Classroom Discipline: Punishment vs Consequences

Classroom discipline is an important part of creating a positive learning environment for students. It involves setting expectations for student behavior and creating structures that support those expectations. Good classroom discipline can help create a safe and productive learning environment, while poor discipline can lead to chaos and disruption in the classroom. It is essential for teachers to have effective strategies in place to ensure that their classrooms are well-disciplined and conducive to learning.

But what happens when those classroom expectations are not met?

Consequences play an important role in the classroom. They help to create a sense of order and discipline and can be used to encourage students to make better choices. Natural consequences are those that are naturally occurring. Logical consequences, on the other hand, are those that are imposed by the teacher that directly relate to the student’s behavior.

Both natural and logical consequences can be used in the classroom to help students learn from their mistakes and make better decisions in the future. The key is for teachers to use them consistently and fairly so that students understand why they have been given certain consequences for their actions.

Consequences and punishment are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they actually have very different meanings. Consequences refer to the natural or logical results of a behavior, while punishment is a deliberate action taken by an authority figure in response to a certain behavior. And they can have widely different results on improving student behavior.


Punishment typically comes from a place of emotional response. It has been argued that it is not an effective way to create positive change and may even cause more harm than good. Often, punishment is not directly related to a student's behavior. For example, a student who has talked back to a teacher might receive a punishment of missing recess. However, missing recess in and of itself does not help in rectifying the situation, nor does it improve the child's ability to make positive choices in the future. In this situation, it might be a temporary fix, but it will likely not lead to long-term change.

Another negative effect of punishment is that is evokes a negative emotional response in both the teacher and the student. Punishment is usually doled out in anger by the teacher. In return, the student is angry at the teacher for "giving" a punishment, failing to recognize their own behavior as the cause. They become defiant and resentful, and any form of positive relationship once held by teacher and student is damaged. 


Consequences, however, are directly related to a student's behavior in a way that is natural and/or logical. When a student fails to fulfill a classroom expectation, a consequence will follow. For a student who talked back to a teacher, a natural consequence might be having a discussion with the teacher as to why that behavior is inappropriate, losing a privilege, and making amends. The goal of a consequence is to encourage accepting responsibility, practicing accountability, and making a different choice in the future. 

Consequences communicate to a student that their behavior and choices have an impact and are their responsibility. Where punishment can feel like a personal attack, consequences are a straightforward, rational learning experience solely reliant on the student's choices. 

In all of the above examples, the consequences of the student's behavior are directly related to the behavior rather than punitive. Remember, the goal of consequences is to teach a student to learn from their mistakes in order to make more positive choices in the future. 

Questions or comments? Feel free to reach out! 

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