Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as though “timeout” is getting a bad rap. While I am definitely NOT in favor of creating a fast track to removing students from classrooms, there are times when removing a student from a situation is an effective way of intervening. Even if only for a few minutes, sometimes a little distance between the teacher/environment and the student is the most effective way to defuse the situation. Sometimes, it is important to intervene and/or discuss an issue with a student privately rather than confronting it in front of the entire class.
Time out works. My issue is more with the misuse of time out by thinking it always works; it doesn’t. Here are a few guidelines that may help you determine whether time out is or is not an effective way to intervene and how you might go about maximizing its effective use.
1. There must be a desirable ‘time-in’ environment. Removing a student from an environment they do not want to be in will never be an effective way of reducing the likelihood that a challenging behavior will occur again. It’s as silly as suspending a student out-of-school for skipping. This will only serve to reinforce the negative behavior and increase the likelihood that the behavior will occur again – only sooner and with more intensity. This is why two students can/will have very different responses to the same intervention (time out). The student for whom the environment is desirable will respond positively; the other, not so much.
2. Keep it brief – no more than 5 or 10 minutes MAX. If you need to appropriately remove a student because you are in the middle of something that’s okay. However, the idea that a student sit in the hallway for 30-45 minutes is, for me, unacceptable. If, as part of a Behavior Improvement Plan, a student needs to be removed for an extended period of time, then another location should be part of the plan so the student can continue their learning.
3. Keep it business-like. This is much easier said than done, especially if the T.O. is the result of the student telling you to F.O. The bottom-line in any teacher-student relationship is getting emotionally caught up in any discipline issue never goes well for the adults involved. Remember, this is not a judgment of the student as a person; this is about their behavior and, as such, we need to remain as objective as possible. Taking things personally usually leads to ineffective interactions.
4. Teach ‘how’, ‘when’, and ‘where’ to take the timeout. This is especially true for students for whom timeout is a part of their behavior improvement plan. Not only will this reinforce the objectivity of the intervention, it will give the student a clear picture of how the timeout is supposed to occur. Then, if the student follows through on what they’ve been ‘taught’ there is an opportunity for positive feedback on how respectfully they moved to the hallway without disrupting the other students. Students with severe behavioral challenges may never fully change, however, we can teach them prosocial ways to handle their inevitable emotions of anger and frustration by self-regulating how they respond to what you are asking them to do.
5. Review the ‘context’ of timeout use if it’s frequent. This means two things. First, if you find that you are consistently needing to use timeout on certain days or during certain periods, analyze what you are typically asking the students to do during that time. As well, it could be that the students arrive to your class immediately after P.E. and the exercise and/or competitiveness hasn’t quite transitioned out. Second, if a specific student is given a timeout consistently during a certain time/period/day, then examine their specific situation to plan for ways of preventing escalations and creating an optimum environment.
As I wrote on March 16, 2011, behavior interventions are neutral. How students respond determines an interventions effectiveness. Timeout is not inherently wrong; however, the misuse of timeout can be counter-productive and only increase the intensity, severity, and duration of the presenting challenging behavior. In the end, our goal should always be to create a positive teaching and learning environment where timeout is unnecessary.