Here are 10 great evidence-based approaches that provide great strategies to better behaviour management in the classroom:
1. Help students feel connected to school. The Wingspread Declaration on School Connections (2003), states that students have more likelihood of success when they feel connected to school. When students feel that adults in the school care about them as people as well as their learning they are more likely to feel connected to school.
The Declaration, based on a review of research and extensive discussion, found that in order to achieve connection, a school must provide high expectations combined with high levels of support; have a focus on positive teacher student relationships and provide physical and emotional safety. When students are connected to school academic performance improves, violent and destructive incidents reduce, school attendance improves and more students complete their schooling. See How to build a positive classroom culture.
2. Be consistent. If you have ever had to walk on eggshells around someone because you never knew what to expect, you will have some idea of the damage it can do to relationships. Your students need to feel safe both physically and emotionally in order to learn so developing a consistent practice is vital.
When I first began teaching, being consistent in managing behaviour was one of my biggest challenges.
There were competing demands on my time and energy: colleagues with different standards and values; parents with a range of demands and expectations and then the wide variety of students from different backgrounds, motivation and challenges. I wasn’t really sure what consistency meant.
Consistency does not mean being exactly the same all the time.
Nor does it mean being a robot and not reacting to circumstances, or showing your real feelings.
Consistency does mean that students are fairly certain what they can expect from you.
They know for example, that you will not get angry with them today, about something you laughed at yesterday.
They know that if you make a mistake or fail to follow through, that you will apologise and take responsibility for your behaviour.
They also know that when they mess up – and they will! – you will treat them with respect while you hold them accountable and you will help them to learn from their mistakes.
3. Talk less. As a general rule, kids can effectively listen for about half their age in minutes, so for a child of 10 that’s about 5 minutes, for a 15 yr old, that’s about 7.5 minutes! Mix up the activities in the classroom so that they are talking, writing, moving and listening in a variety of ways. See here for ideas on how to use variety in the classroom.
4. Use positive reinforcement. John Maag in his seminal article Rewarded by Punishment, discusses the reluctance in teachers to use positive reinforcement, despite the evidence that it works and is more effective than punishment in managing behaviour. There is a belief that rewards are manipulative and demeaning, that they take away the individual’s right to choose their behaviour. Interestingly, the same believers have no problem using punishment and not viewing it as coercive.
There are many reasons why teachers tend to under use positive reinforcement.
Research has shown that they tend to focus more on negative behaviours believing that is an effective behaviour strategy.
Unfortunately, it can create a negative tone to the classroom which doesn’t contribute to positive relationships.
It can also have the opposite of the intended purpose, especially for students who are happy for any kind of attention.
Positive reinforcement occurs naturally in the classroom, so it makes sense to plan what you are going to reinforce to avoid inadvertently reinforcing negative behaviours.
Setting up classroom rewards may seem to take more effort than simply punishing a student when they misbehave and the results are not as immediate. However, if you build positive reinforcement into your everyday practice, you will find there are many simple ways of giving students positive recognition that don’t take up too much time and energy.
For more information, see here on why positive reinforcement is so important.
5. Have high expectations for all your students. Your students will live up (or down!) to your expectations. Student achievement is strongly affected by what the teacher expects of them and this has been demonstrated by many educational researchers. The first and most famous experiment is known as the Pygmalion effect.
Researchers, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson conducted an experiment at a primary school where all the students sat an intelligence test. The experimenters then gave the 18 teachers the names of the students who scored in the top 20%, telling them that this meant they showed exceptional potential and would achieve high results within the year.
Unbeknownst to the teachers, these students were randomly selected and the testing showed no such prediction. When all students were tested again 8 months later, the so-called ‘gifted’ students performed significantly higher than the rest.
Rosenthal and Jacobson referred to this as the Pygmalion effect.
6. Make the learning interesting. I once shadowed a student for a day of classes to see what triggered their problem behaviour. What astonished me was not that students were off task or difficult, but that they were attentive and compliant for so long when they were expected to sit and listen to teachers talking ad nauseam. The tasks they were asked to do were not inviting or challenging or motivating and there was no reward, intrinsic or extrinsic, for completing work.
Much off-task behaviour and disruption could be prevented through the use of relevant, engaging curriculum and interesting pedagogy. If you consider how long you can sit still in a meeting or professional development and remain focused it is not that difficult to understand why students can be off task and unmotivated.
I recently heard the term “three step lesson plan’. It means taking 3 steps to the classroom and then start talking! Really? I am still amazed how often I still see ‘chalk and talk’ lessons.
When you add a social element to your lessons by allowing students to discuss and work in groups, you are teaching them how to get along with each other, how to take turns in a conversation and how to listen respectfully to someone else’s opinion.
See more information on How to Keep Variety in your Classroom
7. Set clear expectations for your students. At the beginning of the year, it is essential to spend some time getting to know your students, setting clear expectations and developing the skills students need to learn effectively in your class.
This time will be well-spent, setting you and your students up to win the game!
It will save you time and energy later on, help your students feel safe and calm because they know what is expected of them, and it will make your life as a teacher much more enjoyable!
I recently read an article about the current Bridezilla phenomenon. The American documentary series of the same name explores what happens to seemingly ‘normal’ girls once they are planning a wedding. On the TV show they often become uncontrollable, bullying, emotional and use whatever means necessary to get what they want. All this to plan what is supposed to be the happiest day of their lives!!
One of the wedding planners was quoted as saying ‘The happiest brides are the ones with the fewest rules’.
It’s the same in the classroom.
The more rules you have, the more chance there is that one of your students is breaking a rule at any given time.
The secret is simplicity. Keep your class rules or expectations low in number (3-5 is ideal), state them positively (raise your hand to speak NOT don’t call out) and teach them explicitly just as you would teach a process in Maths. For how to set up the game to win see here.
8. Keep low level behaviours low level. Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a conflict with a student that began with a minor issue that blew way out of proportion and ended in the student having a meltdown, the principal being called and perhaps the student being suspended?
Many teachers have been in this situation and it is not a happy place. It can feel like things are out of control and you are heading down a path you wish you never started. You simply asked the student to put their hat away and now there is a broken window, a cut hand and this is not what you signed up for.
Low level behaviours require low level responses. We all know this, right? Sometimes when we haven’t had enough sleep, we’ve had a fight with our partner or child, or we haven’t had time for a coffee, our own self-regulation skills are stretched and we react in ways we regret.
As teachers, managing our own state is vital for maintaining positive relationships, modelling appropriate behaviour and preserving our own well-being.
See more information on How to Keep your Responses Low-Level.
9. Teach routines. Have you ever wondered why some classes always seem to know what to do and everything seems to run like clockwork? Is it because the kids are just better at organising themselves or is it something else?
What it usually means is that the teacher has invested time and energy into teaching the students the routines that they need to follow.
This means that the teacher has decided on the behaviour they want to see in the classroom and designed processes that will work for the particular class.
See more information on Ways to Develop Routines That Work.
10. Build positive relationships. Relationships are at the heart of all we do as teachers. If you think back to teachers you had, who really influenced you in a positive way and had an impact on your learning, you may not remember the content of what they taught you. What you will remember is the way they treated you, how you felt in their class and the types of interactions you had.
Robert Marzano (2003) says students are more likely to resist following expectations when there is no relationship with the teacher.
As teachers we have the power to influence and shape young minds and the way we do this is by giving them our time and energy meaningful ways. That means engaging them in conversations about things that interest them. While you may not care about the latest rap song or computer game you do care about your students and by listening to them you demonstrate this care.
‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’