Positive Reprimanding: Yes-No-Yes Technique
By Rafi M. Ali, M.D.
Director of DarusSalam Seminary’s Tadrīs Integrated High School Program
If you have always enjoyed the good graces of your teachers, consider yourself especially favored by circumstances. Few things are more mortifying for a student, and I speak from experience, than censure before an audience of peers. Tragically, perhaps even the reader may attest, some teachers display mastery of their subject by belittling the struggling student. Others, perhaps overwhelmed by their own burdens of life, use the classroom for catharsis. This is most unfortunate.
I learned early in life never to belittle anyone’s intelligence or their appearance. These arrows dig deep. Perceptions of one’s intelligence and beauty relate to the core of an individual’s identity. To expose such vulnerabilities before their peers has little value and best avoided.
Sometimes, however, there are instances when a student needs to be scolded publicly: the loquacious interrupting commentator, the habitually and remorseless late-comer, the “I know more than my teacher, therefore I shall antagonize” junior-Einstein, etc. There are many methods that may help mold behavior so that such students do not derail their own education while they are disrupting the education of others. It is also best not to jump to conclusions. As Sherlock Holmes would say, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” Always give the little rascal a chance to explain.
In our times, one must even hesitate to consider if any form of reprimand is appropriate or justified in a classroom. Like parenting, however, teaching must carry a certain compassionate authority for an educational system to function. Juvenile delinquents are not born; they represent accumulated lost opportunities that might have helped a struggling soul. It is best to learn life’s lessons in the safety of the classroom. Thus, an excellent teacher must employ appropriate tactics to help the challenging students. I shall suggest two guiding principles that I have found useful.
Firstly, in my mind, one relinquishes the right to reprimand a student if such an effort does not come from a compassionate heart which has already invested much time and effort in rectifying the matter otherwise. Secondly, as a last resort, here is a technique that I have found extremely useful when reprimanding a student: The “Yes-No-Yes” technique., The idea is to cushion the unpleasant reprimand between two positive statements. I nearly always remind the student of either their higher purpose or some of their otherwise good qualities. A serious formal tone serves well.
“You know, I think you are possibly one of the most intelligent students in the class. If you would only come to class on time, you would probably succeed far beyond what you likely expect from yourself presently. Right now, your recurrent lateness is hurting you. And it’s hurting me. You are better than this. Kindly come to class on time. I really like to see you succeed. I know you can, Insha’Allah.”
It needs only a little practice.
. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes, (New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004), 1:189.
. This is something that I have extrapolated from a wonderfully important book I read many years go titled, The Power of a Positive No.
. William Ury, The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes (New York: Bantam, 2008).