Better Than Carrots or Sticks: Takeaways from Chapter 1.

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This post is the beginning of a series of blog posts as chapter reviews of the book Better Than Carrots or Sticks.  Check out Optimize Your School by Lee Jenkins to create routine practices based on principles of continuous improvement to set strong management routines before students even enter the room.  See other reviews below:


Chapter 2 – Self Regulated Learning

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

The title of Better Than Carrots or Sticks:  Restorative Practices for Positive Classroom Management by Domnique Smith et al stuck out to me as the school year ended.  When I began to change my Latin classroom to comprehension based acquisition from form based learning, I assumed that the creation of more interesting content that students understood in Latin would create a better classroom environment.  In some moments it has, but I discovered that classroom management requires strategic and purposeful classroom procedures.  I plan to base my classroom management on a couple ideas.  Links offer examples of how these ideas play out in the classroom.

With these ideas in mind, let’s take a look at Chapter 1 of Better Than Carrots or Sticks.  The chapter begins with a quote by Frederick Douglas:  “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  Sometimes quotes like these make us defensive (consider the danger of deficit thinking) as educators.  Home life, parent discipline, society or even economics (a macro view) seem like they have so much more power than we do over the results we observe with our students.  But even if those things are true, we can create an environment of expectation for every student during the periods we have with them.  Creating a consistent classroom environment is critical to everything we do and we need to treat it with the importance it deserves.

The chapter of Better Than Carrots or Sticks continues by describing punitive versus restorative approaches.  Some ideas to consider in your own classrooms and schools:

Punitive Restorative
Rules are violated Relationships are violated
Guilt is established Needs and Obligations are established
Accountability is defined as punishment Accountability is defined as effects and repair
Justice directed at victim Offender, victim and school all have direct roles toward justice
No opportunity for remorse Opportunities to express remorse

The first 3 items seem to be punitive in the classroom Daily Engagement Assessment set up.  But the question remains.  When students sign up for a language class because they feel obligated to do so for college admissions, how do we change the culture from a rules and punishment basis to a relationship and accountability basis?  I’m not sure I see the clear path at this point in my reading.  Even so, I want to move toward the restorative column.  So how do we get there?  Over the last few years my classroom has moved from the above Daily Engagement Assessment.  I have found a focus on relationship with clear communication of the course standards creates an environment closer to what I hope for the classroom.

Next the first chapter of Better Than Carrots or Sticks brings up some restorative practices that will be discussed later in the book.  The first is to have individual conferences to address problematic behavior.  Immediately, I see this connecting with a student driven comprehension based classroom.  Time will always seem an issue.  But time is a resource we must prioritize.  Restorative practices will take time up front.  What is key is to align those practices to the learning mission and vision of the classroom and school. I have found principles of continuous improvement from Optimize Your School helpful to create routines that allow for restorative practices simultaneously as students reflect on learning progress.

On page 9, I connect to the idea that many consequences are actually punishments.  Often times, punishments create more distance between teacher and students.  This distance goes against the goal of creating student driven comprehension based classrooms.  Punishments lead into deficit thinking about students where we focus on what they are not doing instead of what they can do.  But how do we hold students accountable when they engage in disruptive behavior?  So far, the book describes why punishments are harmful.  We leverage our power over students when we use punishments.  This leverage of power does not create accountability but it does create negativity toward the one leveraging the power.  This makes sense to me and I hope the book offers more about ways to hold students accountable without the leverage of a power dynamic.

Chapter 1 of Better Than Carrots or Sticks continues by describing the danger of things such as humiliation.  Shame or humiliation will not work to improve a classroom environment.  The chapter continues by describing school climate and how it affects student achievement.  This data is compelling but I feel I’m left looking for specific ways to move from punishments to restoration.  The chapter ends with a list of 3 tiers of interventions which seem similar to many school wide behavior systems such as MTSS (Multi tiered systems of support) and other system processes to support students.  Again, I feel left searching for specifics for ways to move my classroom into restoration.

The big ideas in chapter 1 leave me wanting to read more.  Do any of my practices create humiliation or shame?  How can I change my Daily Engagement Assessment to move from punishment to relationships?  Should I scrap the Daily Engagement Assessment completely?

Should I be opening the year with a focus on relationships to each other in respect to processing comprehensible Latin?  Is communication home to parents punishment or restoration?  Can it be either?  If so, how do we guide the conversation toward restoration instead of punishment?  Will I find the answers I’m looking for in Chapter 2 – Self Regulated Learning of Better Than Carrots or Sticks?  Don’t wait to pick up your copy today and transform the daily interactions in your classroom.

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