How to appropriately manage student behaviour in the classroom is one of the biggest challenges teachers face: Many a “perfect” lesson have gone awry due to a lack of concrete consideration of classroom management issues.
Good for Students, Good for Teachers
It’s easy to get complacent after having taught for so long, and although I do manage fairly well with my students, it was good to get a refresher and be able to name the things I do (and consider why it might be better to do some things differently).
Since every job interview in teaching invariably includes a question on this topic, classroom management is a great theme to revisit often throughout one’s career, both for its practical applications with students, but also for self-preservation in an interview!
Four Goals of Misbehaviour
In her session, Laura McCarron, a teacher from Nova Scotia, shared a synopsis of several people’s work with us. In addition to reminding us of the importance of establishing and practising routines and procedures with our classes (a-la- Harry Wong), she also shared a framework for identifying the reasons behind most student misbehaviour.
Knowing why a student may be “acting out” can help us pre-empt some of that behaviour, or respond in ways appropriate to the particular situation, rather than engaging in a power struggle. These goals (and their solutions) can be applied in any context, K-12.
The most common goals tend to be Attention Seeking and Avoidance of Failure
I know these students well, because I was and continue to be one, and now they are my nemesis!! The attention-seeker wants to be noticed by everyone, and keep the teacher's attention. The good thing about these students is that they are motivate; they want a relationship with the teacher.
Ensure you give these students attention for appropriate behaviour, and develop their meta-cognitive skills by teaching them to ask directly for extra attention when they think they need it.
Avoidance of Failure
These students are so fearful of failure, they want to be left alone, lest they make any mistake. This may manifest itself in social isolation, refusal to contribute, or diversion tactics and silly behaviour.
By recognizing students' strengths, and engaging them in low-threat tasks of appropriate (and eventually increasing) challenge levels, we as teachers can help re-frame these students' social stories from "I can't" to I can!"
Other reasons for student misbehaviour might include Power Seeking, or -- more rarely but also more intensely -- Revenge Seeking. Laura reminded us that it was wise to know when to ignore, and when to intervene. Also important was an escalated response model (i.e. you don’t send a kid to the office for a first misdemeanor, or for a minor offence like not bringing a pencil to class!)
I’ve often pulled a student aside, but then not been quite sure what to say to that student. Laura provided some suggestions:
- If the student stonewalls you - "Since you're not ready to talk about it, I'll decide what will happen. I'll let you know before tomorrow what I've decided."
- If the student's response is weak or poor - "I'm unwilling to try that, because it doesn't solve our problem of _________. Do you have another idea?"
- If the student blames others - "I'm not interested in fault-finding. I'm interested in solutions to the problem you and I are having."
It's critical to remember of course that you have to give respect to get respect. Any of the statements above should be made firmly and confidently, but also politely and calmly. It's not a power struggle, it's an opportunity for positive change.
Encourage Appropriate Behaviour
Laura’s message was about encouraging students; telling them what you want them to do, not what you want them to stop doing. “Working the room” was another way she suggested encouraging positive behaviour; if you’re on hand right from the beginning, things are less likely to get out of control in the first place.
I would add to this my own philosophical statement about being a “good” teacher: Being prepared, and using a rich variety of instructional strategies that engage a range of learning styles will reduce the number of behavioural incidents in your classroom and increase the likelihood of having a great time teaching and learning, no matter what grade you teach!