An Alternative To Time-Out

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A number of schools and districts are outlawing time-out.

The thinking is that it’s too punitive. That it’s associated with sitting in a corner and wearing a dunce cap.

Setting aside for now that the way we teach it here at SCM is wholly dignified and in the student’s best interest, there is an alternative.

I call it “observation mode” (OM). And it can be used in two different ways.

The first is a simple name change. As long as you use time-out the way we recommend in the elementary guide, you just start calling it by its new name. For most teachers feeling pressure from administration, this is all you need to do.

Calling it OM changes it’s associated definition. Not only that but it also better represents the experience a student goes through when they break a second rule.

In other words, they observe first and foremost.

Although I still believe there is nothing wrong with using the term time-out, I heartily recommend the change, even if you aren’t getting any pushback.

The second way OM can be used is when your administrator outlaws students being moved from their assigned seat. One reason is the concern over the spread of Covid.

The other reason is absurd but nonetheless a reality for a small few teachers.

For the first time since we started SCM back in 2009, we’re hearing reports of administrators not wanting any accountability. This, of course, is a train wreck. The stories we’re getting from teachers are demoralizing.

Severe bullying.

Little to no learning.

Wandering the room.

Phones out, earbuds in.

Noise, chaos, disrespect.

You get the picture. In this case, and to avoid the behaviors above, you can do a form of accountability wherein the student stays where they are but is placed in temporary OM.

Meaning, they’re no longer allowed to participate in discussions, group work, learning games, etc. but are still responsible for all listening and independent work. Essentially, it’s time-out in their own seat.

Yes, it’s less effective because physically having to stand and walk to another location is an act of taking responsibility.

It’s a way of conceding guilt and being prompted—by no longer being an active member of a class they like and enjoy being part of—to reflect on their misbehavior and resolve not to make the same mistake again. All of their own volition.

However, there is a key reason why it still can work to a considerable degree. You see, there is no magic in any consequence. The magic is in your follow through.

As long as you’re consistent, and as long as you enforce your consequences in the referee-like way we recommend, and work to create a classroom your students enjoy, then it can still be very effective.

In either case, if you’re feeling the heat to change the name or get rid of time-out altogether, observation mode is a good way to go.

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