If ‘time-outs’, punishments and sanctions are not changing the behaviour of a pupil, what other options are there? Dave Stott discusses how to encourage pupils to reflect on, and change, their behaviour

Possibly some of the readers of this bulletin may remember the days of writing lines (made easier by taping two or three pens together!) or copying out pages of seemingly useless text. In days gone by (hopefully) consequences or sanctions failed to act as an aid to changing behaviour and were simply there as a punishment for misbehaviour. Many pupils spent hours and hours of their time at school ‘thinking’ about their behaviour. Unfortunately, there is no real evidence to prove that the time spent ‘thinking’ about behaviour while writing lines or text actually made any positive difference. In fact, punishments of this nature may even have a detrimental effect on pupils attitude to both themselves and school, not to mention a long standing aversion to writing!

While a period of time removed from the rest of the class or group, or even a loss of free time at break or lunchtime, may be a necessary sanction for some pupils, it is time that could be used positively. Using statements such as:

‘You need to spend some time thinking about your behaviour!’


‘Now sit and think about the consequences of what you have done!’

may be understandable, but do you really feel that being held back at the end of the lesson, or staying in at break time, provides pupils with the ideal opportunity to think about their actions and consequences? More importantly, will it have a positive effect on future behaviour? Chances are pupils will no doubt comply with your sanction to stay behind, but they will find it very difficult to structure their thinking and reflect on behaviour, actions and any changes they could make.

It is important for you, as the behaviour manager and role model, to not only make appropriate use of sanctions where necessary, but also to help the pupil make better choices next time and to consider their actions as part of the school, class and community.

Practical tips
To use the sanction of time to a more positive effect, it is up to you to provide a structured and more meaningful activity. Using a ‘Think about it’ memo for a period of reflection will help the pupil to consider their own actions, what effect their actions are having on other members of the group, and also what they may consider doing in the future. In other words, you are giving them a time to order their thoughts around an agreed structure, while also providing you with a record of incidents (especially their frequency and outcome).

‘Think about it’ memos may be a written exercise for some pupils, but, where appropriate, may take the form of a structured discussion. The format should include the following:

  1. ‘This is what I did.’ A brief resume of what happened, focusing on the behaviour of the target pupil, rather than allowing the discussion to wander off into a ‘tit for tat’ story of blame and refusal to take responsibility (he did this and they did that).
  2. ‘What is the school/class rule?’ Time to reinforce the agreed rules of the classroom and school and to help the pupil to understand how their behaviour (and no one else’s!) has conflicted with what is expected of all pupils.
  3. ‘This is what I’ll do next time.’ Now is the time to attempt a problem-solving activity to help the pupil consider how to manage their own emotions and behaviour. It may be appropriate to review a range of strategies that the pupil can utilise in future situations (self-calming, speak to an adult, ignore, etc).

Make sure that you keep a written record of all ‘Think about it’ sessions. They will provide a clear record of the pupils’ behaviour, the interventions you have used and the structured, taught strategies. This type of record keeping will be invaluable in providing a clear picture of the pupil in any future discussion or planning meetings with colleagues and parents or carers.

Use any previous records in all your discussions with the pupil and make sure you recognise (with positive rewards) any improvements or positive changes in their behaviour.

‘Think about it’ memos can play a very positive role in enabling pupils to reflect on their own behaviour and begin to take more responsibility for their actions. Clearly linking with the 5 outcomes of SEAL (self-awareness, managing feelings, motivation, empathy and social skills), the memos can easily become an integral part of your behaviour management within the classroom, allowing pupils to develop their critical thinking skills and playing a very active role in your strategies.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2009

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a wrtier, consultant and trainer.