Good classroom management means better academic results, and social and emotional skills are the key.
With the start of another year, you have probably set some new year’s resolutions for yourself.
And if you are like most teachers you will be thinking about how you can do improve your teaching practice so that your students are more motivated and engaged.
How you can help them get better results; how you can reach those struggling students and how you can make the learning more enjoyable.
While you may already give a lot of thought to increasing academic results by improving your instruction, providing better resources and designing better units of work, have you given any thought to the social and emotional development of your students?
Additionally, have you thought about social and emotional skill development as part of your classroom management plan?
If you believe, as I do, that teachers are an important and influential part of the development of the whole child, then you will know that using social and emotional learning (SEL) in your classroom results in improved academic achievement.
Many schools (and governments) have been of the mistaken belief that for students to do better at academic work all they need is more of the same academic work.
Studies show however, that when you improve social and emotional skills through explicit teaching, academic progress significantly improves (Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning).
Social and emotional skill building results in students enjoying school more, less disruptive behaviour and less absenteeism.
When students learn to manage their emotions, they can engage more effectively with school and learning outcomes improve.
The following 3 steps outline how you can improve academic results through a social and emotional curriculum linked to values education:
STEP 1: School Values
‘Start with the end in mind’
– Stephen Covey
Social and emotional learning can be aligned with the values of your school. What are the underpinning values that promote the attitudes, skills and understandings your students need to build upon?
The goal of classroom management is not only to have a smooth-running classroom, but for your students to learn positive values through your consistent and congruent classroom management.
If your school has a set of explicit values, use these to determine your class expectations.
These values articulate what is important in your school and can guide the behaviour you expect.
If you are not clear what values you are promoting, you may inadvertently give your students mixed messages.
What you allow and what you react to will stay in students’ minds for a long time.
For example, if you encourage them to speak respectfully to each other, and then you yell at a student who comes late to class, they get the message that you have a different set of standards for yourself.
And while you may not always be a perfect role model, it is important to provide the best possible example most of the time.
While it is possible and sometimes very necessary to make a fresh start when things go wrong, it can be difficult to come back from what you set up at the beginning of the year.
It is best to start the way you mean to go on.
STEP 2: Clear Classroom Expectations
Decide the behaviour you want to see, then work with your students to negotiate a set of expectations that will guide all the interactions in your classroom. In your first lessons, listen to your students about what they think and how they can contribute to a positive learning environment.
Ideally, classroom expectations are few in number, 3-5 maximum, positively stated and prominently displayed.
As well as discussing what you expect from them, give students an opportunity to voice their expectations for you.
This can be a new concept for teachers.
Asking your students what they expect from you as their teacher is a very powerful exercise showing students that you value their opinions and that you are interested in what they need.
One way to set expectations is to develop a shared code of conduct that outlines the way students and teachers will act in the classroom. The code of conduct is designed by all class members, signed by all and displayed.
Most schools have respect as a core value. Explicitly teach a value such as respect by linking to specific social skills such as listening and using manners.
Model respect in your own interactions with students (even if they are not showing respect), reinforce appropriate behaviours and reteach when necessary.
Remember that when you prepare interesting lessons, mark student work in a timely fashion, get to class on time and follow through with positive and negative consequences you show students that you respect them.
STEP 3: Explicitly Teach Behaviour
Your students need to be explicitly taught social and emotional skills as part of your classroom management.
Giving students skills to cope with relationships, manage their emotions and make decisions will reduce student conflict, increase on-task behaviour and improve academic achievement.
Teachers often say that they model appropriate and respectful behaviour but some students, especially those with behaviour issues, do not necessarily notice or understand what they see.
Don’t expect that all students will simply ‘catch on’ just because you model a particular behaviour.
Students need to be taught practical application of the values.
By teasing out what each value looks, sounds and feels you will be helping students to put them into practice.
For tips on how to manage behaviour download 10 Ways to Manage that Tricky Kid.
At the same time, students do learn from your actions, so you must always consider your own behaviour in relation to the values you promote and how you act in your relationships with students, families and colleagues.
If you model appropriate behaviour to your students when you feel angry or frustrated, you are teaching them.
And you teach an equally important lesson when you apologise for behaviour that is not always perfect, when you demonstrate accountability and show students how to take responsibility for their own behaviour.
Teach them that they can always repair any damage done to relationships by apologising and owning their behaviour.
Teaching and learning is core business for schools but teachers don’t always set out to teach students ‘how to learn’.
We can tend to assume they already know how to do that.
Your social and emotional curriculum can cover how to be prepared for class, how to listen, how to begin a task, how to work with others, how to work alone, how to ask for help, how to deal with the frustration of learning something difficult and how to keep going when they make mistakes.
Not all teachers consider teaching social and emotional skills as part of classroom behaviour management, but it makes sense that the more emotional intelligence you can develop in your students, the better behaved they will be and the better academic outcomes they will achieve.