First and foremost this is not a post arguing against school sanctions for student misbehaviour. I am a strong proponent of sanctions as an additional strategy to support its much more powerful cousins: student-teacher relationships and positive reinforcement. What I am proposing is that such a strategy should perhaps come with a health warning, or terms and conditions to be considered prior to enforcing.
I have rarely met a student who has a problem with sanctions; I have met plenty of parents who struggle to come to terms with another human disciplining their child - but rarely a student who thinks that sanctions are a breach of their human rights. What I have often come across is the emotional outcry brought on by a sense of injustice, or a feeling of being picked on, or the belief that teachers are incapable of understanding the incident through the eyes of the student. As such, it is perhaps important that teachers view themselves in such situations as not just a judge, jury and executioner, but also an empathetic, caring significant other.
Issues often arise when students perceive a punishment to be unjust. More often than not this a misperception. Whatever the reasons for such a misperception, it can be damaging to the student-teacher relationship. It is therefore important that a shared common understanding is sought to ensure trust is maintained between both parties. Listening to a student does not equate to agreeing with a student. It shows respect, and also allows for the teacher to attempt to clarify the purpose for the sanction. It may also allow the teacher to reconsider whether the sanction is just. We are human after all!
Nine times out of ten, additional time spent seeking a shared common understanding is not required. With regards to the other 10%, teachers are often quickly made aware how unfair a sanction is; You will more often then not know when to seek further dialogue. *
Furthermore, subsequent misdemeanours (however small) involving the same student & teacher can sometimes lead to the student thinking he/she is being picked on. A simple strategy to tackle this is to show the student the issue is in the past. Look for opportunities in lesson to praise, but only if deserved; Alternatively, engage in small talk with the student during break or lunch duty, or wish them a lovely evening at the end of school.
Finally, one study suggests that employing an empathetic mindset towards sanctions can positively impact on students subsequent behaviour in school. Worth considering!
* There will be always be some students who place themselves in the position of victim. No amount of dialogue is likely to change their perspective. Stand by your decision.