March 4th, 2012
Classroom behavior management is a fundamental part of a teacher’s job. It’s what all teachers have to do every day with every class. A better phrase might be classroom behavior leadership because classroom behavior management suggests ways of dealing with with a situation we find ourselves in, and leadership suggests that we take control and create the situation we want.
Of course to some extent teachers have to react to student behavior, and some ways of reacting are likely to be more successful than others. However, being proactive towards student behavior in the classroom is likely to be better because it allows teachers to take the initiative and therefore gives them a much greater measure of control over classroom behavior management.
Proactive steps to take be in control of classroom bahavior management.
1 Make expectations clear
It’s important that everyone in the classroom should know exactly what’s expected of them and students need to know what the behavior expectations are right from the outset. Displaying a list of expectations to refer to is a good idea. Having a list visible in the classroom makes it easy to remind students frequently of what good behavior is.
It’s even better if you can involve students themselves in drawing up a list of behavior expectations because if they are involved in the process it’s much more likely they will not only understand the expectations but also that they will ‘buy into’ them. A good way to create a list with students is to get them to brainstorm ideas about what good classroom behavior looks like, sounds like and feels like. This technique neatly taps into the three main learning modalities – visual, auditory and kinesthetic. After sudents have brainstormed ideas, get them to choose the best ones and make a poster for the classroom wall. Make sure you don’t choose too many expectations – no more than four or five – and make sure you ‘persuade’ students to choose those expectations you really want them to choose. That’s great leadership – getting the type of classroom behavior you want by making students believe it’s what they want.
2 Emphasise the positives
The aim is to achieve effective classroom behavior management by good leadership, so there is more chance of success if students focus on what they can and should do rather on what they can’t and shoudn’t do.
It’s best to express any classroom rules and expectations in positive language. So you could say: ‘Everyone listens when the teacher is talking’ rather than ‘Don’t talk when the teacher is talking’. Or ‘Focus on your own learning’ rather than ‘Don’t distract others’.
There are many more examples like this that can work well, and it’s worth spending time on this when making an action plan for classroom behavior management.
It’s important also to focus on positive outcomes for learning, to make it clear to students that you expect them all to be successful and to show them how they can achieve this. One simple truth I’ve learned over 30 years is that there’s nothing like failure, or perceived failure, to discourage students from cooperating. This is true regardless of age or ability.
Some students might persevere for a while but if they can’t feel successful they will sooner or later opt out and find something else to give them success, such as poor behavior, which requires no talent at all, everyone can succeed at that, it’s much less demanding than striving for the apparently unattainable.
3 Make sure the learning has purpose
If students can’t see why they need to learn what you want them to learn they will find it much more difficult to stay on task. It’s always worth considering the WIFFM factor – What’s In It For Me – if you want effective classroom behavior management.For example, students may very well be happy to cooperate in a heavy duty ‘reading and writing’ style of lesson if they know that it will help them directly with an important assessement coming up, in which scoring a high mark carries prestige and kudos.
Or students may be really motivated about creating a blog on the topic they’re studying, but not so enthusiastic when you tell them that first they’re going to have to understand how to create and upload a blog post, which in turn means spending a little time patiently learning how to do this. But they may cooperate willingly because they realise that being able to create a blog is worth the effort.
4 Prevention is better than cure in classroom behavior management
Actions that stop difficult behavior situations arising are likely to have much more impact than actions you have to take to rescue a situation once it has happened. Teachers need to have a wide repertoire of strategies and techniques to promote good behavior in their classroom behavior management plan. Having clear expectations consistently applied makes for a good start.
Good spatial awareness is another quality to develop – students know that teachers who ‘have eyes in the back of their head’ are usually much more effective at maintaining order because they pre-empt problems by being right there in potential trouble spots before the trouble has a chance to start.
If you can accompany this ‘here, there and everywhere’ tactic with a good line in verbal rapport that you can deliver without breaking stride you’re on your way to great classroom behavior management. This technique is sometimes called ‘overlapping’ and I’ve seen some great exponents of this technique in action.
The script may go something like this : teacher walks to the table where she knows some off-task behavior might occur – this is easy for her to do because she has the tables set out to facilitate easy access for just this kind of problem; she finishes explaining exactly what she wants the class to do while looking directly at the potential ‘off – taskers’; she then speaks directly to Jack – the most frequent student off-task and makes sure he really understands what to do; at the same time she reminds Sheryl, sitting near the door, that she expects all students to spend the next five minutes on the task and they’re only allowed to talk to their partner in a quiet voice and only allowed to discuss the learning task – no casual chat; out of the corner of her eye she notices that Harry still hasn’t got pen and notebook out so she walks to his table to make sure Harry complies, and while walking there she encourages Ashley and Harvey to make a start by saying “Are you with it, Ashley? Harvey, any problems? No? So you’re both ready to start?”; all this within the space of 30 seconds or so.
5 Use humor
Charles Dickens knew the secret of keeping readers hooked – make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em come back for more. We don’t want to make students cry but we should certainly try to make them laugh – well, smile at least – because there’s nothing like humor to lift the spirits and to get people onside, and, like Dickens, we want them to keep coming back willingly for more. It’s worth remembering, though, that humor can backfire.
Sarcasm is never a good idea and teachers have to judge carefully how some students might react to a seemingly harmless comment, intended as a joke or lighthearted remark. Some students may see this as completely inappropriate, and the consequences may lead to problems.
Often a nice line in self-deprecating humor on the part of the teacher creates the right impact. So making fun of some of your own shortcomings or lack of technical ability in some activity helps students see you’re human and not afraid to poke gentle fun at yourself, and you’re not making fun of the students.
Building up a pleasant, informal, cheerful, sometimes not too serious atmosphere, involving a bit of verbal to-and-fro between teacher and students, what’s called ‘banter’ in the UK, is worth its weight in gold: it’s often a good safety valve and students appreciate that you like them enough to have a bit of fun, and it’s a great tactic to use in your classroom behavior management.