Classroom Management Resource Page      Shindler      School Climate      PLSI       Teaching   -    Workshops by JVS


Chapter 10: Developing Logical and Related Consequences within the Social Contract (and Why to Avoid the Use of Punishments)

From Transformative Classroom Management. By John Shindler. ©2008

Reproduction is unlawful without permission


In this Chapter

·         What is a Consequence?

·         What is a Punishment?

·         What is wrong with the Use of Punishments?

·         Creating Effective Consequences within the Social Contract

·         Examples of Effective Logical Consequences


An essential part of a well-functioning system of social interactions and bonds—the “classroom social contract” (Chapter 9)—is the development of a clear relationship in the students’ minds between their actions and the consequences of those actions. Therefore it is necessary to develop within the context of our classroom social contract a set of logical and related consequences for student behavior that violates the contract. These consequences act to create boundaries and clarity of expectations. Along with providing meaningful cause and effect connections, agreed upon consequences for violating ones agreement act as a practical, concrete manifestation of accountability and what it means to be a responsible member of the class. Without consequences a social contract is merely an abstract ideal, participated in voluntarily, and practically ineffectual.


Often we use the terms consequences and punishments interchangeably. However, consequences and punishments are very different things. It may appear that they are different variations of the same idea – doing something to or toward students to give them a disincentive to misbehave--but as we examine each more closely, we will see that they are very different and have dramatically varying effects.


To illustrate the differences between consequences and punishments, it may be useful to examine two cases related to what might happen if a student misses a school bus. As you compare the two cases, which example would you characterize as a consequence and which as a punishment?


Case #1

The student understands that the bus to school arrives at his stop at 8:00. He gets to the stop at 8:05. The bus has come and gone as scheduled. The student realizes the bus is no longer an option and that he must find an alternative form of transportation to school.


Case #2

Again the student understands that the bus was to stop at 8:00. The student arrives at the bus stop at 8:05. In this example, the bus has been waiting. The bus driver is very angry and lectures the student about the importance of getting to the stop on time. As the student moves to their seat on the bus the other students berate them and shame them for making them wait.



Chapter Reflection 10-a: In a group discussion, or on your own, identify all the ways in which these two situations vary from one another. As you examine them more deeply, you will recognize many ways in which they do. The questions below may be helpful in your analysis.



Reflect on the two cases:

  • Which one is more likely to change behavior in the long-term?
  • Which one teaches the more useful lesson for life?
  • Which one builds the student’s sense of responsibility and internal LOC?
  • Who is in control in each case? Is that important?


As you likely identified, the first case would best be characterized as a consequence and the second case as a punishment. In the first case, a lesson was learned; in the second, the result was merely discomfort. While both cases may have had an effect on the student in the short-term, and the second case even may have motivated the student to get to the stop on time the next day, as we examine the two cases more closely, we see that only the first case was logically related to the problem. The student was late (cause), and therefore the bus was no longer available (effect), while it would have been if the student had gotten to the stop on time. The lesson to be learned is clear -- get to the stop on time and the bus will be there. The ownership of the problem rests with the student.



Chapter Refection 10-b: Recall a situation in which you missed a bus, flight, deadline, or arrived at a store after it closed. Did you learn a lesson? Did it change your behavior in the future?



In the second case, we find a lot of difficulty recognizing the logical relationship between being yelled at and taking too long to get to the bus stop. It may seem like a common response to such student behavior, but it is not logical. In this second case, the lesson learned has little to do with a need to change behavior, and has more to do with avoiding the discomfort that may (or may not) come from the bus driver. And like many punishments, there was no real consequence for being late. The bus was still there. The student learned that they could be late to the stop, and the bus would still be waiting for them. There was a lot of sound and fury, but it signified very little. In this situation, the causality was external. It was dependent on the mood and the whims of the bus driver, and so there can be little or no effect on the development of the student’s internal locus of control and thus growth toward more responsible future choices.



Chapter Reflection 10-c: At this point in the chapter, most students begin to realize that what they received from their parents were mostly punishments. Reflect on whether this is true for you.



What is a consequence?

In life generally, consequences are things that happens as a result of our actions. We may choose to describe them with such labels as “reaping what we have sown,” “karmic reactions,” “sleeping in the bed we have made,” “emotional bank accounts,” etc. But in the natural world all causes have effects. Nothing happens in a vacuum. All thoughts and actions have consequences. And if we are perceptive, we begin to learn which actions and thoughts (causes) bring us the kinds of circumstances (effects) that we desire, and those that bring us unwanted outcomes.


In the classroom, students experience countless consequences each day. Most are natural and occur without any teacher intervention. For example, when a student is in a hurry or careless they make a spelling mistake, or miscalculate a math problem. Or a student may be friendly to other students and as a result be perceived as likable. An infinite number of events act as consequences for each of us daily.


Most consequences related to most teachers are typically positive. For example, when the student works at a task, the teacher may offer a verbal recognition of effort, or may provide academic or emotional support. And in most classrooms, when the student raises a hand the teacher recognizes them for a response. In each of these cases, there is a fairly apparent cause-and-effect relationship between the thoughts and actions of the student and the consequences they experience. Moreover, when a student feels successful, they associate that feeling of success to a great extent with the person who helped them get there, and that is usually you, the teacher.


As we will discuss in more detail in the next Chapter, the most powerful means to developing a responsible mindset in students is to help make them aware of this cause-and-effect relationship between their thoughts and actions and the consequent effects that occur as a result. A requirement for helping students recognize this cause and effect is to create it within the logic of the classroom social contract. The keys to this logic are: 1) the use of cause-and-effect in your explanations for why things happen, both academically and managerially; and 2) well-established, natural, related, and logical consequences for both positive and negative behaviors. In other words, students learn that when they make certain choices, a logical and related consequence will follow.


Ideally, the best consequences (and inherently most logical and related) are those that are naturally occurring. However, when these are not sufficient given the situational demands, the teacher must create a manufactured consequence that is as related as possible to the situational behavior. For example, in the instance of the student who arrived late for the bus, the consequence was natural. No one needed to implement it. And in that case, the only person affected was the student. In the absence of clear and direct natural consequences the teacher (with the help of the students if they wish) must manufacture one. For example, the naturally occurring consequence of a student getting up and sharpening a pencil several times a day is that others are annoyed and learning is disrupted. Clearly in this case, the natural consequence is insufficient to meet the needs of the class as a whole. Therefore the consequence must be artificial but related. One of the many logical consequences in this case would be that a student might lose the privilege of using the sharpener for a while. The “cause” of course is the student’s choosing to misuse a privilege; the “effect” is that the privilege is withheld for a time. The student may be given the opportunity to try again later, and hopefully they will take a more responsible approach to the use of the privilege in the future.


What is a punishment?

A punishment is an external intervention that is intended to give discomfort for the purpose of payback or out of the belief that it will change behavior. There are no natural and/or logical punishments. The locus of control of a punishment is the punisher. In nature there are only consequences, NO punishments. For instance, if we take a wrong turn on a hiking trail, we may get lost, we may run into trouble, experience hunger or feel frightened, but none of the pain we experience could be defined as a punishment. It is always rooted in the laws of nature -- in cause and effect. We made a bad choice -- we did not prepare properly or we underestimated the task -- so consequently, we paid a price.


Punishments come in many forms. Some are very overt and obvious, such as writing standards or lines, picking up trash, names on the board, detentions, being sent to the office, angry outbursts, having to sit alone, calls home, losing class points, etc. Some punishments are much more subtle. These include lectures, guilt throwing, public shaming, overt disappointment, being more critical of student work after they have misbehaved, lowering of expectations, etc.


In a punishment condition, the pain and discomfort inflicted on the “punished” is always calculated by an external agent, the “punisher.” With consequences, the cost or benefit is determined by natural laws, whereas with the punishment the price is determined artificially. Consequences teach lessons, punishments teach avoidance of the punisher. Most consequences are understood before decisions are made and actions take place. Punishments are typically reactive.


Table 10.1 Consequences vs. Punishments; A Comparison



Intend to teach lessons

Intend to give discomfort

Foster internal locus of control

Foster external locus of control

Are proactive

Are reactive

Are logical and related

Are unrelated and personal

Work in the long-term

Work in the short-term

Promote responsibility

Can promote obedience (but more likely resentment)


What is so Wrong with Punishments?

On the surface punishments can appear to “work.” They produce what appears to be a desirable outcome. But as we examine their effects more closely, we will see that punishments either do not really improve behavior in the long-term, and/or are not the portion of the intervention that had the desirable effect.


Punishment may stop unwanted behavior in the short term. There is therefore an illusion that it works, but the lesson learned is not related to the problem behavior and so will not lead to learning or behavior change. For example, if a teacher angrily tells the class to “BE QUIET!” the effect will likely be that the class stops talking momentarily. But if we return to this same class a week later, the teacher will still be required to yell when they want quiet. The lesson that is being learned by the students from this punishment intervention is to tolerate the teacher’s yelling and anger for a while and then wait for the opportunity to go back to the behavior that meets their previous needs. There is nothing learned that relates to an appropriate use of voice, or a respectful orientation to others’ need for a peaceful learning environment. So without the fundamental learning (which consequences provide), the teacher’s external and emotional intervention appears to be the only thing that works. But it only stops the problem for an instant, and worst of all, as the students become comfortable with the negative impact of the punishment they become increasingly immune, so more frequent and more severe forms of punishment are required to obtain the same result. What is the saying about digging yourself a hole? The first step is to stop digging.


Some readers may be saying, “But my class is improving, and I do rely heavily on punishments.” Let’s examine typical practices in such a situation and analyze what is making things better. It is a safe bet that mixed in with the punishments are a lot of high expectations and the implicit message that you believe in the students and will not accept poor behavior. In the end, these positive messages of caring and validation are having the positive effect. Moreover, the use of punishments is only holding the class back from its potential. Try keeping the high expectations and exchange the use of punishments for consequences. You may be surprised at how the students respond with a level of behavioral maturity that you did not think that they had. Moreover, you will find yourself experiencing an emotional ease and lightness that gives you more positive energy throughout the day.


As we examine the effect of consequences more closely, we see that they build responsibility in students. Children who are fed a steady diet of punishment (especially guilt, shame, lectures) do not build responsibility because (as was discussed in Chapter 8) the locus of control in punishment is external and responsibility comes from an internal locus of control. So what do punishments promote? For the most part, it is either obedience or rebellion. You think, “Well, if it is obedience, then I am fine with that.” Obedience may sound desirable on the surface, and in the role of the teacher, it may seem to make life easier, but it can be a slippery slope down a path that leads to emotionally immature and dependent students. It might be useful to put yourself in the position of the student (a useful cure for most “teacher power trips” by the way), and consider whether you would want to be put in a position where you were expected to do only what you were told. You can see the benefit of this arrangement for the self-centered teacher, but it is difficult to see the benefits to the student. The primary skill one learns from a teacher who loves to punish and demands obedience is how to play the game of pretending to be repentant. This is not the kind of skill that translates into high quality relationships over a lifetime. So if our job is to teach and promote our students’ growth, why would we incorporate a practice that fundamentally stunts personal growth?



Chapter Reflection 10-d: In groups or individually, respond to the teacher that suggests that, “consequences are fine for the small things, but for the big things, we need to use punishments.” Do you find this to be sound logic? It may help to recall you answer to the earlier question related to the events that changed your life the most, were they consequences or punishments?








Why We Love to Give Punishments (and the Pain-Based Logic)

If we examine why one would have a compelling attraction to the use of punishments (detailed in Chapter 19 in our discussion of the 4-Style appraoch), it has more to do with one’s mental conditioning than any evidence of efficacy. Very often teachers (and students in teacher education classes) after examining the consequence vs. punishment dichotomy become upset and feel the need to defend the use of punishments. They often use the phrase “I have tried to use consequences, but my students only understand punishments, and they are working for me.”  On the surface this sounds reasonable. But as we examine the logic a bit closer we can see why these classes are not developing more responsible and desirable behavior, and why the teacher spends a lot of time emotionally miserable. At the heart of their thinking is a “pain-based logic.” This form of reasoning implies something to the effect that, “Because I was personally offended by the students’ actions, to teach them a lesson, to motivate change, and to pay them back, I need to give them some pain. It’s only fair.”


It’s possible to assume that somewhere in the past of the teacher who clings to a “pain-based logic” and cannot give up defending the use of punishments is an attachment to a past authority figure who used this logic and a high quantity of punishments. As a result, the teacher continually misinterprets the evidence. Like an addiction, while the effects of the use of punishments are to the objective eye (and to their own inner conscience) not very desirable – little improvement of behavior, an ever-increasing hostile climate in the class, and a feeling on the part of the teacher that they are more law enforcement than learning facilitator – the teacher continues to hold to the belief that the punishments are necessary. The inner dialogue is, “If I do not give pain for unwanted behavior, I will be viewed as weak and powerless.” There is a fictional and faulty working assumption by the teacher that suggests that people cannot be trusted and that they only respond to pain and domination. Within this mental fiction is misinterpretation of one’s own past. If one regularly receives the message that one cannot be trusted, one comes to internalize the belief that one only responds to punishment. This interpretation is likely giving one’s self a great deal less credit for being responsible and trustworthy than one actually warranted, and giving the influence of the punishments far too much credit for promoting positive behavior. Moreover, and most importantly, it is in the current moment keeping this teacher (or parent or coach, or leader) from trusting their students and giving up the illusion that the use of punishments is doing anything positive.


Sometimes it is not what we do, but how we do it that distinguishes a punishment from a consequence.

In practice, what distinguishes a punishment from a consequence can be in how it is perceived by the students. If the student perceives an event as external (you were mad), reactive (you were fed up), or intended to give pain (they needed to be taught a lesson for what they did), it is punishment, and has all the negative impact of a punishment--even if the intent is a clear and logical consequence. This might seem confusing. Keep in mind, however, that management success is not about being able to defend one’s self. It is about the results that one achieves. Ask yourself after each consequence implementation intervention (discussed in detail in the next chapter), “What did the student learn from that event?” and “Who and what was it about?” If it was experienced as being about their choice and supported the processing for how a better choice could have been made, it was most likely a successful consequence. If was perceived as being about you the teacher, and the student left the situation feeling like they “got in trouble” and were therefore given some discomfort, it could best be characterized as a punishment.


To illustrate the difference between a consequence situation that could be similar to a punishment situation, it may be helpful to compare two interventions with the same basic elements. For this example, those basic elements are:

  • A review is being provided as a service to help the student be prepared for an upcoming exam.
  • Students need to listen during the review, or ask questions.
  • The review will last as long as it needs to.
  • The expectation is that students are quiet during an exam.


Give these basic elements above, consider the following two cases:


Case #1

Teacher reviews with students. After about 40 minutes, the teacher senses that the students are restless. She asks them, “I am seeing less attention than I did earlier, does that mean you have had enough review and we are ready to take the test?” Some students say yes, and others say no. So she makes the deal, “If you are able to be attentive and use this opportunity well, we will continue to review; if it looks like you are getting bored and restless, that will tell me that it is time to give the test out.” After a few minutes the students look restless. The teacher says, “Okay, let’s take everything off our desks and get out a pen or pencil (gives additional instructive and supportive comments related to the material). “We have done well on this in class, so let’s show it here.” And “Remember, we need to be respectful of one another, so please be quiet until everyone is done.”


Case #2

Teacher reviews with the students. After about 40 minutes, the teacher hears talking. She tells them, “There is too much talking right now.” After a couple of minutes talking continues, so she tells them, “If you keep talking I am going to give you the test.” After a few minutes the teacher again becomes frustrated with the amount of talking and says, “That’s it, you are getting the test now!” As she passes out the test she angrily tells the students that if they talk during the exam, they will “get a big fat 0!”


As you examine the two cases, they are essentially the same in terms of the teachers’ actions. In both cases, the teachers made the determination that as a result of the students’ behavior they seemed not to be taking advantage of the review and therefore were ready to take the test. But would you characterize them both as consequences? Or was the second a punishment?



Chapter Reflection 10-e: In your group or on your own, reflect on the differences in the two situations. While similar, there were significant differences. What would you label each intervention?



Case One seems to meet the qualification for a consequence. It was proactive, logical and related, and the students were in control of the outcome. As a result, the students felt responsible for what happened. Conversely, Case Two falls into the classification of a punishment condition. It was reactive, the teacher was angry and therefore the students perceived the case of the action as being related to the level of the teacher’s frustration. As a result, the locus was shifted externally. Moreover, in the end the test was used as a punishment. What does that do to the students’ association with the purpose of tests and other assessments?


If the teacher in Case Two had not resorted to a “pain-based logic,” a much better result would have been manufactured. In Case One, tomorrow is going to be better as a result of the teacher’s intervention today. The relationship in Case One stays intact and the students take a step forward in learning to be responsible class members. In Case Two, the relationship is damaged. The teacher has withdrawn a great deal from the emotional bank account that had been accrued. In Case One the lesson learned was that if we (the class) want to have the privilege of having a review, we need to use the opportunity maturely. In Case Two the primary lesson learned was most likely to do a better job of interpreting what does and does not make the teacher mad. In Case One the expectation was strengthened. In Case Two, because the cause and effect was not well established, the expectation will remain vague. And finally, how about the energy level of the teachers? Which teacher used more energy?



Chapter Reflection 10-f: The cases above seem to imply that interactions that are driven by a pain-based logic (anger, punishments, guilt, revenge, shaming, embarrassment, etc.) are more exhausting for the teacher. Is this true in your experience? Reflect on the last interaction that you would characterize as being driven by a pain-based logic. What was the emotional cost to the pain-giver?





Chapter Reflection 10-g: Reflect on the following situation:

A teacher decides to let students work together on an assignment. In this case, after a couple of warnings the teacher reached a point of intolerance and implements a punishment, angrily stating, “That’s it! I am fed up! You are making too much noise. Everyone is going to have to do (a worksheet) on your own.”

What in the teacher’s reaction would you call a punishment? How could they have accomplished a more effective result with a consequence?



Rewards, the Other Side of the Punishment/Reward Coin

In his book Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn (1999) makes the argument that rewards (e.g., prizes, preferred activity time, stickers, personal praise, awards, and to an extent even grades) are really just the other side of a punishment/reward coin. As we examine the nature of rewards in relation to our concept of consequences, this characterization is well supported. As with punishments, rewards are external, artificial, and do a poor job of teaching lessons related to the learning event. What we learn from rewards is to do what it takes to continue to get the reward. The focus is shifted from the value of the process or even the accomplishment, to an external and artificial object. The source of the reward is not one’s own efforts, but someone else – the “rewarder.” So whereas consequences promote an internal locus of control and a success psychology, rewards inevitably promote an external locus of control and a failure psychology.


Likewise, beware of the less visible but often more insidious version of this reward and punishment paradigm in practice – the use of love and withdrawal of love in the form of praise and disappointment. Many teachers will say that they don’t like rewards and punishments, but their interactions with students are defined by “are you doing what I want? – then I like you, and if you are not, I don’t.” Recall our discussion of praise in Chapter 6 - it is an external, coercive and manipulative reward given under the guise of positive reinforcement. And its sibling, disappointment, is an external, coercive and manipulative punishment disguised as corrective feedback. Neither is effective in helping students grow or learn, but each is very effective at keeping them in fear of failure, dependent upon praise to perform, and externalizing their cause and effect.


Table 10-2. Comparison of Positive Consequences versus Rewards


Positive Consequences



Increased Opportunities


Recognition of Effort

Opportunities to contribute


Personal Praise

Tokens and grades

Preferred Activity Time

Party at the end of the week

Stickers and Stars


Locus of Control

Internal to Student

External from Teacher




Responsibility and a clear cause and effect between one’s effort and the outcome.

To do what it takes to get the reward, and to shift attention away from the value of the task to the value of the reward.



Satisfaction of Needs

To get the reward


You Just Don’t Know My School

It is true that many of our students respond to punishment and a pain-based logic because it is familiar to them. We can hear it in their voices, as we try to explain that their actions reflect that they have made a choice to violate the social contract  --“Teacher, why are you getting me in trouble?” We state the situation as a consequence; they hear it as a punishment. It is likely that these students have never been supported in a cause-and-effect pattern of thinking about their choices and actions. They are often acculturated into a “crime and punishment” orientation toward those in authority. In many cases, this student is exhibiting a deeply conditioned “negative identity” pattern. Students with a negative identity are actually habituated to and desire punishment and pain. While this may seem odd, it is critical to recognize if we are to help this student grow in a more functional and healthy direction. Chapter 16 describes in detail how to help a student change a negative identity pattern.


Sometimes we will be given a class that is mostly full of such students. Often in these cases, the group of students will have friends and even family who have very real experience with gangs, crime, and violence. So to them punishment is what authorities use in their “real word.” When we respond to their misbehavior or observe others responding with abusive language and/or pain-based penalties, they often react with repentance and improved behavior in the short-term. And when we dangle rewards in front of them, we see a seemingly unmotivated student come to life and make a substantial effort toward the task. So the temptation is to accept that this is “what works” for these students. In many cases, these students can be found in schools in which the discipline culture is defined by a 4-Style mentality. When we ask the experienced faculty for advice, we often are told to become domineering, lower our expectations, and threaten the students with poor grades, calls home, and/or to give awards to the top students to motivate the rest. The logic is that since the students come to us with a well-formed failure psychology (discussed in Chapter 8) that frequently includes a negative identity, we need to give them what they are used to. It is tempting to give in and mete out pain and punishment and take on the 4-Style approach.


While it may even seem as though we are getting results in the short-term, there are several reasons not to revert to a 4-Style approach with this group of students. Here are four of them:

  1. The behavior in the class will not get better, and will worsen in the long run.
  2. We are perpetuating a failure psychology in the students. We are bringing them one year closer to taking that failure orientation out into the world and on to the next grade.
  3. Like any 4-Style teacher, we will struggle with a hostile, unmotivated and irresponsible class as long as we keep up this form of practice.
  4. We have lost out on a chance to make a difference in the lives of these students. We had a transformative opportunity and we missed it.



Chapter Reflection 10-h: Reflect on the approach Ellen Gruwell took to such a group of students as depicted in the movie Freedom Writers. When presented with a group of students that was accustomed to a crime and punishment mentality, what did she do? What was the result?



The fact is that students who are used to 4-Style management will adjust to a 1- or 2-Style management approach eventually. Furthermore, as they internalize the emerging success psychology the more effective environment is fostering, they will recognize that the 4-Style environment was unhealthy. This was depicted beautifully in the films Freedom Writers and To Sir with Love. I have seen it firsthand in countless classes myself. Yet many of the students who come from these situations do not know how to operate in a 1- or 2-Style approach class structure. We need to teach them how. It will take time, but it is worth it. First, it is worth it for the reasons listed above. Second, it is worth it because we will get results and transform lives.


To begin we need to understand the nature of the patterns in which our students are operating. For example, there may be a negative identity pattern. There may be a helpless pattern, or external locus of control, or other manifestations of a failure psychology. Maintaining a working knowledge of how to promote a success psychology will be an invaluable tool in any classroom with any students. The remainder of this chapter and the next will describe practical strategies for creating cause-and-effect thinking, more responsible behavior and the development of functional social bonds, and offer a more effective path toward a system that really works rather than resorting to the use of punishments and bribes.


Creating Effective Consequences within the Social Contract

Developing logical and related consequences is crucial to successfully achieving a social contract that feels democratic and is built on promoting responsibility. Without logical and related consequences students can experience teacher interventions as very external and arbitrary. If students view consequences as arbitrary or subjective, the contract will have little meaning and will likely feel imposed and artificial. For the social contract to be effective students must feel as though being faithful to their agreements to the contract is making the class better and helping them become more responsible while achieving their goals of inclusion and achievement.


In the next chapter, we will discuss the importance of how consequences are implemented. The quality and effectiveness of the contract and how successfully it evolves is contingent on the care and deliberateness of the implementation, but in conjunction with that, the success of the contract will depend on the quality of the consequences we build into it. The most successful consequences will be those that are logical and related, built-in proactively, represent a strong cause and effect relationship to both problems and solutions, and contribute to long term growth and behavior change.


Logical and Related

It would be nice if all problems had naturally logical and related consequences built-in to them like our example of the student arriving late to the bus. But the reality is that it can often be a challenge to find a logical and related consequence for some things. It is difficult, but taking the time and effort to come up with quality consequences (alone or with the help of the students) is well worth it. Reverting to punishments will undermine the success of your contract, and developing consequences that are unrelated to the problem behavior do not teach lessons and are essentially quasi-punishments. A consequence is by definition related to the problem. If it is not related, it is not a true consequence (no matter how many other teachers call them consequences).


A well-intentioned and fairly common practice in many schools is to have a standardized set of consequences for incidents of misbehavior. This is a step in the right direction in many ways. It encourages the individual teacher (especially those with a 4-Style tendency) to take a less punitive approach and it builds in proactivity and clarity of the policy. Below (Chart 10.1) is an example of a typical school-wide policy chart displayed on classroom walls in many schools.


Chart 10.1 Common uniform school-wide policy chart depicting levels of consequences for each misbehavior




1st offense


2nd offense

Time at recess or after school

3rd offense

Detention and/or contacting parents


As you can see from the chart, the same consequences are applied for all types of problem behavior. The primary problem with this approach is that it eliminates the opportunity to have logical and related consequences. As we have discussed, that means there is little if any cause-and-effect connection between the consequence and the behavior that warranted the consequence, and as a result no meaningful lesson is learned from this set of standardized consequences. Moreover, it is a real stretch to characterize what are referred to as consequences in these school codes as true consequences. By definition, undefined time-outs and detentions are at best merely quasi-punishments.


In Chart 10.1 warnings are listed as the first level consequence. Recall our discussion of warnings from Chapter 6. They have their use. When understanding and/or memory are the issue, a warning can be a useful tool to help improve behavior and/or cognizance of the social contract. They are characterized as favors from the teacher to help support students toward the development of functional behavior free of the need for reminders. But they are not consequences.


A more effective approach to developing consequences for our social contract is to begin with our most pressing problems. For each problem behavior, select a corresponding consequence that is as logically related to it as possible. Bringing in students (as discussed in Chapter 9) may be a great way to get them to buy into the fairness and legitimacy of each consequence, and to take part in conceiving what would be “related” consequences. Expect this to be the most powerful and memorable “concept attainment” exercise that the students participate in all year.


For example, if we discover that we have a problem with homework being turned in late, we might ask our students what we can do to promote more work being turned in on time. Make sure that you instruct them to think in terms of logical and related consequences. Be patient, as this is likely very new thinking for them. In professional life, the consequence for being late with work can be that we miss a deadline, causing others to be let down or to have our efforts become less valuable. Therefore, a logical guiding principle could be that work needs to be in on time to get full credit. As a result, a consequence for late work could be that it would only receive partial credit. Or we could take a more hard line stand and say that only work that is turned in on time will be accepted. Either of these options makes sense, as do others. Both are grounded in cause-and-effect, as well as a real-world precedent. In practice, establishing the logic and relatedness of the consequences we ultimately choose will make all the difference in how well they are accepted by the students, help to improve the behavior, and strengthen the social contract. The time used in the development of creating class consequences is time well spent.


Be Proactive: Build Consequences into the Contract from the Start

Effective consequences are proactively built into the contract before they are implemented. In the example of the student’s arriving late to the bus, the consequence would not have been educational if the bus has left at a different time each day, or the student did not know when the bus was supposed to leave.


Making students very clear about the consequences before the fact has many benefits. First, it will make contract violations less common since students know what is expected. Second, it makes it possible to implement the consequence by simply recognizing that a choice was made to violate the contract, as opposed to the student’s perspective of the teacher “getting them in trouble.” Third, the focus of the student after the contract violation is much more likely to be on how they can find more effective behavior rather than on what the teacher said or did, or feeling that they were unfairly penalized. Being proactive promotes internal locus of control. When we know what to expect, we have power; when the climate of the class is accidental, our need for power is unmet.


It is a good idea to put consequences in writing. Post them. Review them and give general reminders when you sense that a little prevention could be valuable. But the most valuable teaching tool will be your actions. Recall Chapter 5 and the social learning model; students will learn from what you do.







In addition, the use of verbal clarifications can be invaluable (recall Chapter 6). For example, we might use the mantra, “In this class, we actively listen to the other members of our group, and ask clarifying questions when we don’t understand.” Or the clarifying statement, “If we do a good job of taking care of the equipment, we will continue to get the privilege of using it; if we don’t we will need to go back to using the old equipment until we can show that we are more responsible.” But again, the words can only support the actions. When we follow through, the expectation and understanding of the consequence is strengthened; if we do not it is weakened.


Promote Buy-in and Ownership of Consequences

As was discussed in Chapter 9, if students own and clearly understand the expectations and consequences in their social contract, they are much more likely to carry them out and respect them. Again, there is no better way to do this than to have the students involved in the process of developing the consequences. This is especially true for grades K-8. For high school grades, periodic class meetings during which a problem is discussed and students are enlisted to brainstorm logical and related solutions and consequences for the problem can be a good way to promote buy-in. It cannot be emphasized enough. Over time, the contract and the consequences built into it will only be as powerful as the students’ sense of ownership of them. When they fully accept the purpose of the contract as being related to them and their welfare rather than being just the “teacher’s set of rules,” the results can be remarkable.



Chapter Reflection 10-i: Compare two classes that you have observed at some point.--one in which there was a great deal of ownership and buy in of the rules and/or social contract, and one in which the rules were imposed upon the students. Was there a difference in behavior? How about motivation?



Keep Your Eyes on the Long-term benefits

The test of a good consequence is what it does in the long term. If it does not teach the students to be more responsible and self-disciplined, it needs to be re-examined. It is simplistic to assume that a consequence that deters an immediate behavior is a good consequence. As we discussed earlier in the chapter, this illusion of effectiveness keeps us in the trap of using familiar but flawed consequences and/or punishments. A useful clue to the long-term effectiveness of a consequence is the reaction that one receives from a student when it is implemented. If the reaction implies, “I knew not to do that,” it has a good chance to be effective. It the reaction is one of repentance, look for the behavior to be revisited; it is therefore not perceived as a consequence but as a punishment.







It may be useful here to recall Chapter 5, Dynamic #6: Make tomorrow better as a result of what you do today. Ask yourself, “What is being learned each time this consequence is implemented?” If the consequence is logic and related and built-in proactively, it is likely that the student is learning a useful lesson related to the problem behavior. However, we can only consider success if the behavior changes rather quickly and for the right reasons, and makes “tomorrow” more healthy and functional. Since every class is different and every student in the class is different, finding the right consequences may take a bit of active research on the part of the teacher. It may also require some collective soul searching on the part of the class.


Ascending/Increasing Level of Impact of Consequences for Each Problem Behavior

All contract violations do not have the same degree of damage to the class’s health and function. Moreover, a particular student action does not necessarily imply that the student has a problem. Most contract violations will be a result of forgetfulness or immaturity. Some will indicate a need to examine why the behavior occurred or continues to occur. Some require that the student loses an opportunity so that they may experience a clear consequence for their inability to be a responsible member of the group. It therefore makes sense to have within our social contract an increasingly more powerful series of consequences for particular problem behavior. If the problem behavior is minor and it is infrequent, a small consequence may be all that is necessary. If it is prevalent or is a persistent problem for a particular student, more significant consequences may be necessary. Let’s take the example of a student who cannot resist talking to the next door student when they should be attending to those contributing in a class discussion. It is not a major problem if it does not happen often, but if it happens regularly, or the particular student cannot help it, it becomes quite significant. Here is one possible series of ascending consequences:

First offense (the student turns to a neighbor to talk while the teacher is talking): Consequence - teacher stops talking (when they are interrupted) and waits for 100% attention or says something to the effect, “I need everyone’s attention, so I will start over with the directions.” This consequence is simple but effective. It does not take a lot of time or energy, but it is active and gets the message across.

Second offense (the teacher notices that the student is talking to their neighbor when they are supposed to be attentive to another student who is contributing):

Next level consequence – student comes up with a strategy to make sure they are able to pay attention when it is required.

Third offense (student does it again):

Consequence – student is moved to another seat.

Fourth offense (student has the same problem in the new location):

Consequence – conference with the teacher after school resulting in a written contract.


Given that this series of consequences implies escalating degrees of power, the student is given logical and appropriate opportunities to solve their problem. It is unlikely that many students would require all four levels of consequences, but it is comforting for both the teacher and the students in the class to know that they are in place. Much of the stress experienced by teachers and the frustration experienced by students comes from worrying about what particular students may do on a given day. Having clearly established consequences in place eases much of that stress. The ownership for making good behavioral choices rests with the students. The teacher simply needs to be a fair and consistent manager of the social contract.



Chapter Reflection 10-j: Are you asking yourself, “At what point do we include in the series of consequences something that will give the student some pain to “teach them a lesson?” Watch out for the tendency to get more negative rather than more powerful.



An important distinction should be made here between the increasingly powerful (consequences) and the increasingly painful (punishments). In the pain-based logic, if one blow to the head does not do the trick, then maybe two will. The problem with this logic is that no lesson will be learned from the blow (e.g., standards, shaming, lecture, picking up trash, etc.) as it is not related to the misbehavior. Therefore, since the small amount of pain did not change the behavior pattern, a greater amount will work only to make the student more hostile and defiant.


Likewise, there is often a misconception that consequences are easier than punishments. Even some teachers who are opposed to punishments for ethical reasons hold this belief. However, it is simply untrue. If one examines the most difficult and painful lessons they have learned in life, they will discover that nearly all of them came in the form of consequences. Close scrapes with nature, losing loved ones, missing the cut, painful relationships, lost jobs, missed opportunities are all examples of life’s consequences. Few of the punishments that have been imposed on us have had the same power to impact or teach.  The power of consequences is that they are meaningful. They involve a real price to pay. Punishments may feel bad, but in the end they merely need to be tolerated. Their only price is discomfort.


Beware of Punishments that are Sold as Logical Consequences

Since the use of the term “consequences” is attached to all manner of teacher-imposed penalization in schools today, it is common to see punishments and punishment-based systems sold as assertive discipline consequences. Some examples are negative calls home, being sent to the office, picking up trash, running laps. One of the most prevalent examples of this brand of punishment is the idea of writing names of students on the board, or its sibling, having students move their cards from the green level to the yellow level to the red level. This practice is essentially a systematic shame-based punishment sold as a system of rational consequences. Not only is it a punishment or “pain-based” system at its core, but like all punishment systems, it does not work. Check in on a class that uses such a system, and you will see the same names on the board or the same cards changed from green to yellow, all year. Like other pain-based systems, its main function is to make the teacher feel better, but it will not do much to change behavior for the better and does a great deal of harm on other levels. Because of the widespread use of this procedure, Chapter 19 is devoted entirely to an examination of it, its fundamental problems and a more effective and positive alternative.



Chapter Reflection 10-k: Observe a class that uses a colored card behavioral system at the beginning of the year and then months later. Do you see the same students with their cards on a lower color level? What does it tell you?



Avoid Giving Activity as a Negative Consequence

Most of us can think of countless examples throughout our schooling where we were given an activity as a punishment. We had to run laps, write lines or standards, memorize capital cities, clean up the room, pick up trash around the school, do push-ups, help the teacher at recess or any number of activities that were supposed to “teach us a lesson.” And even today they can seem somewhat related to our misbehavior. But as we examine this practice more closely, we can see that in the long run the use of activity as a penalty will take us a step backward in our efforts.


First, it is difficult to classify activities as something other than punishments. They are based in the principle that if one has a lousy enough time doing the activity, they will be deterred from making the same choice again. Recognize the pain-logic? As we examine why we are attracted to these types of penalties and even perceive that they have a desired effect, it’s because they appear to deter certain behaviors in the short term and they produce the desired level of repentance in the students, post-penalty. But are they really logical and related? What is the relationship between talking in class and having to write 50 times “I will not talk in class?” Or what is the relationship between being tardy, and having to run laps?


Second, the actual lesson that these punishments teach is to avoid the activity. The message that we are sending is, “Since you did something that we want you to stop doing, we are going to penalize you with a behavior we would like to see you do more of.” This acts to create a disincentive to engage in a desired behavior. In the long-term, since no related lesson is learned there will be no desired behavior change, except possibly some avoidance of getting caught. Yet we can be assured that the student will develop a negative association (and therefore a disincentive to perform) with the behavior. If one is given standards as a punishment, one learns that the act of writing is a punishment to avoid. So much for all the time we spend telling our students that they should love to write. Likewise, if we tell them they must run as a punishment we are saying that the only reason that they should ever consider running in their lives is if someone forces them to. If we punish the student by having them help, clean-up, beautify the school, and so on, then we are saying in effect, never do anything helpful or altruistic unless you are forced to.



Chapter Reflection 10-l: Recall a situation in which you were forced to do work (run laps, help clean, write, etc) as a penalty for misbehavior. How did it affect your association with that activity at the time? Has that negative association carried on to the present?



A helpful guiding principle might be to use activity as a positive consequence and inactivity as a negative consequence. If the student has a great day, ask them to stay after school and help you clean up. Observe the effect this has on the student. Most likely he or she will consider it an honor. If a student makes an exceptional effort in an area, give them an extra task that stretches and challenges them. When work is seen as a reward, it reinforces the student’s intrinsic sources of motivation. When work is seen as a punishment, students learn only to do what is externally rewarded.


Clarify this principle by creating a clear cause-and-effect relationship in your class. It may help to use such clarifying statements as, “When you work hard and invest, I will give you more challenging work; when you show that you are not ready for the challenging work, I will give you work better suited to a less motivated and responsible group.” “When you show that you can be responsible (recall the social frames discussed in Chapter 4), I will give you more freedom and responsibility; when you show that you are not responsible, you will not be given the same opportunities, until you show you are ready.” Watch the student rise to the occasion. In this responsibility-based classroom failing to earn the opportunity to take part is a powerful and related consequence, and if failure does take place, the presence of the clear cause-and-effect logic within the expectation provides an opportunity for reflection. Over time, the result will be the development of more intrinsically motivated students. This idea will be explored further in Chapter 17.


Developing social bonds can set the table for communal bonds, but it will not create them. Developing clear expectations, logical and related consequences, and a functioning social contract will ultimately lead to ever-increasing levels of emotional safety, a sense of fairness, and behavior changes for the better, but they cannot by themselves create in a student a cause beyond themselves or community. Nevertheless, it is a wise and likely necessary starting point for most groups. The social contract can transform a class from a self-centered and dysfunctional group of individuals into a self-responsible and functional collective. However, if we want to foster the transformation of the group into one that is bonded, acts as a team/tribe, and puts the needs of one another first, we must make an intentional effort to promote a success psychology (outlined in Chapter 8) and to foster community (discussed in Chapter 17).



Chapter Reflection 10-m: Recall in your experience a time when you were part of a class or group that lacked structure. Did it limit your ability to feel a deeper sense of pride and group identity? In other words, did you recognize the need to feel that the social bonds were functional before you could feel a sense of community?



Table 10.3 represents a list of common problems that occur in a class, followed by a list of what not to do but are examples of common punishments that teachers use, alongside a list of possible related consequences for the same problem. As you may notice there is rarely a case when we are able to manufacture a consequence as logical and related as the bus’s being gone when the student arrived late to the bus stop, but we can attempt to get close. Finally, transformative ideas are offered for each problem--that is, strategies that one can put into practice that make the need for such behavior less necessary.


Table 10.3 Examples of Consequences, Punishments and Transformative ideas for Problem Behaviors:




(What not to do)

Related Consequence

Transformative Idea

Problem lining up


-Shaming, lost points.

-Practice lining up.

Be positive, but as discussed in Ch. 12, help the students learn to be successful and then take joy in their success.


Turning in assignment late

-Public embarrassment.

-Asking for an excuse.


-Loss of points.

Project-driven work and meaningful assignments will reduce the tendency for students to neglect assignments. See Ch. 13 for more ideas.


Frequent talking out of turn

-Writing lines.

-Negative recognitions.


-Loss of opportunity to talk.

-Problem-solve solutions to fix problem.

-Loss of opportunity to take part in activity.

The level of side-talk is usually related to 1) how engaging the work is and 2) whether or not the teacher has created a culture of listening (Ch.  12)


Group can not refrain from conflict that leads to poor performance

-Hovering over the group.

-Splitting them up.

-Shaming them.

(See Chapter 14: Cooperative Learning)

1st intervention – clarify task, confirm understanding.

2nd intervention – clarify need to resolve conflict – confirm commitment to conflict-free effort.

3rd intervention – loss of opportunity to take part in activity, potentially needing to reflect on solutions for future efforts, and/or need to complete work on own time.


Clear directions, assessing the quality of group participation (see Appendix X), and inductive lesson designs will ensure more students are engaged more of the time.

Tapping pencils on desks

-Public negative recognition

-spending time after class.


-Have students put everything down and have their hands free while listening

Meet students’ basic need for power. Create engaging lessons.

Develop a culture of listening.



-Public Humiliation.

No credit for work.

Teachers who project the expectation that to cheat is to lose out, and that they have faith that no one will cheat will usually have little cheating.

Cell phone

-Public Humiliation.

-Angry power struggle.

Confiscate phone for a time.

It is best to set an expectation early in the year that there is no reason to have a cell phone out. Zero tolerance early will save a lot of pain later.


Going to Bathroom

-Publicly questioning why the student needs to go.

-Questioning the students intentions.

Some set amount of bathroom visits per quarter.

Student uses them as they see fit, and when they are gone the student is out of privileges to go. Help the students take make wise use of the privilege.




It is hoped that this chapter has helped you clarify the distinction between punishments and consequences, and has demonstrated why the use of consequences produces more desirable and effective outcomes. A thoughtful and intentional approach to the development of the consequences within the social contract will help in your efforts to promote more responsible behavior and a positive classroom climate. The next chapter will provide a step-by-step system for implementing one’s consequences and social contract.


Journal Reflections

1.       In your experiences have teachers more often used punishments of consequences? What do you see as the effect of each on you personally?


2.       Do you recognize the pain-based logic inside yourself and others? Reflect on how in your own experience pain is traded back and forth between parents and children, teachers and students, and those with whom you are in relationships. (If this idea resonates with you, I recommend that you read Eckhart Tolle’s Practicing the Power of Now.)




Group Class Activities:

  1. In groups of four, brainstorm two common student behavioral problems that you have seen recently or feel are pertinent (it is more effective if they are not severe problems such as fighting or disrespect--those are addressed in another chapter). Pass them to the group next to you. Once you have had your neighbor’s two problems, develop consequences for them. Be sure that they are true consequences, not simply quasi-punishments. Refer to Table 10.1 (Consequences vs. Punishments) to assess your answers.
  2. Discuss the difference between logical and related (but manufactured) consequences and naturally occurring consequences. What criteria would use to decide which it best, in any given situation?
  3. In groups, fill in the following chart with teacher practices. When you are done, compare your answers with the rest of the class.





Healthy and Effective

Natural and logical consequences for poor choices.






Natural Positive Consequences for good choices.




Unhealthy and Ineffective







Extrinsic Rewards.







Chapter Activities

1. In groups, discuss the differences between the two conditions in the student missing the bus example in the beginning of the chapter. What are the differences between a punishment condition and a consequence condition?


2. In groups take part in the following exercise. Start by having each group develop a list of two or three common social contract violations (don’t make them too severe--we will save those for a later chapter). When you are done, pass them to another group. This group will need to come up with logical and related consequences for each problem. This is more difficult than it sounds. It will be helpful to use the table comparing consequences and punishments in the chapter. Share your ideas with the whole, and discuss why you felt each was a consequence rather than a punishment.



Kohn. A. (1999)  Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes. Houghton Mifflin
Tolle, E. (2001) Practicing the Power of Now. Namaste Publishing