Behavior Management Tips
by Jan Zeiger
Managing student behavior is a struggle for many teachers. The following is a list of guidelines that I follow in my classroom. I've experienced a lot of success in the area of behavior management, so I'd like to share these tips with you.
- Be fair and consistent at all times. Make your expectations for behavior clear.
Effective teachers make their academic expectations clear. However, they don't stop there when it comes to making sure students understand what is expected of them. They take the time to explain behavioral expectations to their students. I work hard to do this when school starts, and I continue to do so throughout the year. In addition to providing clear expectations for behavior, I try to make sure I'm fair and consistent with my students. Are you being fair and consistent? If you always send Bobby to the end of the line for talking, then you've got to do the same when Samantha talks in line. I've seen teachers ignore the behaviors of some of their Honor Roll students, and this infuriates me! Children won't respect you if you have "Teacher's Pets" in your classroom. Of course, kids need to have their individual academic needs met, but when it comes to behavior, you've got to be consistent when it comes with consequences. Remember that kids are watching everything you say and do. To be effective, you've got to be clear and consistent when dealing with behavior.
- Provide a student-centered learning environment in which students can become engaged in the learning process. You will find that your number of behavior problems goes down as the level of student engagement goes up.
I am a member of many email lists for teachers, and I often read letters from teachers who are frustrated with the behavior of their students. One of the first questions I respond with is, "Are your students engaged?" I believe strongly that behavior problems often arise when children are under-challenged, over-challenged, or disconnected from classroom activities. If you're doing worksheets all day, your kids are probably bored. They simply don't care about what their doing. The assignments don't seem worthwhile to them. They aren't engaged in the learning process.
Projects and other student-centered activities will raise the level of student engagement in your classroom. However, if your students aren't used to these types of assignments, you'll have to work hard on behavior management to make your expectations clear. I've heard so many teachers say, "My kids can't do group work.." When I go on to ask how often they've tried, I'm often told that they only tried cooperative learning a few times. A few times is not enough. Expectations for group work must be clear in order for students to succeed. The same is true with project-based learning; expectations must be clear.
If you're truly committed to providing your students with a learning environment that meets individual learning needs, it will take extra time to plan and to work on behavior. However, you'll find that the extra time spent is well worth the end result: higher student achievement and less off-task behavior.
- Follow through! If you say you are going to do it, then do it.
Have you ever seen a teacher or a parent who continues to warn and never follows through? I have! You know what I'm talking about. "Johnny, if you throw that stick again, you'll be in time-out." Johnny throws the stick again and gets yet another warning.
During my years in college, I worked with all ages of children in the daycare setting. I remember my director saying, "You've got to follow through!" That stuck with me. I learned that I had to follow through in order to gain the respect of my students. At the end of every day, I do a drawing with my students. If their dismissal procedures are rowdy, I'll use the three strikes method. If they get three strikes, the drawing is canceled. They know that the drawing will not happen if I get to strike three. How do they know? Earlier in the year they got to strike three several times, and each time, I canceled the drawing for that day. They asked for second chances, and I refused. Of course, they got a fresh start the following day. The important thing is that they learned that when I say something, I mean business. They know that I'm going to follow through.
- Give students a "fresh start" in your classroom.
I cringe at the beginning of the year when teachers come to me asking to see my class list. They want to know who I have so they can tell me about the children. I avoid these types of conversations because I don't want to get any preconceived notions about the children in my class. Children respond differently to different teachers. I don't want anyone to tell me who's "bad" in my class. A child who was written up repeatedly one year may have few problems the following year. Too many children have "reps" that affect the way teachers deal with them. They are known for getting into trouble, and that's what many teachers expect. I don't to know about my children's behavior problems in the previous grade. When I meet them, they have a fresh start in my classroom.
In addition to having a fresh start at the beginning of the year, my students also have a fresh start with me each day. How many times have you seen a student isolated from the class for a week at a time? Here is a child who misbehaved on Monday, and as a result, has been told to sit away from the group for the next week. In my eyes, this is unacceptable. That child needs a new chance at the start of each day. Of course, this child may still end up sitting away from the group by the end of the day. However, he was given a chance to make the right choices that morning. Sometimes teachers group kids into categories such as "dream students" and "troublemakers" without realizing it. I believe that kids pick up on this. I try hard to avoid such categories when I think about my students. I try my best to make each day a new day, and this usually helps my students who are struggling to make the right choices.
- Recognize students for positive behaviors…
There are so many systems out there for behavior management. If you run a search on Yahoo, you'll find hundreds of sites dedicated to discipline. My problem with so many behavior "systems" is that they tend to be focused on who is doing what wrong rather than who is doing what right.
I strongly believe that children learn best in a safe and comfortable environment. Putting their names on a wall or a clipboard and pointing them out for things they are doing wrong is simply not my style of classroom management. Instead, I work to find what they are doing right. I use a system I call "Lunch Bunch" with my fifth graders. (I also used it with third and fourth.) My children are sitting in six teams. Their desks are arranged in clusters. I give team points for all types of things including being on task, being prepared, and working well as a team. Teams in which members make good choices earn team points. At the end of the week, the top teams eat lunch with me on the playground instead of in the cafeteria. That's it! Children have the opportunity to change teams a couple times a month. Therefore, nobody feels "stuck" at a team that hasn't been earning many points.
"Lunch Bunch" takes care of many individual behavior problems. The children encourage each other to be on task. They remind each other to bring their supplies. However, there are times when I need to deal with behavior on an individual basis. In these situations, I hold a private behavior conference with that child. During this conference, I have a private discussion with the child who is having a problem making the right choices. I ask questions like, "How can I help you make the right choice?" and "Is there something I can do to help you succeed in this class?"
Usually, by communicating with a child at a conference, we can figure out what step to take next to solve the problem. However, at times, a consequence is needed. Consequences in my classroom could be any of the following (in no particular order):
time away from the team
time away from the group
lunch with another class
referral--in extreme circumstances
I also use a number system to deal with individual behavior problems in a positive manner. I'll hold a conference with the parent of a child who is frequently having trouble making the right choices. I'll let the parent know that I'll be giving that child a number on a scale of 1 to 5 based on his behavior for that day. The goal would be to get a 4 or a 5 each day. At the end of the day, I simply write the number in that child's planner for the parent to check each night. Many times, the parents will set up a reward system. For example, "If you get all 4s or 5s, we'll go rent a video this weekend." Other times, parents will set up a consequence instead of a reward. However, there will be times when you get little or no parental cooperation. The system can still be used effectively, but you'll be the one to set up the behavior contract with the child. It's even more effective when the child feels like he played a large role in determining the terms of the contract.
By focusing on a single number, my students are eager to ask how they are doing throughout the day. I've had students completely turn their behavior around as a result of this system. One student used to come up to me and say, "What's my number? Is it a 5?" I think the number system made her feel like she was in control of the situation. I also think it helped because I was focusing on what she was doing right rather than what she was doing wrong.
- Get to know your students.
I sit with my students at lunch everyday just so I get a chance to talk with them about things other than school. I look forward to lunch each day because that's when I get to hear about their ball games, their favorite music, and their problems. Of course, teachers can get to know their students even when they don't sit with them at lunch. They can also have a time for sharing. Kids are never too old for this! I have "Share Time" everyday at the end of school. They sign up in advance to tell about something going on in their lives. When they are done, they ask for questions and comments. This is a treasured part of the day in which I get to know my students and they get to know each other. I feel that the better I know my kids as people, the better I'll be able to meet their individual needs as learners. In addition, I earn their respect by making time to bring their lives into the classroom.
- Be yourself! Don't be afraid to let them know you care!
I remember being told in college that I was not supposed to be "friends" with my students. I knew what that professor was trying to say. She was saying that they had to respect me. They needed to see me as an authority figure. I remember thinking that they didn't have to dislike me in order to respect me. Actually, I have found that letting my kids get to know me has actually played a large role in earning their respect. I see myself as an authority figure, but I'm also part of the classroom community. I tell them about my pets, my interests, and my family. I'm not afraid to let them know who the "real" Mrs. Zeiger is. I think that's one of the reasons why they seem to feel so comfortable with me.
- Work hard to develop a positive home-school relationship.
As you know, the research shows parental involvement plays a large role on student achievement. I work hard to get the parents involved in what's going on in the classroom. First of all, I send home weekly reports each Friday to let them know how their children are doing. I also send home a monthly newsletter filled important information about what's going on in the classroom. (It used to be a bi-weekly newsletter, but I haven't been that productive lately!) In addition to the weekly reports and the newsletter, I have an email list for my parents who are linked to the internet. This distribution list enables me to send out announcements about projects and so forth. I also use email to communicate with individual parents throughout the year.
My goal is not just to develop a relationship with the parents; I want to develop a positive home-school relationship by contacting parents frequently and in a positive manner. Of course, this takes extra time and effort. As a teacher, I have very little time to spare, but I make time to make the parents of my students feel welcome and informed.
Encourage your students to interact with each other. Work hard to build a community of learners in your classroom.
Building classroom community is my number one priority. To me, it isn't something that you do when you have some extra time. It isn't an activity that you do once a week. To me, building community is a priority--not an "add-on" or an extra. I agree with the belief that children learn best when they feel safe. I believe that children learn best they feel comfortable taking risks as learners. They learn best when they feel as if they are part of a community in which everyone is accepted and in which individuality is encouraged. I try to create a learning community in my classroom by encouraging my students to work together and to respect each other as individuals.
A sense of community in the classroom has a major effect on student behavior. When children feel comfortable with each other, they tend to solve conflicts in a healthy manner. When kids feel like part of a learning community, they tend to make better choices. Of course, a community can not be developed by the end of the first week of school. Building a community of learners in your classroom takes planning, time, and lots of patience. If you make community a priority in your classroom, you'll see the results in their interactions with their peers and in their academic achievement.
Whether the techniques I describe come naturally or require practice on your part, applying them in the classroom will result in a more productive and satisfying school day for students and teacher.
Other articles by Jan Zeiger:
Diary of a Second Year Teacher - http://teachers.net/gazette/SEP01/zeiger.html
Helping Children With ADD Feel More Successful In The Classroom - http://teachers.net/gazette/APR01/zeiger.html
The Key for Kids with ADD: A Predictable, Structured Environment - http://teachers.net/gazette/FEB01/zeiger.html
Attention Deficit Disorder - http://teachers.net/gazette/JAN01/zeiger.html
Strategies for Developing a Positive Home-School Relationship - http://teachers.net/gazette/SEP00/zeiger.html