I think one of the most difficult parts of being a teacher is classroom behaviour management. I remember at University we were required to write a statement outlining our philosophy of classroom behaviour management. Mine is below:
“As a teacher, it is my responsibility to maintain harmony and the process of learning in the classroom. To this end, a preventative approach to behaviour management will be used. Through a democratic process, students will be involved in the decision making of a classroom philosophy outlining rights and responsibilities. Social skills and values will be encouraged promoting a caring classroom community. The purpose of behaviour management is to promote a positive, caring classroom community that encourages student learning, positive peer and teacher relationships, and self-motivation. It is not about forcing students to “…comply with teacher demands…” but allowing them to have ownership and success in all aspects of their schooling (Charles, 2002, p.224). Students then become the main decision makers in their lives and accept the responsibility that this entails.”
Looking at this now it is quite idealistic, but there are some parts to this statement that I believe has assisted me with the behaviour management in my classroom.
The following describes the 5 most effective strategies that I have successfully used in my class to assist with classroom behaviour management.
1. Be fair and consistent
Being fair and consistent is probably the most important skill that a teacher can display in the class. This came to realisation for me in my first few years of teaching.
I remember back to my first year of teaching, my husband’s work sent its employees out to schools to assist with some community work. He happened to be sent to my school and was helping with some props and displays for our presentation night. My husband and his colleague were working with a small group of my students. They were just generally chatting, and my husband asked, “So what’s Miss Crean like as a teacher?”
There was a general consensus with the responses. The students relayed, “Miss Crean is pretty tough, but she is fair.” “You know that if you do something bad, you know what the consequence is going to be.”
This was a good lesson that I learned early on in my teaching career. But, at the same time, I definitely find it is hard to maintain. Sometimes it is easier to just let certain behaviours ‘slide’ and not acknowledge them (which can be a good low key response).
I work very hard to maintain consistency with all students in the class. I often refer to the jointly developed rights and responsibilities that we have established together, which assists with maintaining consistency. More about rights and responsibilities are discussed below.
2. Creating a belonging classroom environment – rights and responsibilities
I truly believe that by creating a classroom community where you jointly develop your classroom rules or rights and responsibilities can only but assist with the culture of the class and the behaviours of the students.
One way that I create a belonging classroom environment is to use the idea of a ‘community circle’. I first picked up this notion from a teacher who was implementing the Tribes Learning Community. I haven’t looked a lot at Tribes, but I found that the community circle really worked for the way that I teach.
I use the community circle at the beginning and end of the day for at least 3 days during the week. We would sit in a circle on the mat and students would respond to a question/statement that I asked them. I would pass around a wand or squishy ball and students could only speak when they were holding the item.
Some of the topics/questions we discussed in the community circle could include:
- Tell the class a care, concern or celebration you may have;
- One thing that made me happy today was…;
- One thing I really like about school is …; and
- One thing I really dislike about school is…
This is a really nice way to start and end the day and I found that if I forgot to have a community circle, the students would remind me.
I am also a big believer in establishing classroom meetings and a list of shared rights, responsibilities, and consequences (similar to the classroom rules).
I always do this on the first day of the year. As a class, we brainstorm what rights and responsibilities might mean. When we have established this, we then list what the rights and responsibilities are of the people in our class (this is done for both the students and teacher).
We summarise all the responsibilities into a list of 5 and then establish what the consequences will be if a responsibility is not followed. Now this is a lengthy process that usually takes me more than 1 lesson to complete. Below is an excerpt from my Daily Work Pad that shows how this occurs over two lessons.
I then use classroom meetings to discuss issues and check in on how we’re going with our rights and responsibilities.
3. Teaching skills
By teaching skills, I’m referring to the repertoire of skills that you have in your bag to engage your students.
Specifically, such skills that I have worked on and that have assisted with student engagement include: the lesson structure/organisation, questioning skills, and wait time.
When planning my lessons and the content I will deliver I fully consider the types of strategies I will need to use in order to maintain the interests of the students and hopefully then have less behavioural issues. If you haven’t thought about changing up your lessons in a while why not try some of the following strategies: cooperative learning, mind mapping, concept attainment, learning centres and role play.
I think it is a bit of an art form to be good at questioning. When I first started teaching, I was not very good at this. I noticed that many of my questions were at a very low level that did not fully extend students. Also, I would just ask the question to the whole class and expect all hands to go up in answer to my questions.
Some of the things that I implemented to assist with my use of questioning included:
- Asking students to share with a partner before responding in front of the whole class;
- Asking for no hands to be raised as I would pick the students to respond; and
- Taking a poll to a question, such as thumbs up or thumbs down if you agree/disagree.
I also began trying to frame my questions using Bloom’s Taxonomy to help extend students’ thinking and understanding further. As part of my lesson planning, I would document the types of questions I wanted to ask, so that I had prepared varying degrees of questions.
Wait time is the time that you wait after you ask a question for students to think about the answer. It is so easy to ask the question and expect responses immediately. When I first worked on this skill, I would actually count in my head to 5 to force myself to provide wait time.
4. Using low key responses
These are the things that are least intrusive and do not interrupt the flow of the lesson as much as some other forms of management.
Some of the low key responses that I have used successfully include:
It’s surprising how good ‘the look’ actually works! I must have this down to a fine art, as my husband tells me “don’t give me your teacher look; I’m not one of your students.”
This strategy involves the teacher using a certain look to convey to the misbehaving student that what he/she is doing is inappropriate. When I use the look I quite often pause what I am saying, to really have the full impact of the look. This gains the attention of all students in the class as I stop speaking mid-sentence.
This is great to use as a first option when a student starts misbehaving and can also help with stopping other students jumping on the band wagon. It’s important to remember that you want to stop behaviours early before they become more serious, or more students decide to join in.
The look is actually also a good way of communicating that you think a student’s behaviour is acceptable. A big smile can go a long way!
Proximity and the touch
This is about moving around the class and placing yourself near the misbehaving student. I find that if I continually stay at the front of the room and not move around the room, I tend to have more students try and misbehave.
I have also successfully used a light touch (generally on the shoulder) while moving around the room to gain the attention of misbehaving students. This lets the student know in a personal way that I know what they’re doing and it is not acceptable. I find though, that this needs to be used with some caution as some students don’t like the invasion of their space.
Over the years I have used different types of signals to gain the attention of my students and to get the class to refocus. Probably the two most effective were placing my hand up (students had to copy) and clapping a pattern that students had to copy. It’s important to ensure you don’t actually start talking until you have the attention of all students and talking has ceased.
What is good with these two signals are that you can use them anywhere. They don’t require you to take something with you, so they work effectively in other areas within the school.
Another signal that works exceptionally well is the ‘pause’. As I mentioned earlier I quite often use the pause in conjunction with the look. It can be quite powerful, but at the same time allows you to also take a breath and compose yourself before responding in a way that may exacerbate the situation.
5. Formal contracts
Formal contracts are a more intrusive intervention for behaviour management. I have used contracts a number of times over the years with varying degrees of success. I first tried this in my first year of teaching with a student named Ben. You can read more about some of Ben’s behaviours in this post: Tales From A First Year Teacher: My First Day As A Real Teacher.
Going down this path is usually as a last resort because the behaviours are having a serious impact on the functioning of the classroom.
The contract is usually jointly developed between the student and teacher and possibly the parent or guardian. It includes such items as the specific behaviours to target, consequences, rewards if appropriate and the people involved. It is then signed by both the student and the teacher.
Finally, I think that it is so very important to support new teachers and teachers who are struggling with behaviour management. My first few years of teaching were not very supportive and it was very much a ‘sink or swim’ mentality.
If you notice someone in your school struggling, why not consider starting a support group.
Over to you, what are your experiences with classroom behaviour management? What has worked for you?