I spoke with a school recently who had an admirable ambition – consistency.
In order to achieve this, they were trying to categorise the likely behaviours into four categories.
Level 1 was for minor infractions like calling out in class or teasing and are to be dealt with according to minor consequences, like missing a recess, by the classroom teacher.
Level 2 is for aggressive verbal behaviour towards staff or other students. Still the classroom teacher’s job, but it’ll be recorded against the students name on database and a minimum of one detention is to be doled out.
Level 3 is for aggressive physical behaviours, like punching, and will be dealt with by a School Leader via consequences such as internal suspensions and restorative conferences.
Level 4 is reserved for when it really “hits the fan”. The Principal intervenes here and has every weapon at her/his avail, including external suspension and expulsion. Look out if you hit Level 4, I suppose!
It won’t work.
Behaviour refuses to be caged by our matrices, tables and flowcharts.
Let’s take punching as that Level 3 example. The problem with categorising punching as a singular act is that this ignores that there’s punching … and then there’s punching!
There’s the sort of punch that is a friendly acknowledgement of a job well done or a even a little gentle ribbing. And then there’s the punching that breaks jaws and noses.
Do we really want those instances to be equated?
Behaviour, and the young people who demonstrate those behaviours, genuinely hate being caged.
So stop it.
Stop categorising behaviours in a futile attempt to be consistent about something so wildly variable.
Instead, choose consistency over process. Promise to be consistent about how you handle behavioural infractions. Publicise that promise. Train your staff. Work towards expertise in that process. Celebrate the successes of that process.
Consistency over process is a promise you can keep. Promising consistency over outcome will make a liar and a fool of you.