What is Planned Ignoring? Understanding Effective Classroom Management - Stanfield


What is Planned Ignoring? Understanding Effective Classroom Management

Navigating the delicate dance between engaged learning and classroom disruptions is an art form that every educator seeks to master. 

From students calling out answers to the class clown inserting a joke every five minutes, there are times when you just don’t want to give students your utmost attention – and for good reason.

Sometimes, tactfully ignoring a student is one of hte best things you can do (even though it likely screams against all of your instincts as an educator!). 

In this comprehensive guide, we’re going to break down the art of planned ignoring and demonstrate how it’s much more than simply pretending a student isn’t there. 

We’ll explore why this strategy is a crucial part of your classroom management toolkit and offer some practical pearls of wisdom to help you implement it effectively.

The Essence of Planned Ignoring

what is planned ignoring?

Imagine you’re at a party, and you’re the life of it. You’re regaling the crowd with an incredible anecdote or stirring debate, and then someone throws in an off-topic comment. 

Do you take the bait and derail the conversation, or do you masterfully ignore it and keep the focus where it should be? Planned ignoring hinges on this very mastery of selective attention.

In the classroom, planned ignoring is the strategic choice to not react to inappropriate, off-task, or non-disruptive behavior. 

Instead, educators redirect their attention to students who are on task, unintentionally rewarding appropriate behavior and gently extinguishing less desirable actions.

The Psychology Behind Ignoring Behavior

what is planned ignoring?

Before we explore planned ignoring in the classroom, we need to understand the psychology that underpins this strategy. 

Psychologists have long studied the concept of attention as a form of reinforcement. When we give our attention to a stimulus (in this case, behavior), we are, in effect, reinforcing it. By removing this attention, we can reduce the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated.

In the classroom, planned ignoring functions as a behavioral tool. It sends a subtle but powerful message: behaviors that don’t align with the learning environment won’t be rewarded with the teacher’s attention.

Attention is a currency in the classroom. Every decision an educator makes about where to direct their attention is a transaction that shapes the classroom dynamic. 

When reinforcing a positive classroom environment, you need to find ways to judiciously allocate this currency. Ignoring select behaviors, while seemingly counterintuitive, can be a potent investment in creating a focused and respectful classroom culture.

12 Tips for Incorporating Planned Ignoring in Your Classroom

what is planned ignoring

The key to mastering planned ignoring lies not in the ignoring itself, but in the actions that accompany it. 

Here are 12 nuggets of wisdom for educators who are looking to enhance their practice of planned ignoring:

Tip 1: Set Clear Expectations

At the heart of any classroom management strategy is the foundation of clear, communicated expectations. Before employing planned ignoring, make sure that students understand what behaviors are expected and why. 

Otherwise, they may not understand why you’re not paying any attention to them. 

Tip 2: Proactively Teach Desired Behaviors

You’ve got to be explicit in teaching the behaviors you want to see. If a student engages in an attention-seeking behavior, take a moment to explain and demonstrate the correct behavior for the given situation.

Tip 3: Onlooker Role

Use the ‘onlooker’ role approach to observing behaviors. This means watching for different behaviors without letting students know which behaviors you are evaluating, effectively maintaining a ‘blank slate’ in terms of reaction.

Tip 4: Consider Your Threshold

Not all misbehavior warrants ignoring. Pay attention to the intensity and duration of the behavior. Save planned ignoring for minor, non-intrusive actions to maintain its effectiveness. 

Planned ignoring isn’t something that you’ll want to try for any behaviors that could harm fellow classmates (or the student themselves, for that matter).

Tip 5: Avoid Unintentionally Rewarding

Be hyper-aware of what behaviors you reinforce through your attention. By not addressing minor disruptions, you simultaneously reinforce the on-task behavior of the rest of the class.

Remember, planned ignoring is something that should be used mindfully and intentionally. Don’t confuse it with just ignoring a behavior because you don’t want to deal with it. You need to have a strategy.

Tip 6: Use Non-Verbal Cues

Body language and non-verbal cues are powerful tools. Sometimes, a simple shake of the head or the pointing gesture at a task is all students need to realign their focus.

Tip 7: Timing is Everything

The sooner the planned ignoring begins, the better. Delayed reactions can lead to confusion about which behaviors are acceptable.

Tip 8: Hold the Line

Once you’ve decided to ignore, commit to it. Retracting attention from a behavior and then acknowledging it later can reinforce the original behavior.

Tip 9: The Power of Peer Responses

Employ peer pressure – constructively. When one student ignores an instigating behavior by another, it reinforces the expectation for the class community standards.

Tip 10: Document Disruptive Patterns

While planned ignoring addresses minor misbehaviors, keep a record of more significant patterns. This will be valuable when having conduct-specific discussions with students.

Tip 11: Provide an Out

For behaviors that persist after planned ignoring, give the student a private opportunity to redirect before a more formal intervention.

Tip 12: Reflect and Adjust

Every class is different. Reflect on the effectiveness of planned ignoring in your classroom, and be willing to adjust your approach for optimal outcomes.

Hands-On Examples of Planned Ignoring in the Classroom

group of kids watching the teacher

Now that you know how to incorporate planned ignoring, you might be wondering what that would actually look like in a real-world setting.

Here are some real-life scenarios where planned ignoring can be skillfully applied in the classroom:

Scenario 1: A Student Blurts Out an Answer

Instead of reprimanding the student, simply continue with the lesson and then engage the rest of the class in providing answers. The student will learn that their turn will come without the need for unsolicited outbursts.

Scenario 2: A Student Whispers to a Neighbor

Rather than calling attention to the behavior, walk over to the pair and greet them with a smile. The act of ignoring the whispering can deter it without curtailing social interactions during appropriate times.

Scenario 3: A Student Taps Their Pencil

Pencil tapping can be a minor, self-rewarding behavior that students engage in unknowingly. By not reacting to the sound, the class may subtly encourage the tapper to recognize and halt their own behavior.

Implementation of Planned Ignoring for Specific Behaviors

Here we get specific on certain behaviors and how planned ignoring can be woven into your classroom management:

Dealing with Cell Phones

Cell phone usage in the classroom can be a continual source of frustration. Instead of confiscating devices or engaging in a power struggle, consider a policy of planned ignoring for non-disruptive use.

Handling Attention-Seeking Behaviors

For behaviors that are more overtly attention-driven, acknowledge the student’s need for attention without rewarding the negative behavior. 

As an example, offering a scheduled one-on-one or redirecting the student to participate as an ‘expert’ in the class can fulfill this without disrupting routine.

Addressing Disrespectful Comments

Disrespectful remarks can be jarring and, at times, emotionally charged. Employing planned ignoring can give you the time and emotional space to consider a proportionate response rather than allowing the heat of the moment to dictate the interaction.

The Challenges of Planned Ignoring

teacher in front of class

While planned ignoring is a powerful strategy, it does come with its challenges:

  • The Fear of Condoning Misbehavior: You may worry that ignoring disruptive behaviors will send the message that they are acceptable. Balancing this concern with the need to not overreact is key.
  • Consistency Across Behaviors: Applying planned ignoring consistently to all behaviors can be a significant challenge, especially when some students push the boundaries more than others. This is why setting clear thresholds is so important.

Critics of planned ignoring may argue that the strategy is disrespectful or neglectful. 

However, when employed with care and thought, it is highly effective and can build resilience and self-regulation in students.

The counter-argument to this is straightforward – planned ignoring is a non-invasive method of managing behavior that respects the autonomy of students and the learning process itself. It’s about fostering an environment where students feel the natural, meaningful consequences of their behavior without the need for explicit, disruptive interventions.

The Takeaway

students doing work

Effective classroom management involves a delicate balance of structure, rapport, and engagement. 

Planned ignoring, when thoughtfully applied, can be a powerful ally in this endeavor. By leveraging the psychology of attention, you can shape your classroom culture to be more resilient, disciplined, and focused.

As you integrate planned ignoring into your teaching practice, remember to set clear expectations, use non-verbal cues, and reflect and adjust as necessary. With a bit of practice and patience, you’ll find that the art of ignoring can be one of the most effective tools in your pedagogical repertoire.


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