Consistency and Flexibility are Key Traits of Outstanding Classrooms

Today, we are sharing an article written by our special guest and partner Steve Barkley. For the past 40 years, Steve has served as an education consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to prepare students to create their futures.

What follows are Steve’s thoughts surrounding teachers classrooms where consistency and flexibility are central. We hope you enjoy his thoughts and that it makes you ponder how to better incorporate these two components into your classrooms.


Consistency and flexibility are observable in outstanding teachers’ classrooms. In a consistent classroom, students know what to expect. There is a calmness generated from consistent expectations that the teacher has for students and the students have for the teacher. A post on Education World website illustrates, “What’s most important when it comes to consistency isn’t consistency of consequences, but consistency of actions, attitudes, and procedures. When you follow the same routines every day; react with patience every day; treat students as fairly as possible every day, you are consistent. Then, students learn what to expect from you.”

It’s important to note that fair does not mean the same thing. Actually treating students the same, can be completely unfair. Flexibility requires knowing students. Relationships with students build easier within a consistent environment and relationship increases knowing which drives flexibility and grows relationships further. A positive spiral. One way to explore consistency and flexibility in your classroom is to identify your approaches with students on a decision-making continuum from power giving to power sharing to power keeping.

At times, you may find yourself operating at any part of the continuum. Consistency is built when students sense from you a usual, expected approach. Flexibility then emerges when you change from that approach in response to the situation or individual student’s needs.

Let’s examine the verbal strategies that you use can assist in identifying a consistent environment and provide direction when flexibility is needed.

Verbal Strategy #1: Problem-Solving Inquiry (PSI)

A PSI can be very power giving when you ask the student to define the problem and offer a solution. “What do you see as the problem and what actions will you take?” The PSI moves across the continuum toward sharing as you define the problem (broad to narrow) and offers options (many to few).

  • We need to plan a community service project for our homeroom. What might we do?
  • We need to plan a community service project in response to homelessness. What might we do?
  • We need to plan a community service project in response to homelessness. Should we explore the issues of nutrition, mental health, housing or employment?
  • We need to plan a community service project in response to homelessness. Should we explore the issues of nutrition or housing?

There is too little being accomplished when we are in the independent stations. So, what are some ideas for improving that?

There is too little being accomplished when we are at the independent stations. We could try setting goals for what needs to be accomplished at the start, maybe we could set a challenge with a partner for what we’ll accomplish or try working at our desks rather than at stations. What do you think?

The PSI can also be a power keeping strategy when you define the problem and offer unequal options. In other words, the student is forced to accept the option that you would like implemented. “You can work more responsibly on the independent tasks or have them assigned as additional homework. Your choice.” A caution, if I offer the choice a student may choose the option I don’t want and then I need to follow through. Early in my teaching career I informed 6th grader Jimmy that he could finish his work or go to the office. Jimmy picked up his books and headed for the door, “See you later Mr. Barkley.” I felt a little foolish when the principal came to see me and wanted to know why Jimmy was in the office.

Verbal Strategy #2: Contingent Action Proposal (CAP)

The CAP is mostly a power sharing skill. This is a form of making a deal. It includes a student action and a teacher action. If the student action must happen first, it falls on the power keeping side of the continuum. “If you bring your work in by Monday, I will give you full credit.” If the teacher action goes first, the CAP is on the power giving side of the continuum. “If I postpone the exam until Monday, will you use the time over the weekend to practice and study?”

Verbal Strategy #3: Authority and Disapproval

Both statements direct the student as to the action they need to take. With disapproval statements the action is often implied. With authority statements the action is spelled out.

  • Disapproval – “The noise level is too high.”
  • Authority – “We need to complete the assignment. Let’s work in silence until everyone has finished.”

It is often valuable to provide the reason for your authority statement. Knowing why you are being given a directive can make compliance easier.

  • Authority – “There are many new vocabulary words in this unit. I will introduce five words each day this week and you will complete a homework assignment each night with the new words.”

Overall, you may consider the frequency with which you use these various strategies in defining their style and consistency. If you are frequently changing strategies from day to day, the lack of consistency creates uncertainty for students. If you are unsuccessful with a student or group of students, trying a different strategy that is more or less power keeping can be an option. Often, these situations require a conscious implementation of a different verbal strategy.


Steve Barkley

About Steve Barkley

For the past 40 years, Steve has served as an education consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to prepare students to create their futures. A prolific published author, his weekly blog, Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud, has evolved into a go-to resource for teachers and administrators all over the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *