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Ever wish your students were more motivated? If you’re like most of us, you have tried an array of rewards and punishments to motivate kids. There’s only one problem: it doesn’t work. At least it doesn't work well enough. People (yes, even students) aren’t motivated from the outside so rewards and punishments only work to a point. We are internally motivated. That’s why it's essential to engage and inspire students to be motivated to succeed in school (and life.)

If you’re ready to move beyond the reward/punishment model and embrace a whole new way to understand motivation, I encourage you to come back regularly. It’s time to challenge the status quo and create schools and classrooms based on what really motivates behavior.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

“Natural Consequences” and Responsibility

When I encourage minimizing the use of punishment in school (for those unwilling to give it up entirely), teachers frequently tell me, “I don’t punish students. I use natural consequences.”

I then ask for examples of the “natural consequences” they use.

“If a child disrupts my class and it ‘costs’ me 5 minutes of instructional time, the natural consequence is that I take 5 minutes of the student’s time. And since I make it clear that I value promptness and expect the students to respect due dates and deadlines, the natural consequence is the loss of one letter grade for each day an assignment is late.”

Precision in language matters if we want to communicate effectively with each other. And the examples offered above of “natural consequences,” well…they simply aren’t “natural.”

A “natural consequence” is something that occurs in nature. If I fail to get enough sleep, the natural consequence is that I’m tired. The natural consequence when I don’t take in enough fluids is dehydration. The natural consequence of consuming too much of certain fluids is the pounding headache commonly known as a hangover. The natural consequence of a student being five minutes late to class is missing what was said and done during that time.

But there’s no law of nature that requires late papers to be penalized one letter grade every day. There’s no natural imperative that students “pay back” time wasted in class.

If you choose to use “consequences,” I hope you’ll at least identify them accurately. Maybe they are “logical” consequences or “fair” consequences. (Maybe they aren’t, but that’s a separate discussion.)

The consequences we impose in a classroom are developed by people - usually with a positive intent, even if the results are dismal. They aren’t “natural.” When we take what we do (for example, deducting a letter grade for a paper turned in late) and say it’s a “natural consequence,” we are failing to take responsibility for our actions.

Students are responsible for their actions. Teachers are responsible for theirs. Hiding behind the curtain of “natural consequences” is dishonest. I encourage all of us to act in a transparent way when dealing with students by owning our behavior.


As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit 

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