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Consequence or Punishment

React or Respond

  Linda Belans, EdD.


Person over Policy

When we react, rather than respond to students who challenge us  -- push our buttons -- we are a rapid heartbeat away from inflicting punishment. It can range from hurtful or sarcastic language, to institutionalized ways of shaming a student, and even escalate to physical harm. Rather than being restorative or beneficial, punishment is about control. This is damaging to students in the short and long term. Punishment produces collateral damage to students who witness it, and to us when we practice it. It can diminish our own sense of empathy and sense of self. Think about how you feel after punishing a student. (Perhaps check your blood pressure or pulse.)


Instead of learning to see the person in front of us, we rely on rules and policies, unexamined racism, and myriad other reactive or systemized actions. It seems easier in the moment.


Response requires imagination.   

Does this mean that we don't hold students accountable? Quite the opposite. It means seeing the higher self in her/him/they so that we can create the response to match the need this student has. Not our need to control her. It means responding from the desire to help the student take steps toward becoming their higher self. To help them learn self-regulation so that they develop a moral conscience to guide them, rather than learn to rely on external constraints. 


Punishment inflicts suffering and deepens anger. Response creates pathways to growth and healing: the student's and our own.



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Toward a solution


Imagination takes time and energy. But consider how many wasted hours students repeatedly spend in detention, isolation, or suspension when they could be engaged in study that speaks to the underlying issue that sent them there in the first place, or participate in service to others to develop compassion. Think about how many hours we waste delivering repetitive punishments disguised as consequences. Soon, we begin to see these students as troubled, difficult, and unmanageable, and begin to tunnel our way through the deficit pipeline dragging them along behind us.


We want to dismantle the school to prison to pipeline, not teach students how to crawl through it. 

Imagine instead the conversations we can have, the bridges and trust we can build.  

Students need culturally responsive structure, rituals and routines that speak to their authentic, higher selves. That create a sense of belonging. They deserve a clear understanding of what's expected of them, and perhaps most importantly, why it is expected. They need to be listened to and loved, especially at the most challenging times. They need to be invited into ongoing opportunities to give input into their school lives, including many opportunities to lead, especially the students we identify as rebellious. These are the students who are often practicing the shadowy side of leadership, and can have the most influence among their peers.


This requires us to to be clear about the difference between response, consequence, and punishment. To begin with self in order to respond rather than to react, to examine our own isms, and to see the higher self -- the student's and our own. 


Imagine the possibilities.

Author, States of Being: Leadership Coaching for Equitable Schools

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