Classrooms function if behaviour norms and rules are clearly set out and consistently reinforced.
As explained by Emmer & Stough (2001), “[d]efinitions of classroom management vary, but usually include actions taken by the teacher to establish order, engage students, or elicit their cooperation” (p. 1). In my opinion, classroom behaviour is not about limiting resistance, which is important in any space, but to establish a framework to ensure that both teachers and students cultivate and respect. The realities attributed to student behaviour pose a significant challenge to teachers. This is particularly true in classrooms, where the behaviour of a certain student or a group of students disrupts instruction. In addition, the behaviour also impacts the learning of their peers. There are, however, various approaches to implementing behaviour strategies. Canter (2010) recommend the assertive discipline approach, whereby teahcers build a teacher voice that has an assertive tone rather than a hostile or nonassertive tone. The authors suggest that the assertive tone is neither controlling nor hostile. The foundation of assertive discipline is based on the teacher’s authority to set punishments for violated rules. Conversely, Linda Albert’s cooperative discpline focuses on helping students to learn how to choose reposnible behaviour. Albert (2013) suggests teacher make the classroom a space where making mistakes are not undermined by fear, building confidence in students, focusing on past successes, making learning tangible, and recognizing achievement. Research also shows that teachers who model desried behaviour and implement preventive strategies help create classroom management (Emmer & Stough, 2001). Specifically, Emmer & Stough (2011) explain that “effective teachers had a clear conception of what student behaviors were desired, and they taught these expectations to students in several ways. They established rules or guidelines for desired behaviors; they planned and taught routines and procedures for class activities to students (a task that could take several weeks in complex settings); and they monitored student behavior and work carefully, so that initial problems were detected and corrected before inappropriate behavior could become established” (p. 105).
Establishing The Guidelines
The goal of teaching is not to continuously reinforce rules, but rather to create learning opportunities for students. As students enter the classroom on the first day of school, teachers should make an effort to communicate the classroom guidelines. In his classroom, Esquith (2013) introduces The Ten Commandments of Room 56 for his Hobart Shakespearens as a code of conduct. Similarly, Mrs. Holowicki Classroom Website from Brighton High School, outlines expectations and rules. Once teachers set these guidelines, they have to communicate the following with their students:
These guidelines are for both the teacher and the students.
All of the guidelines are applied fairly and there are consequences for not following them.
Mistakes happen and we can learn from them.
Changes to the guidelines can be made as we provide each other feedback.
These guidelines do not control us, but support us in achieving our broader vision.
It is our individual responsibility to hold ourselves to these standards.
These guidelines are important, yet teachers are often still overwhelmed. In fact, a 2011 survey of 1,922 teachers by the Guardian Teacher Network revealed that more than half of the teachers considered leaving the profession. Furthermore, Shepard (2011) explains that of those teachers “30% said the worsening behaviour of their pupils’ parents had been a major reason for this” (The Guardian). Parents can be a handful and their behaviour, in turn, impact our students. This behaviour can stem from both underwhelming and overbearing parents, who unreasonably threaten the code of conduct of a classroom. In such circumstances, I recommend understanding the limitations that come with the profession. Create boundaries that are reasonable and allow you to balance the tension between work and self-care.
Strategies That Work
In my experience, behaviour management requires a teacher to be dynamic in nature. Different situations require different solutions. Yet there is a degree of strategies that can be effective across the board, especially as preventive measures to fostering positive behaviour.
Here are a few of the strategies that work well for me:
1. Check-in: I have found that most behaviour issues are minor in nature. Usually, the behaviour issues involve students disrupting other students, losing focus, or paying attention to something else altogether. In fact, most of these are not behavioural issues at all. I always find that making eye contact with the student brings them back into focus. Esquith (2013) also explains, "Over the years I have discovered that the energy spent correcting behaviour is better spent perfecting the lesson. In doing so, fewer have misbehaved, and more have learned."
However, this is not always the case. There are times that the lack of focus or misbehaviour stems from a deeper issue. These include but are not limited to conflict at home, issues with peers, and personal problems. In these situations, the check-in is a life saviour strategy. This is a two to ten minutes (depends on the situation) check-in with a student to listen to their concerns and provide them with the feedback to get them back on their feet. Of course, not all these issues can be solved through a check-in, but check-ins are useful when teachers have limited time and just need to provide a bit of motivation. In my first three years of teaching, I had a student who just needed a pep talk from time to time to help him feel appreciated. Those words of encouragement resulted in him regularly keeping up with his homework amongst other positive actions in his behaviour as a student.
2. Classroom Mascot: Our sixth grade teacher, Mr. Holmes had a classroom mascot named Igor that all of us loved. During my three of years of teaching in India, I had an owl mascot named Lalita Miss that the students also loved. At the end of each day, one student had the opportunity to take our owl mascot home. The classroom is an incentive for following our classroom code of conduct, in addition to a way of creating a positive environment. Interestingly, I have found that students never feel envious of another student being able to "babysit" the mascot for a day. Instead, the mascot is a part of the family and we learn to take care of it together.
3. Constructive Feedback: Busch (2016) suggests that feedback can be an effective strategy to improve learning, but it can also be harmful if it is not done well. Specifically, Busch recommends seven components of giving feedback. He explains that giving too much praise can be seen as insincere or can set low expectations. Furthermore, it is important to avoid correcting students in public or comparing them with their peers, both of which can have negative impacts. The feedback itself should be clear, moving away from generic comments to more specific comments. The teacher can say, "I really like the way you are re-reading your work to fix any run-on-sentences." By doing so, you also recognize the students' effort over their ability, which is another part of successful feedback. Busch also recommends asking open ended questions (e.g. how are you feeling about the project) rather than closed ended questions with simple yes or no responses. The combination of both type of questions provides the teacher with more information before making specific decisions. Lastly, the feedback loop should include action points that allow the student to lead to change.
4. Partner in Crime: It takes a lot of maturity and understanding that sometimes, as the teacher, we may not be the best individual to deal with a behavioural issue. In fact, most of the times it falls out of our hands. This is where you have to ask for support and not be afraid of it. In my first year of teaching, I had a colleague who I worked with closely to work on our students' behavioural issues. We stepped in for each other and sometimes found that working together benefited the student a lot more. Similarly, other students are also beautiful partners in crime. You can pull aside a friend of the student you are struggling with and get the friend to have a talk with them. This is not a sure fire strategy, but it is worth trying.
5. Precise Praise: This is a Teach Like A Champion strategy that many teachers find valuable. You can read about precise praise to learn how to implement it. In addition to precise praise, there are tons of other ideas about how to provide positive feedback. It can be a simple shout out to a student or group of students to some elaborate classroom chant. As a reminder, these should be concise and precise because they are ways to provide positive feedback in a manner that does not take up too much time.
6. Set Clear Rules: I believe students should break rules. Yes, you read that right. We have the right to exercise disobedience. That being said, come up with rules that make sense to students and they will follow them. And also emphasise the fact that respect and rules often are strongly correlated together. You have the right to break the rules and justify breaking them, but you do not have the right to disrespect someone. This is what I tell my students. I also have learned that rules should be framed in a positive manner. Instead of making rules such as "do not talk" reframe it to say "use a whisper voice" or "listen when others speak."
7. The Art of Reciprocation: This is the art of learning from our students. In my classroom, students that I have worked with as a teacher and a tutor often bring me baked goods and home made meals. This is such a touching gesture that I learned from my students and their parents. I reciprocated the gesture by cooking and sending lunch for them. As humble as it sounds, students appreciate that you learn from their actions and, in turn, make an effort to do the same. Of course, packing a lunch is a bit time consuming, but sometimes these reciprocated gestures go a long way to bringing about real, life changing impact. This is just a personal example. See what your students are doing for you and then take the lead from them. It could be giving them a hug, making drawings, and, my personal favourite, writing letters.
8. The Timeout: Most of my students tease me when I get upset and ask a student to step out of an activity because I almost always take it back and say, "Your teacher is too nice. Come back and now respect the rules." However, it works. It is a respectful approach where students are asked to wait until the next activity or lesson to step back in because of their breach of our classroom conduct. I have found that no student wants to be out of the activity or lesson because they are having too much fun in the lesson already. For me, the timeout is only applicable if the student has already been warned once about their misdemeanour and repeats the offence (sounds so legal). It also avoids unnecessary back and forth with the student. You know the rules. You know what happens when they are not followed as per our classroom conduct.
9. Tracker Time: Should we track behaviour in our classrooms? This is one of my least favourite teaching strategies, especially when the tracker is visible for all students to see. I am guilty of using it because it had been heavily recommended in my trainings during the first year I was a teacher. In hindsight, I would have worked around using a different method. The public tracker for behaviour is useful, but I often find it brings down student morale and hurts them in the long-run. I used it while explaining to students that the tracker does not represent us fully. This explanation is accurate, but it does not work for all students.
Personally, I would recommend using a tracker that is more private. You can use a points system where students receive a point for their effort in class; I often use maple leafs printed out and cut on a sheet as points (think of it as fake money). You can use whatever works for you and your classroom culture or theme. Students can collect these and then turn them in for a prize based on the point system. My students like this a lot more because their points are tracked privately without anyone judging them and they learn how to save/spend their points. As an example, 10 points could get you a pencil, 25 points a notebook, 50 points a choice from the toy bank, and 100 points a field trip with the teacher to the bookstore or a restaurant. It also avoids students developing low esteem when they are not "high" up on a more public, hierarchal tracker.
10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Students often pick up the bad habit of eating junk food at an early age. It is useful to have a tracker for this. We added a part of the caterpillar circle to the wall each time the whole class did not eat junk food (e.g. chips, chocolates, soda, etc.) during their lunch break. However, a breach of that would mean no extension of the caterpillar tracker.
Albert, L. (2003). Cooperative disciplines. AGS Publishing.
Busch, B. (2016). Seven ways to give better feedback to your students. The Guardian Teacher Network. Published on November 10, 2016.
Canter, L. (2010). Assertive discipline: positive behaviour for today’s classrooms.
Emmer, E.T. & Stough, L.M. (2011). Classroom management: a critical part of educational psychology, with implications for teacher education. Educational Psychologist, 36(2), 103-112.
Esquith, R. (2013). Real talk for real teachers. Penguin Group (USA) Inc. New York, New York.
Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Education Research, 77(1), 81-112.