In my first year teaching, I had one class that was proving to be very difficult to keep on task. It felt like a perpetual game of “Whack-A-Mole.” As soon as I addressed one student’s off-task behavior, I turned around and had to address a new student. It was exhausting and I found myself filled with dread when I heard that bell ring after lunch and the students started filing in. I was convinced that there was something different about this class or the particular students that I was having the most difficult time connecting with.
I am so grateful to the many coaches within my building and outside my school who were able to give me some incredible feedback that I share with teachers to this day. If you are struggling with behavior management, ask yourself the following three questions.
Were my directions clear and did everyone hear them?
One day, I had a “real-time coach” visit my classroom. Her role was to provide real-time feedback while I was teaching. The way it worked was I wore headset in one ear. That way, I could hear her give me feedback from the back of the room through a walkie-talkie. Before the class began, she and I reviewed my rules, expectations, and consequences for my students. She then informed me that, while I was teaching, she would let me know whether or not I needed to redirect a student or give a consequence for defiance. I was nervous at first, but here are the things I heard in my ear:
“Stop. You just gave a direction but 100% of your students were not listening. Ask for silence and wait.” [I asked for silence and waited for full attention] “Now, give your directions again.”
“Stop. Your directions were not clear. Clarify what a completed product looks like and how long they have to work on it.”
“There are two students in the back who have not begun the assignment. Walk back there and restate the directions and the expectations to them privately.”
“Stop. You just gave a direction. Before you redirect off task students, point out three students who followed your directions right away.”
Within five minutes, the class was transformed and I did not need to give a single consequence. In that moment, the best practices of clear directions and positive narration finally clicked for me. I had received advice around those topics before, but I never had the opportunity to really understand where, when and how I had been failing to do that in my own class. Even if you don't have access to real-tie coaching, here is how you can plan to coach yourself in real-time:
Write yourself the following reminders on a note card or clip chart that is easily visible while teaching:
Are my students breaking rules of policies/procedures?
A distinction needs to be made between a rule and a policy. Rules are broad and usually sound like this, “Be Safe. Be Respectful. Be Responsible.” or “Keep your hands to yourself.” Most classes have 3-5 overarching rules that are similar to the ones just mentioned.
On the other hand, a classroom can have dozens of procedures, such as how and when to turn in homework, how to enter the class, how to line up, etc. This is where I have seen teachers jump to consequences too quickly and suddenly half the class is clipped all the way down the behavior chart before lunch.
Let’s take lining up for example. Let's imagine you ask your class to walk to the door and line up silently. Now, let’s say half the class ran and was talking. I know it can be frustrating, but resist the urge to give those students consequences. They have not lined up according to the class procedures, but they didn’t egregiously break a rule or defy you. Simply ask them to go back to their desks, restate the directions, and ask the class to try it again.
Some teachers will ask, “What if 2-3 students still talk?” Ask those 2-3 students to do it again while the rest of the class waits quietly in line. You will normally not need to ask again, but if a student is asked to line up for a third time and does not comply, it's safe to say the child has heard the directions and is choosing not to comply. At that point, a consequence fair. Give one and move on. Don’t engage in a power struggle.
If you are reading this and realizing that you don’t have clear policies and procedures in place in your classroom, download my free P&P Checklist here. This should get you thinking about the types of policies you may need to create and model for your students.
Is my behavior plan really not working?
The last question you should ask yourself is if your behavior plan really isn’t working. Sometimes, we can become so overwhelmed by the 3-4 students who are luring us into a game of “Whack-A-Mole” that we forget to notice the 20-25 students who are doing exactly what we asked.
Don’t beat yourself up too much. If you implement steps 1 and 2 and find that only a handful of students are not responding, that’s actually a pretty good ratio. Don’t revamp your entire behavior management system for a few kids. Think about individual behavior plans, interventions and relationship building strategies you can use with your most difficult 3-4 students. That is a more manageable next step then abandoning your current systems.
Try these out and let me know how they work. HAPPY TEACHING!
Carla Rivera-Cruz (CRC) is an educator and entrepreneur committed to helping like-minded educators reach their fullest potentials.