The Power of Choices in the Classroom

I am a teacher who believes in Love and Logic. I first learned of it in my SEL course in college. I then had the opportunity to teach a course on it while I worked as a job coach. I now have the experience using it in the classroom and am here to tell you, I LOVE (& Logic 😉 ) it.

Love and Logic summed up is let children choose what to do because they, in turn, choose their consequence. My approach to behavior is to help create future citizens who make wise decisions because they’re logical enough to recognize effects of their choices. I, as a citizen, don’t want someone telling me what to do. I know the right thing to do and I’m going to choose it because I have that power. I have the same set up in the classroom.
I feel terrified every year when I say this same phrase.
“You can do whatever you want in this classroom.”
I wonder if I look as scared as I feel when those words leave my mouth. Obviously I don’t leave it at that. I always follow up with that it’s not my job to force students to do anything. It’s my job to create and deliver lessons that help students grow as learners and individuals. That being said, I’m not wasting my energy demanding a certain type of behavior. If a student makes a choice, they also make the choice of the consequence (this is where I love teaching that consequences aren’t just bad, they’re also good.)
I like to give personal examples to let students know that I do this too. Every day. I like to give the example that I have time in the classroom to get things done while students are away. I tell them that I can choose this time to get some grading done, set up for my next lesson, call parents, etc. I have the choice to be productive during this time. I also have the choice to not use that time wisely. I can sit on my phone, I can go talk to my teacher bestie, I can scroll mindlessly finding engaging lesson ideas. Either choice is okay, but I have consequences for both. I need to make the decision of which option works better for me.
Option 1- I am productive- When I am productive during this time, I get to leave school on time. I am not taking work home with me. I get to play with my dog and be with my family. 
Option 2- I relax- When I relax, I will have to complete that work above at some point. Will I need to take it home with me? Worse, will it all pile up to where I have to work on it during a school break in the year? I may not be prepared when students come back to class and therefore we have a boring lesson.
More often than not, I choose option 1. And that’s okay.
Sometimes I choose option 2. That’s also okay.
The only difference is I’m not really okay with the consequences of option 2. Sometimes I will choose it knowing the consequences and think, “Meh. I’m okay with it this time.” and I take my consequences and go.
After I explain my personal example of choice, I give some scenarios for students.
“What if I choose to talk during class?”
“What if I choose to complete my work on time?”
“What if I choose to leave my coat inside on a cold day?”
“What if I choose to refuse to follow directions?”
Kids know the answers to these, which I think is great. Because in any moment, I can explain to them that their actions choose their consequences. “When you chose to complete your work, you chose to get smarter and not have to take work home.” “When you chose to sit with your head down instead of working, you chose to take your work home.”
Whatever a child chooses, I’m fine with because there is a consequence that I can follow through with. I’m totally fine if a student doesn’t do work at school. I put it in their homework bin and say, “I see you’re choosing to do this at home. That’s okay! I’ll let your [guardian] know that it’s due tomorrow.”
Sometimes I think kids like to get into power struggles because, like in the name, they desire power. Don’t we all? So, from the beginning, I give them power. The power to choose their behavior all day long.
The thing with consequences is that you have to be okay giving a good consequence as well as a bad consequence. I mean, we’re teachers. We have to be flexible, so this is a great time to do it.
My favorite logical consequence is lining up for lunch. We have an expectation that the line needs to be silent BEFORE we leave for lunch. I explain that this is because other classes are working and we don’t want to disturb them and take them away from their learning. So, I tell students they have options. They have the option to get to lunch early, on time, or late. If we’re silent and perfect the first time lining up, we’ll probably get to lunch early (who doesn’t love being the first ones at lunch? *Note- I always go out to eat before the crowd gets there, so I, for one, have been the same since kindergarten). If we only have a couple people who need extra practice being in line, we will probably be on time for lunch (this one I can’t guarantee we’ll be the first class there, but we’ll all still have time to eat). Finally, if we’re having a rough time lining up, it’s going to take a while for it to get to where it needs to be and therefore, we’ll be late to lunch. I’m a teacher who stands firm in my expectations, so we don’t leave until it’s silent. 
Were we late to lunch the first week or so? Yep.
Did it take us very long to get it together and line up the right way? Nope.
Were we usually the first class at lunch every day? YEP!
This is because students knew they were in charge of when they got to lunch. I was just following their lead. I really don’t care to be late for lunch. I can eat in the classroom while I’m waiting for everyone. Because I didn’t care, students had nothing to leverage with me so they lined up and were silent.
This is just one thorough example of how to use choices in the classroom. I fill my day with these. Here are some other statements I’ve said.
“Would you rather finish your work now or at home?”
“Would you rather sit on the carpet or at your seat?”
“Would you rather walk and hold my hand or stand in line the right way?”
One of the most important things when giving choices is you have to be okay with either choice. Don’t offer a choice you’re not okay with. And if you can’t come up with a consequence, ask the student. Perfect example:
I once had a student who took Expo marker and drew all over a spot on the carpet. I wanted this student to decide what he thought was an appropriate consequence and I left him in the hallway to think on it for a little bit. I came back and asked what he had come up with and, no lie, this is what he said.
“I think I should have Expo markers taken away for two weeks.”
“Okay.” I said. And he didn’t use Expo markers for two weeks. That means when we had a class activity where students used white boards, he had to get out paper and pencil. When there was a center activity involving task cards and Expo markers, he had to write with paper and pencil. He was not happy with it. But guess what? He never misused Expo markers again. And I didn’t have to fly off the handle about the carpet. He made the choice to draw on the carpet and he also made the choice to have Expo markers be off-limits for him. He decided that option didn’t work for him.
The power of choice in the classroom works so well in so many ways. I’m not stressed trying to control 23+ students and students don’t have someone breathing down their neck about their choices. But more importantly, it sets a foundation for students to think about their choices. Soon, they’re comparing consequences for their actions and they’re usually making a choice that makes things easy for themselves and for me.

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