By Teachers, For Teachers
Ineffective or inexperienced teachers may fall into the trap of talking too much about rules, consequences, threats, and punishments. Not only does this take away from time that could be spent learning, but it sets a negative, behavior-oriented atmosphere focused on what students should not do. It’s tempting to use classroom management to lay out the rules and consequences for students in our classes because it gives a clear line of the dos and don’ts. There’s nothing wrong with trying to use classroom management to guide students to behave properly. The only problem is that when we rely on threats to do the job, we are implying our students have no reason to follow the rules except out of fear of the consequence. But we can give students better reasons to behave in positive, learning-oriented manners.
When students are engaged in what they’re learning, they don’t have time for inappropriate behavior. The more students are interested in what they’re learning, the more likely they are to focus on the learning activity rather than get off task.
Effective classroom managers are not necessarily the ones who have the best rules or consequences, but rather are the ones who focus on developing lessons that tap into student interests, curiosity, and motivations.
Instead of talking about consequences and punishments for what has already happened, effective teachers approach classroom management by focusing on prevention. Prevention essentially focuses on helping students learn what they should do to be successful rather than what they shouldn’t.
At the beginning of the year, teachers can lay the foundation for prevention by establishing clear procedures and reinforcing appropriate behaviors. Teachers don’t need to rely on threats to “prevent” inappropriate behavior; they just need to continually reinforce the kinds of habits that lead to learning!
Teachers can take a moment prior to any classroom activity to express what behaviors are expected and anticipate which ones will arise. If teachers can stave off potential misbehaviors before they happen, they have successfully managed their classroom with prevention.
Who is in control in your classroom? Who decides the tasks, activities, and topics? Most classrooms are centered on the teacher’s curriculum and lessons. However, effective teachers might ask themselves, “How can I help students feel ownership over their learning?” When students feel like their learning is something they have a personal stake in, they are more likely to self-direct themselves toward their learning.
Ownership can come through a variety of means. Consider some of the following ways students can have more investment over their learning and environment:
Like ownership, choice gives students the opportunity to focus on and control what they want rather than feel like they are at the mercy of teacher demands. Even if the choices are limited, students still have the opportunity to exercise a degree of personal autonomy when given choices. When students are choosing what they want to do from reasonable options, they have decreased reason to act out.
Daniel Pink tells us in “Drive” that there are three overarching principles that motivate us: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Increasing student choice, differentiation, and self-directed learning helps students experience increased motivation to focus on the learning tasks. This additional attention to learning depletes incentives for inappropriate behaviors.
Misbehavior can be inspired by negativity and confusion. Positivity works against both of these factors.
First, positivity creates a happy, collaborative culture within the classroom; the teacher and students enjoy interactions with one another instead of persisting in conflicts or put-downs.
Second, positivity combats confusion by reinforcing the behaviors and procedures that should be taking place. Confusion about what to do in certain circumstances opens up opportunities for reverting to inappropriate or misguided behavior. Positivity closes that gap of uncertainty by reinforcing what should be done and what procedures and expectations are in place.
Finally, we must remember that the relationships we share with students go a long way toward establishing a culture of respect and instilling appropriate learning behaviors. Marzano and Marzano remind us that, “The quality of teacher-student relationships is the keystone for all other aspects of classroom management … teachers who had high-quality relationships with their students had 31 percent fewer discipline problems, rule violations, and related problems over a year's time than did teachers who did not have high-quality relationships with their students.”
Relationships are not just about the teacher having an outgoing personality or how much the students see the teacher as their friend. Instead, relationships are about how safe and ordered a classroom is, how cooperative a teacher is, and how aware of his or her students the teacher is. Teachers who can relate to their students as unique individuals and facilitate a positive environment for those individuals to interact are less likely to deal with behavior-related problems.
Of course, we have to remember that it’s not time to just throw away rules and consequences. The above list is a set of strategies, but there’s no guarantee that one or all of them are going to work every time. There may be times when you need to use consequences for inappropriate behavior. The key is to use logical consequences. When you utilize logic in your consequences, students learn how and why they should make good decisions, instead of making the student feel sorry or bad about making a bad decision. Logical consequences can include having a student take a little bit of time to calm down and apologize to a classmate, and then work to fix any damage they caused. The teacher could also have the student brainstorm and write about ways they can avoid something like that happening again.
So why do logical consequences work? When a student sees that the consequences are relevant and reasonable and they are given to them respectfully, the student is able to make the correlation with their own behavior and is more likely to accept accountability.
Ultimately teachers want to focus on creating a relational, positive, engaging classroom environment. When they do this, students have fewer opportunities and reasons to display negative behaviors. However, if inappropriate behaviors do occur, then the effective teacher should acknowledge them and deliver acceptable consequences.
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.