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Practicing Love & Logic
Can Mean Happier Schools

Stressing positive teacher-student relationships, empathetic adults, and differentiated consequences, the Love & Logic approach to behavior management has fans among teachers and parents. Included: Nine essential skills for teachers practicing Love & Logic.

The Love & Logic Institute may sound like a hippie holdover from the flower-power days, but its founders and practitioners say it offers a practical, time-tested system for improving student behavior and school climate.

The foundation of Love & Logic is positive bonds between teachers and students, so children want to be compliant; and using techniques to avoid arguments and power struggles. Educators also are encouraged to express empathy when students disobey the rules and tailor consequences to meet the needs of individual students and infractions.

“It’s based on responsibility and relationships," said founder and former teacher and administrator Jim Fay. “It’s about setting good limits in a loving way. I discovered -- and I wish I had discovered it sooner -- that if you get a kid to fall in love with you, he’ll walk through fire for you."


Fay and Dr. Foster W. Cline developed Love & Logic after Fay said he had tried different behavior management strategies when he was an educator. The Love & Logic approach is outlined in Fay’s book, Schoolwide Discipline Plan Without the Loopholes. Based on observations and his studies, Fay composed what he calls nine essential skills for teachers.

  • Neutralizing student arguing
  • Delaying consequence
  • Empathy
  • The recovery process
  • Developing positive teacher-student relationships
  • Setting limits with enforceable statements
  • Using choices to prevent power struggles
  • Quick and easy preventative interventions
  • Guiding students to own and solve their problems

Currently about 2,500 people are teaching the nine essential skills’ program in schools and colleges and about 11,000 are teaching the Love & Logic version for parents in schools.

“It’s not just for discipline and safety; it’s to create an environment where everyone feels welcomed and loved," said Jennifer E. Guthals, principal of Thompson Falls (Montana) Elementary School. The entire district uses Love & Logic. “I was a brand-new principal when I came in [three years ago] and feel like this is one of the luckiest things that ever happened in my life."

“It allows us to have positive relationships, but positive relationships with high expectations."

Dr. Jerry Pauli, the superintendent of Thompson Falls Public Schools, thought Love & Logic would be a good fit for his district’s needs after he and several other administrators attended a Love & Logic conference.

“I saw more stress coming in with the No Child Left Behind Act," Pauli said. “I wanted to improve relationships and wanted something for the high-risk populations coming into the district. The main thing is that the system is a way to deal with relationships -- student-student, student-staff, and staff-staff."

“Because we don’t yell and we’re not punitive, we have very few problems with disrespect toward adults," added Guthals. “A lot of kids are sad before Christmas and spring break because they miss us."


Educators in a Love & Logic school can begin by deciding on a list of core beliefs about working with children, said Fay. Those core beliefs could include the following:

  • Maintain dignity for the adult and child
  • Whenever possible, share the control
  • Whenever possible, share the thinking -- get the child to do more
  • If consequences are necessary, use the empathy-with-consequences approach

Learning a little about each student’s interests and personality helps to foster a connection between students and teachers. Once those relationships are established, particularly with difficult students, maintaining compliance is easier. For example, if a student does not take off a hat in class, a teacher could quietly say to that student, “Hey, I’m glad your team won last night. I know what a big fan you are," and then as the teacher walks away, add, quietly, “Would you mind taking that hat off just for me?"

“You have to have relationships with high-risk students," added Guthals. “I have been amazed at how easy it is to build relationships with kids with Love & Logic strategies. When you build relationships, you can say to students, ‘Will you stop doing that for me?’ and they will."

Tracy Wagers, principal of Humanex Academy, a private grade 7-12 alternative school in Denver, Colorado, said Love & Logic has proven effective with most students in the 12 years the school has been using it. “It allows us to have positive relationships, but positive relationships with high expectations," Wagers told Education World. “We find we can use it to integrate academics and relationships with peers and teachers."


Teachers also learn techniques to prevent and interrupt disruptive behavior. One way to do that is to allow students some input into decisions affecting the class.

“We try to give kids as many choices as possible," said Wagers. “The teacher has to be able to share control. If it is a little thing, we try to allow choice -- students are more likely to cooperate when they have a choice." That could be as simple as telling a student he or she can stop disrupting the class or go to the office, she said.

“I discovered -- and I wish I had discovered it sooner -- that if you get a kid to fall in love with you, he’ll walk through fire for you."

Love & Logic also takes a different approach to setting limits. “People who set limits don’t tell kids what to do -- they tell kids what they are going to do," said Fay. “Let the kids fit in with your life." That could mean using statements such as, “I listen to people who raise their hands," or “I grade papers with names on them."

“It’s saying, ‘Here’s how I run my life -- work to fit in,’" Fay noted. “It takes the fight out of them."

Still, problems are bound to arise. When appeals to students fail, teachers can ask pupils -- also quietly -- to go to a “recovery" area either in their own classroom or another room to regroup, adding that they will discuss the incident later.


Love & Logic stresses delaying any consequences until the heat of the moment has passed. When the time comes to discuss the infraction, the adult should empathize with the student’s situation and administer a consequence that’s appropriate for the student and the offense, according to Love & Logic. Expressing empathy can be as simple as saying “Bummer," or “I’m sorry you feel bad."

“I discovered that if you have the perfect consequence for a kid, but if you are angry, the kid remembers the anger, not the consequence," Fay told Education World. “If a teacher expresses empathy first, then the kid remembers the consequence. Then it’s also hard to regard the teacher as the bad guy -- the student sees the behavior as the problem."

Empathy often is the hardest aspect of Love & Logic for teachers and administrators to remember to use. “Most of us are conditioned by modeling and repetition," Fay said. “We think we have to get angry to show kids how serious their actions are. That ruins things from the start."

He suggested educators adopt one empathetic response -- and make sure it fits them and their region. “It’s not so much the word, but the feeling," Fay continued. “One-word empathy is generally more effective than anything. We teach men who want to be tough the empathetic grunt. Then they can move on to ‘What a bummer.’ Then put [the word or phrase] on sticky notes all over the place to remind yourself to use it."

Faculty members can use the staff’s core beliefs to guide discipline decisions. “You figure out based on the guidelines what to do," Fay explained. “We believe teachers and administrators actually can think. In the traditional approach to discipline, you make rules -- decide what happens for each offense -- and each rule is enforced the same way. But that doesn’t work. Kids can figure out ways to do things so consequences don’t fit."

At Thompson Falls Elementary and all the schools in the district, educators apply consequences so students feel like they are learning something -- not being punished. “They are thankful for getting a second chance and realize they can help solve the problem," said Guthals. “I actually had a kid thank me because I gave him a consequence -- they think I’m helping them. It’s the way you frame things."

“We have high expectations, but if a kid slips, we don’t put him or her down," added Pauli, the district’s superintendent. “They are all given second or third chances. Each one is treated as an individual. Each teacher knows what to do. We have a warm climate. It’s not about a power trip."


A boy at Thompson Falls Elementary last year, for example, was spreading an inappropriate rumor about a girl. Guthals called the boy to her office. “I said, ‘I heard this is what is going on and want to know how to solve it.’ We sat for ten minutes and talked about what to do."

The boy did receive an in-school suspension. “He had to demonstrate that he could focus just on his schoolwork," Guthals said. The student did his assignments in the counselor’s office to show he could concentrate and complete his work. He also was assigned to model and monitor good behavior for the kindergartners.

“We’re solving problems together rather than punishing mistakes."

In another situation, two students had been arguing for days. Guthals finally assigned the two of them to sit at a table and work together on a project until they could go more than ten minutes without squabbling. After three hours, they stopped arguing and have been getting along ever since.

“We’re solving problems together rather than punishing mistakes," noted Guthals.

The decision to delay consequences for misbehavior was a trait among most highly-effective teachers Fay observed while doing research for Love & Logic.

“When you get tangled up in the idea that all kids need immediate consequences, you wind up doing something you regret later on," according to Fay.


And that is something with which Fay has experience from his career as an educator. “I started out with the traditional rules," he told Education World. “I would lay out the rules, the consequences, and then expect kids to follow the rules. And lie to the world that everyone was treated the same."

Part of the reason traditional discipline no longer works is that children have lost their fear of adults, Fay noted. “There is a whole different perspective kids have."

Fay continued following the conventional discipline path for several years, until an incident occurred when he was splitting his time between being a fifth-grade teacher and an assistant principal. A chronically misbehaving, borderline dangerous student finally pushed all of Fay’s buttons at once. Fay slapped the boy and said the experience left him deeply troubled.

“I was at the end of my rope, and he was the typical little psychopathic kid -- a fire-starter, and everyone was afraid of him," Fay recalled. “He just thought he was tough, and I thought I just had to be tougher than he was."

Fay estimated he had talked to the boy’s mother about 20 times trying to find a solution for his disruptive behavior. He told her he had slapped her son and was not proud of it. “She said, ‘If you hadn’t done it, someone else would have, based on how he was when he left the house.’"

But Fay decided the time had come to find a more effective behavior management approach that focused on preventing negative behavior. He watched teachers who had good classroom management skills and talked with psychologists. “I found ways to apply psychological approaches to classrooms," Fay told Education World. “I picked their [psychologists’] brains. I asked why certain things would work, and then they referred me to literature."


One way schools can get started with Love & Logic is by introducing one or two of the elements, asking teachers to try them on a voluntary basis, and having them report if using aspects of Love & Logic made their jobs easier. Otherwise, “when you announce a new mandated program, it’s the job of a certain number of teachers to kill it," said Fay.

Love & Logic is most effective when it is implemented school-wide, as long as not all staff members are required to do it the same way. “Some people are more dramatic, some are more laid back," Fay noted.

“In the first year, it took some getting used to," admitted Guthals. “We started to realize that not every situation is the same. We have scaffolding for new teachers and try to send them to the Love & Logic Institute. We’ve never had a problem with parents getting onboard. Parents ask us for Love & Logic material."

Students’ responses to consequences show how effective Love & Logic has been at Guthals’ school. “They don’t leave hating us [after receiving a consequence] -- they leave thinking we helped them," she said.



Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
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