Build relationships, you say. Teach the behavior I want to see, you say. Build community, you say.
Haven’t I been doing that??
Often, the draw to visible behavior management systems for teachers is the act of doing something. Let’s take a common example in any classroom: A learner is talking while the teacher is talking. What are the teacher’s options in that moment? I’ll brainstorm a few. a) She can stop teaching and wait patiently until the learner redirects him/herself back to the lesson. b) She can call the learner by name and ask for their attention. c) She can move her body closer to that of the off-task learner in an attempt to bring their attention back to learning. Okay, that’s three, and all three are assuming everyone else in the class is rapt with attention to the engaging and fascinating content presented.
So, maybe it’s not so easy.
If I have a visible behavior management system, though, I can ask the learner, in front of their peers, to move their clip/remove a marble/write their name on the board/stand by the wall at recess/anything I want. It’s a system, it’s fast, children respond, this is effective, right? Peer shame is an excellent motivator, right?
No. It’s not.
I do understand, however, the draw to do something about the off task, defiant, non-compliant behaviors all kids (and adults!) demonstrate sometimes (or often!). We should be prepared for it because they are natural responses to our American educational model. I remember when a former student/first year teacher texted me while setting up her room two days before her very first group of incredibly lucky four-year-olds started school. She said something along the lines of, “Jen, I need a system, right? Like red light/green light, or, like, some teachers have cars, should I have cars, or I saw someone had an actual stop light but someone was laminating bugs but I don’t know how that one worked, and I don’t know what system I need.” I asked her to catch her breath, slow down, talk to me about this “system” needed. And it all tumbling out about how there have to be consequences and she knows she took two behavior courses and she didn’t realize she never even learned a system and now she was about to have her own class of real life preschoolers and no system!!
I do understand the very strong pull and the courage NOT having a visible system requires.
So, let’s identify three things you can incorporate into your day tomorrow. Three small shifts, little changes, that make a big difference with learners.
- Greet each and every learner by name. Ask a minimum of one question of the child beyond “how are you?” Identify something on which to compliment the child, while trying to steer clear of physical appearance. Start their school day off right. By seeing each and every child, you acknowledge their strengths and their needs, consciously accept all they are, and commit to teaching them.
- Develop a system for identifying “braggables” about each learner in your class. Then call 2-3 parent/caregiver after school 2-3 days a week and tell them something awesome about their kid. Connecting caring adults with positive feedback, funny stories, brilliant writing, whatever the “braggable” is, goes a long way in building classroom community. It also makes it a lot easier to have the difficult conversations if the need arises. Building relationships with learners means building relationships with families.
- Build in time for kids to talk to each other and to you! When we restrict their social interactions, we limit their ability to work productively in pairs, small groups, large groups because they use that precious time to catch up, rather than work. My daughter’s parent/teacher conference report said “too social, especially at work time.” My daughter’s response: It’s the only time we get to talk! Give them time and strategies for large group sharing, pair sharing, and small group chats. I know it sounds counterintuitive but it really does make for smoother running classrooms.
What do you think? What did I miss? What works for you? Tell us!
Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??). I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.