Be Fair and Consistent
The most important and widespread behavioural management advice for teachers relates back to Lee and Marlene Canter who started the Assertive Discipline program in 1976. However one of the key elements to becoming a successful, assertive teacher is to remember to treat your students fairly and consistently in order to encourage a feeling of mutual respect. Michel Linsin, author and founder of Smart Classroom Management, takes us through why this is so important in this article where he describes how developing a fair and consistent classroom management plan and sticking to it will help you earn the respect of your students and control bad behaviour.
Part of becoming a fair and consistent teacher is knowing that it is important that you help students understand why they are being punished. In 1997 the American Psychiatrist William Glasser posited the theory that students need to be aware of their responsibility to make decisions about their learning and behaviour in the classroom. This has been taken on-board by teachers like the creator of Top Notch Teaching, Melinda Crean, who advises starting the first lesson with a new class by having a rights and responsibilities mind map; where the students talk about what they expect from the lessons and how they feel they should act and behave. This has the effect of encouraging students to take ownership for their own learning and behaviour, giving them a sense of pride and bolstering their self-confidence. Then, if the students do misbehave, you can always draw their attention back to the mind map and their own ideas for ensuring the lessons run smoothly and efficiently.
Another technique often used by teachers involves treating the students as equal by quite literally bringing yourself down to their level. As behavioural specialist Paul Dix explains in his article for the Guardian, ‘When you are delivering sanctions there is less chance of a defensive/aggressive reaction, and when praising, you create a more private space in the room’. He then goes onto explain how taking an even lower stance, so that you are looking up at the pupil, works even better and that actually by confidently assuming a submissive pose you appear more assertive, a far cry from the usual power-plays one sees in the corporate world.
Another of Paul Dix’s recommendations involves framing a direct order as a question. So rather than saying ‘Please put your gum in the bin’ you can say ‘thank you for putting your gum in the bin’. It seems that phrasing requests in this way makes it far more likely for trouble-making students to obey as they see it as implying trust, or perhaps this closed requests does not give them a ‘hook’ to argue back with or at least makes it awkward for the student to respond negatively.
The countdown technique is a tried and tested method for getting the attention of the class. It can be employed in several different ways, from standing quietly with a stopwatch in-hand to counting down from 5 out loud. Different methods work for different teachers but giving your students a time limit is a fantastic way of demanding their attention while acting fairly by giving them a polite warning.
It can often be difficult to let classes or individual pupils know they need to pay attention without disrupting the whole class or breaking the flow of the lessons, however Ms Crean has noted some useful tips for gently reminding troublesome students that they need to stay on task.
Firstly the signal, this is a tactic employed by many teachers in order to grab the attention of a room of students talking amongst themselves. It can be developed by teachers in different ways but it is really all about drawing focus back to the teacher. You can, for example, clap, blow a whistle or raise your hand in the air and keep it raised until your students realise you are waiting for them and fall silent. A favourite of Ms Crean’s was to clap a pattern and have the students clap it back, this turns it into more of a game than an act of discipline and can be highly effective, especially with primary students.
The look is a fantastic way of conveying that what a student is doing is inappropriate and is, perhaps, one of the most widely known tools in the teacher’s repertoire. However simply staring at a student is not going to work every time, it is important to grab their attention by pausing mid-lecture and staring until the student realises they are the target of the unwanted attention of the teacher and classmates. Of course some students are going to relish this attention, but in most cases the look is enough to subdue them for the time being.
It is obvious that maintaining student’s engagement leads to less disruptive behaviour. So when students begin getting distracted a good way to get them back involved in the lesson is to question them. However if you start asking questions to the whole class you are likely to get ignored, to get around this Ms Crean suggests three great methods for getting the students more engaged. You can ask pupils to discuss the question in pairs and report back, pick on students you chose or take a poll to answer a question. These methods encourage the whole class to participate and prepare answers to the question.
The final method involves alerting an individual who may be being disruptive during a silent activity. By keeping mobile during activities that require your students to work alone quietly you can ensure that you can reach any misbehaving students quickly and tap them lightly on the shoulder to gently tell them to get back to work. Of course, this particular method should be used with caution as some people see this as an invasion of their space, in this case you can always tap on their table to get their attention