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 wellbeing.
The secret to keeping low-level behaviours low-level:
1. Be aware of your own emotional state. If the particular behaviour pushes your buttons you may be reacting in a way that is not relative to the behaviour. Take time to walk away, breathe deeply, open a cupboard and pretend to look for something (your patience maybe?) and then when you are calm consider how to deal with the situation.
2. Keep your response low-level i.e. give minimal attention, use non-verbal cues, continue teaching, give private reminders, focus on the learning.
3. Be aware of your body language, tone of voice and stance and keep it calm, firm and friendly. If your body language and your words are not congruent you may be unwittingly fueling the situation.
4. Consider whether the behaviour can be ignored temporarily and dealt with at the end of the lesson. If the behaviour is merely annoying but is not really interfering with the learning this could be an option. Of course it is vital that you follow up with the student to let them know that you are aware of their behaviour and that you will support them to improve.
5. Use your knowledge and relationship with the student to determine your response. For example, if you know the student will react strongly to a public reminder, use private cues or wait till the class has exited before speaking to them.
6. Redirect the student to the learning task without mentioning their behaviour. Use a process or equipment question to get them back on task and then thank them or give them positive reinforcement. For example, smile, nod, pat on the back.
7. Use positive reinforcement strategically and purposefully for the students who are on task to prompt others to modify their behaviour.
When things go pear-shaped, as they invariably do (after all, you’re only human), the best response is to admit you were wrong, apologise and demonstrate to the student and the class that relationships can be repaired with empathy and compassion.
View these incidents as learning opportunities, adding to your ever growing repertoire of ‘what not to do’ :)