I renewed my ASCD membership today which gave me a chance to browse some articles.  I found an article by Robyn Jackson called Meet Them Where They Are.  I loved the opening story:

Good grades. A quiet classroom. These are often what teachers value. But what if students come to class looking for something else?

Cynthia quickly moved through the classroom, collecting the previous evening’s homework assignment. While her back was to the door, Jason hurried in and slid into his seat. Without turning around, Cynthia said, “I saw that, Jason.”  The class erupted in laughter as Jason blushed. “Take out your homework, and I’ll be around in a second to deal with you,” Cynthia instructed.  When Cynthia reached his chair and noticed that Jason did not have any work out, she moved past and finished collecting the other papers. She got the class started on a warm-up exercise and called Jason to her desk.

“Where’s your homework?” she asked.  “I forgot to do it,” Jason muttered.

“So you’re not only late to class, but you also don’t have your homework? Hmm, this is serious,” Cynthia said. “Do you know what you owe me?”   “Detention?” Jason guessed.

Cynthia shook her head. “No indeed. You need to make things right with me. Tomorrow when you come to class, you need to be here early with your homework—and a Snickers bar. And it better be fresh!”  Jason looked up, startled, then smiled widely. He went back to his seat and got to work. The next morning, he arrived at Cynthia’s class with not one but two Snickers bars and cheerfully handed in his missing homework assignment.

When Cynthia first told me this story, I have to admit that I was shocked. It seemed that she was letting Jason off the hook. “Cynthia, please tell me you aren’t shaking kids down for candy,” I mocked.  She laughed and then explained that too often, we make too big a deal of it when students make mistakes. We treat their mistakes as personal affronts and, as a result, kids are afraid to mess up—afraid that if they do, there is no road back. Over the years, Jason had adopted a cavalier attitude because he believed that once he made a mistake—and he made them all the time—he had ruined the entire school year. By having him give her a Snickers bar, Cynthia showed him a pathway to redemption.

“It isn’t about the Snickers bar,” she explained. “It’s about giving kids a tangible way of redeeming themselves and recovering from their mistakes.”

Cynthia is starting where her students are.

Good story.  Better message.  The use of humor and avoiding painting kids into a corner is good classroom management.   I love the idea that redemption can be found…not just crime and punishment.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I can punish with the best of them, but to quote Gandhi, “Do you act to punish or do you act to change things?  We are all such sinners that I leave punishment to God.”