, then...

3. You should be able to follow through with the warning you design for each infraction of your rule. Again, don't blurt out "I'll suspend you!" if you can't really do that. Again, go back to page 285 and decide...

4. Your first response to an infraction should be as nonverbal as possible, e.g., a disapproving look or no recognition to an answer called out, instead of a verbal reprimand, "John!" Why? Because the latter gives more attention to the misbehavior. You don't want to accidentally award "negative attention" to behaviors you're trying to extinguish. If you have to reprimand, reprimand while giving the misbehavior as little attention as possible. Thus, for example, putting a disruptive student's name on the chalkboard or asking him or her to come to the front of the room, etc., places the student in the limelight. It's a negative limelight, but some students would rather get negative attention than none at all.

5. Along with the above, starve students who seek negative attention, but reward these students immediately as they "turn over a new leaf" and newly try to get attention for being good. Go deaf, dumb, and blind to a call-out... (For more on handling "calling out" see pp. 348-349).

6. Try to deliver your warnings in a place, or in a way, that has the least audience reaction. Don't reprimand a student in front of the class if you can at all help it. Try to remember that a reprimand in front of the class, especially for adolescents, is always much more severe than the same one given in private. Students reprimanded in front of an audience need to revolt against your warning to save face. Always, if you can, deliver your warning after class at the "See me after class!" meeting. Or...

7. Don't make your warnings too long-winded. If you do, the time it takes to reprimand will slow down the train of your lesson. Students will then turn off, and more disruptions will be incited. Say it short and sweet, and then immediately go on with the lesson.

8. As the "new research" indicates, design a hierarchy of consequences in the form of warnings if your rule is broken. If a student violates a reprimand the second time, the severity of the consequence should be greater than the first time. The warnings should have graduated consequences. For instance, "If you call out once, I'll let it go. If you call out a second time..., the third time, you will have to...

9. Design the warnings for breaking your rules so that they have as many small step by-step consequences as possible and do not skip warning steps. For instance, an ineffective hierarchy of consequences would be: "If you call out twice, your mother will have to come to school." This consequence is too big and has too few steps. The student has little time to "turn over a new leaf," and the teacher... Instead, ...

10. Call in a third party to your system as late as possible; if you think you are nearing the use of a third party, prepare that person ahead of time. For instance, an ineffective system would be: "If you call out, youĂ–ll have to report to the dean." This tells the student that very quickly you can't handle things by yourself and leaves the administration with the same impression. You have too quickly involved a third party... A better system might be:...

*For rewards instead of punishments, see Chapt. 12 C.

Howard Seeman, Ph.D. is the author of : Preventing Classroom Discipline Problems; A Classroom Management Handbook and its companion TRAINING VIDEO, cued to the book. [At:] He is also Professor Emeritus of Education at City University of New York, Lehman College, where he has taught classroom management, educational psychology, methods, and supervised teachers and student teachers since 1970. He has published over 20 articles in professional journals on education, counseling, philosophy and psychology. He has been the keynote speaker at many national education conferences and talk-radio shows, and has given over 50 workshops and lectures throughout the U.S. on classroom management, prevention of disruptive behavior, and emotional education. His book is used internationally in over 30 countries, and he was a visiting professor in Japan from 1990 to 1992.

Dr. Seeman originally was a camp director for ten years, directed a camp for emotionally disturbed children, worked in children's shelters, and taught in the New York City public schools as a licensed high school English and Social Studies teacher, and Substitute teacher.