September 01, 2014

Back to School Classroom Management: Getting Behaviors Under Control

You have spend the first few days setting high expectations, gathering materials, practising lining up,  and appropriate noise level.  It is all going so well!  A couple of weeks later, you realize the honeymoon period has faded.  Tyler is suddenly jumping up and slapping the top the classroom door as he enters the room; Sarah is chatting with her friends during morning entry routine; Trevor is taking the scenic route when transitioning from whole class gathering area to his desk.  Everyone has been reminded about your expectations yet behaviour for these children hasn't changed much. It is time to tweak your management techniques before behavior begins to affects teaching and learning in your classroom.

You have heard it before, never let them see you sweat.  An age old truism that still relevant today.  You cannot show these children their behavior bothers you.  Along the way, they have learned this type of behavior reaps some type of reward for them.  It might be attention, not completing work or hiding a lack of ability or confidence.  Whatever the reason, staying calm and cool is the way to go for Grades 4 - 8.

Strategies that DO NOT show you are calm and cool:
  • Writing a child's name on the board (or another public place) as punishment or warning.  Public embarrassment will only make things worse in a couple of months.
  • Repeating their name more than once or twice.  More than twice is now disturbing learning and the child knows they have your attention.
  • Posting a public class list with rewards or demerits.  Rewards given like this on a daily basis are again public embarrassment for children who didn't receive rewards.
  • Sending a child outside of the classroom.  They have missed the what?
  • Stopping the lesson/work time in any way to publically address behavior.
  • Give detentions only as a very last resort.  Children who get semi-regular detentions misbehave during detention.  It is too easy to know what to expect during a detention and they plan for their boredom accordingly. 
  • Telling the child why they are in trouble - this takes away their personal responsibility.  Do not do the talking for them.  Chastising actually places the responsibility on you.

Strategies that DO show you are calm and cool:

  • Limit public reward systems.  Reward at a more private time. Rewards are meant to make people feel good, not make others feel bad.
  • Ask a child to 'Try it one more time' when you have observed lower than expected behavior.
  • Not letting the child know you have written their name down as a reminder to yourself to speak with them at break.  This sets them off and gives them plenty of time to think about how to act with you when you keep them back for a chat during break.  You want their mind on their work, not on how to give attitude during break.
  • Develop a 'teacher look' instead of verbally interrupting teaching and learning.
  • Proximity
  • Ask the child to stay back for a chat with you during break - just before the bell rings.  No time for the child to plan on giving attitude.
  • Always acting polite and happy - even if you have the pretend the behavior was no big deal to you.  They expect you to chastise, this will throw off their learned reaction behavior.
  • Never call staying behind 'detention'.  The goal is for them to take responsibility and then go outside.  This may take 5min or it may take a couple recesses.  It is not about a time-limited detention, it's about how long it takes the child to take responsibility.
  • Always tell the child you, 'Give me a minute to ______ before I can chat with you.  Just have a set at your desk'.  Spend at least 5min doing this task.  This will waste some of his/her break time without considering it a 'detention'.  The child is unsure if and when they will be allowed out for break.  This keeps them hoping you will let them go out and are much less likely to misbehave while waiting for you.
  • Ask the child, 'Why are you here?'  At this age, the child knows.  If he/she claims not to know then say, 'Okay, let me know when you have figured it out and we'll talk about it'.  For the first couple of times children can take quite a while to tell you why they are there. They are not used to taking responsibility for their behaviour.  I had one child take two full breaks before he came to me with why he was there.
  • After he/she tells you why they need to chat with you, don't tell him/her the expectations again, insist they show you what this particular behaviour 'looks like/sounds like'.  They are demonstrate this for you until you are satisfied their behavior meets your expectations.  Use the phrase, 'Try it one more time.  Show me how you will act the next time (e.g. you walk from the gathering area to your desk)' each time they need to practise again.
  • Ask, 'I'm satisfied.  Do you think you need to practise anymore?'  Typically, the child responds, 'No'.  Continue to act happily and respond, 'Great, you better get yourself outside for what's left of your break.  Have fun!'  The child quickly learns that taking responsibility for their behavior is rewarded.

These strategies will not work for all children but will work for many.  The key is not to acknowledge behaviors in the classroom unless the child is a risk to themselves or others.  Their behavior might disturb your learning that day but always be thinking about the long road ahead.  Publically giving demerit points or chastising a child in front of their classmates will only escalate the situation and prolong their behavior.  For children with severe behavior issues, try these strategies if appropriate and seek the expertise of the Special Education Teacher in your school.

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