Written by Tarun Stevenson, Director of Calmer Classrooms
Let’s be honest, student behaviour in the classroom today is becoming increasingly difficult and even if you are an educator with years of experience, I am sure you’ve had moments when you’ve wondered if you even want to continue as a teacher.
I get it, I’ve been there. When I first started teaching, I was so overwhelmed by the behaviour (or lack of…) in my classroom that I was ready to quit teaching in the first six months.
The good news is; it doesn’t have to remain that way. With some guidance and a lot of practice you can grow in your ability to manage complex behaviour in your classroom and start spending more time teaching and less time managing negative behaviour. I’d like to help.
In the article that follows, I want to take you through five essential practices for managing behaviour effectively. I like to call them my Behaviour Management Blueprint. Learn to master them and you’ll be well on your way to establishing and maintaining a calmer classroom.
Ok let’s get started…
Behaviour management does not have to be complicated, but yet for many the concept of classroom management can be overwhelming. With so many opinions and systems out there, teachers are left confused and wondering, how, which or what system they need to use.
Often they will try one or two ideas for a week, see no results, get discouraged and go back to what they’ve always done.
When I go into the classrooms of teachers who are struggling with behaviour management, in almost every instance their struggle comes down to one or of these five areas.
- Establishing clear expectations
- Ability to follow through and enforce expectations
- Establishing simple consistent routines that minimise disruptive behaviour
- Understanding the function of the behaviour
- Building rapport
Now, although I said behaviour management doesn’t have to be complicated, I didn’t say this is a quick fix. You will have to practice these strategies to master them to get the most out of them, but the good news is, if you begin implementing them consistently, you will start to see positive results quickly.
“The greatest changes in children’s behaviour begins with changes in adult behaviour.” Paul Leitch
More than anything else your ability to master behaviour management will rise and fall on your willingness to self-reflect and honestly assess and modify your own teaching practice.
As you read this guide, I encourage you to read it, not with particular students in mind but rather with yourself in mind. Ask yourself honestly if there are any aspects of your practice that are contributing negatively to your students behaviour. Then be patient with yourself as you adjust and take the time to master your classroom management.
You won’t get good in a day, but with consistent practice you can become the teacher you hoped to be.
1. Establishing clear expectations
Students, like all human beings, like to know the boundaries of their environment. If nobody clarifies the boundaries, humans (especially children) are prone to define their own boundaries of behaviour.
Although you entered the class knowing exactly how you expect your students to behave, you can never assume that they know (or even care) what you expect. If you have never communicated your behaviour expectations clearly and/or regularly reinforced them, children will be prone to test the limits of your classroom management even if they “should know better”.
Take raising your hand to speak for example: Almost every child has been taught to raise their hand at some point in their school life. However every teacher enforces this rule differently. Some teachers never expect hands to be raised, others expect it occasionally while others enforce it stringently.
Until you have told your class what you expect of this rule and what the consequences are if they do not follow it, they will choose the means of classroom interaction that best suits them.
2. Follow through on expectations
The second area I see teachers struggling in is follow through. It’s all very well to have a poster with your classroom rules on the wall, but if you don’t enforce them, you might as well tell the kids the rules are optional.
As I said previously, children love to define their own limits in the absence of any clear expectations. Inconsistent follow through communicates an attitude of importance (or lack of importance) toward the rule.
If you are not consistent in making the class raise their hands to speak, very quickly one person calling out will become three then six and before you know it the whole class has escalated to a crescendo and you are screaming yourself hoarse.
If you want students to follow your expectations, you have to give them clear signals when they are and when they are not meeting them.
It’s also important to remember that follow through is not just about correcting inappropriate behaviour, but also and perhaps more importantly, it is also about utilising positive acknowledgment to reinforce and commend expected behaviour.
Learn to catch your students doing the right thing and praise them generously. Very quickly your class will know the type of behaviour you expect and the behavior that will get them positive attention from the teacher.
Practice using four times as many positive affirmations of good behaviour for every one correction of inappropriate behaviour. When practiced and mastered, positive reinforcement will become the number 1 tool in your arsenal of establishing and managing behaviour in your classroom.
3. Establishing routines that minimise disruptive behaviour
Think through the dozens of mini routines that you go through in a lesson or a day.
Are they designed in such a way that they minimise disruption? Take lining up for instance. Lining up is a starting routine that indicates to your students that their lesson is about to start and they will need to enter the room ready to learn.
If your line is in chaos and your students are loud and unruly before entering the class, don’t be surprised if they enter the class in a similar manner.
How they transition between classes, how they move between different activities and even how they enter the room, will all have a major impact on their ability to focus.
Take some time to assess the mechanics of all your routines and don’t be afraid to modify them to promote calm respectful behaviour. Once you have designed and taught appropriate routines and transitions to your students, ensure that you practice them consistently. Routines will only promote a calmer classroom if they become a habit and are the expected norm for all students, rather than an optional extra.
The more aspects of your classroom activities and routines you can automate (turn into embedded habits that students execute without your input), the more time you will have to focus on teaching instead of managing hundreds of spot fires every lesson.
4. Understanding the function of behaviour
All behaviour has a purpose. At the most basic level it is either to gain something or to escape something. Behaviour is never the point, it is a symptom of another problem that your students can’t or won’t express verbally, such as, “I want attention”, “I don’t want to work”, “I need help” etc. To understand behaviour you will need to become very observant of your students. Often you will have to do some probing to establish what the root problem is. When you deal with the root cause or trigger of behaviour, the behaviour will frequently disappear.
E.g. For many children who call out in class, the function is to receive attention. If they can’t get it appropriately, they will opt for negative behaviour to receive the attention. You shouting at them for calling out, is still attention. It’s not positive attention, but it still allows them to be the center of the room and draw everyone’s attention away from the lesson.
Noticing them when they are doing the right thing, giving them opportunities to participate and receive teacher attention in appropriate ways will minimise their need to resort to misbehaviour to achieve the same result.
If you don’t take the time to try and understand the function of their behaviour, frequently your responses to the behaviour can actually feed it or make it worse if it helps the student achieve what they want.
Frequently misbehaviour can be an indicator of stress, fear or worry. Alleviate the cause of the stress and you will alleviate the misbehaviour. It is not a coincidence that behavior escalations in schools always increase around the time of assessments. Many children will opt to misbehave and get sent out of the class just so they can avoid the stress of an assessment. Swearing at the teacher or punching a fellow student is just a means to an end… Getting out of the assessment was the goal.
5. Build Rapport
The ability to build and maintain positive relationships with your students is imperative and underpins all effective behaviour management strategies.
If you struggle to build meaningful relationships with your students, then I would recommend that you learn how to or get out of teaching.
I don’t say that to sound harsh, but the reality is, relationships are the backbone of teaching and if you don’t master this skill you’d be fighting a losing battle in the classroom.
John Maxwell says: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care…”
Don’t expect your students to be enthralled with all the work you put into your amazing lessons if they don’t know, like and trust you. They just don’t care that much about your lesson plan (especially boys!). Your ability to engage them in a lesson will largely be dependent on your ability to build rapport with them.
Take an interest in their world. Learn what makes them tick, what they enjoy doing outside of school and be genuinely interested.
When you take an interest in them and show them that you care, they will start to take an interest in you and the things you want to teach them.
Ok now it’s your turn to go and put these strategies into practice…
I recommend you pick just 1 strategy and spend 1 – 2 weeks practicing and implementing it. Once you have mastered it and it becomes a part of your routine, pick another one and continue.
Remember, mastering behaviour management is a marathon not a sprint. Small changes everyday over time result in big results in the long term.
To help you dig a little bit deeper on these skills, I have created a FREE video course and booklet that will help you implement the Behaviour Management Blueprint in practical and relevant ways for your classroom. Check it out here: https://calmerclassrooms.today/blueprint
To go deeper into the subject of behaviour management and learn what it really takes to establish and maintain calmer classrooms, I have created a range of comprehensive online courses to help teachers just like you become what they know they can be. Head over to https://calmerclassrooms.today/online for more details.
For additional free resources follow us on https://facebook.com/calmerclassrooms
About Tarun Stevenson
Tarun Stevenson is an established consultant who works with teachers and school administration teams in the area of Behaviour Management and Leadership Development.
He is an educator with over 10 years experience in Primary, Secondary and Tertiary settings and draws on his wealth of experience as a Classroom Teacher, Behaviour Support Coach, Deputy Principal and Vocational Trainer to provide professional development that is both relevant and engaging.
Tarun is passionate about equipping teachers and school leadership teams with tools to effectively connect, communicate and manage students with confidence, care and socially just practices. He is an exceptional presenter with the ability to connect with educators, to challenge them and provide practical strategies that work.
Tarun is a trained Essential Skills trainer and experienced practitioner of Whole Brain Teaching. He currently resides in Brisbane Australia with his wife and three sons.