This session with Tawanna Billingsley was absolutely wonderful. It was so great that no one wanted to leave when the time was up! The session started with her telling us the three things that we as teachers can control: how well we manage our classrooms, the relationship between the teacher and students, and how capable we are as teachers. We also need to remember that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. As teachers, we need to be mentally prepared for the fact that our students may not share this belief and may not reciprocate that respect. If this is the case, you will need to teach your students this concept just as you would teach them a new skill. Repeated practice will be needed.
The first step to successful classroom management is to assess, clarify and communicate your needs and expectations. One idea to help clarify expectations is that at the beginning of the year you can set up a jobs chart. On one side you put what your job is and on their other side what their jobs are. Post the chart and refer to it when necessary. For example, if a student comes to class without their pencil, instead of lecturing you can simply ask him or her, “Whose job is it?” and “How do you plan to solve the problem?” Another good phrase to use when students misbehave is “You know that’s not how we ______. Could you please ________?” For example, if a student who uses profanity, we can say to them, “You know that’s not how we talk. Could you please restate that in a positive way without the profanity?” It may also be necessary to have a frank discussion with your class about what respect is. Discuss what respect looks like, sounds like and feels like. Write down the descriptions that you come up with on a chart and post it for the class to refer to.
The second step is to create a warm and nurturing classroom climate. One of the best ways to do this is to greet your students at the door with a smile. When you greet them, you may notice that a student appears to be upset. If this is the case, have him drop his or her “problem/s” into the bitter basket (hold your arms out in front of you in the shape of a basket) and then instruct him or her to take an imaginary smile off of the wall before entering class. If they still look upset, you can say, “You still look a little heavy… put it ALL in the basket.” This funny little exercise can really help you to develop a good relationship with your students as it shows them that you notice and you care that they are feeling down. If students are really upset, you can tell them that you will check in with them in five minutes and when you do, give them the choice to either work or to go home.
Another way to show students that you care is to make time to ask them about their interests and their lives outside of school. You can later use this information to relate a lesson to things that you know they like. TPRS is great for this as we can use the information we get from talking to the students during PQA and stories in order to personalize the lesson. Students also appreciate it when you remember and recognize birthdays and other special events. Even little things like sprucing up your classroom with posters, a plant and/or a Glade plug-in can help students to feel more comfortable and relaxed.
Students need to feel safe in the classroom or else they may act out. Part of feeling safe is knowing that you are respected. You can achieve this by using students’ names, modelling respect for them with your words and actions, refraining from yelling at them and listening to their ideas. When speaking to students, remember that the words you use are important. Use “and” rather than “but” and say something like “I understand that you are upset and…” Don’t say “no,” say yes and qualify what you mean: “Yes and…” Tell students who are misbehaving that they will have another chance to get it right by starting with “Next time…”
Helping students to feel safe also involves being aware of what’s going on in the classroom at all times and establishing rules and procedures to help prevent misbehaviour. There also need to be logical, firm, and respectful consequences applied when these rules and procedures are not followed. It is often a good idea to develop a set of rules and consequences democratically with your class. These rules should be clear and specific and should be focused on the most important areas. They should be based on observable behaviours so that they are enforceable and should be stated in positive terms.
Below is an example of rules that are very general:
- respect others
- be on time
- be prepared
- follow school rules
This is a better example of a set of clear and specific rules:
- be in class and in your seat and begin working on time
- follow directions the first time they are given
- bring all books and materials to class
- no cursing or teasing
- keep your hands, feet and objects to yourself
No matter what set of rules you choose to use in your classroom, the rules MUST be taught, practiced, evaluated and re-taught just like any other skill in order for them to work. Research tells us that for every year an individual practices a bad habit, it takes one month of intervention to change that behaviour. To make new behaviour a habit then takes 16-21 times of repeating a task.
When rules are broken and misbehaviour does occur, it is important that the teacher deals with misbehaviour quickly, consistently and respectfully. The consequences should be meted out with empathy, but the teacher needs to be firm and respectful. Remember that you don’t always have to use the same consequences for the same behaviour. You can tell students, “I am going to treat you fairly, but everything is not going to be equal.” For example, when a student is late to class and enters loudly, politely ask them to go back outside and try it again quietly.
When a student misbehaves, start by trying to redirect this behaviour. You can do this by using the evil eye, saying, the student’s name, using silent communication, or using proximity. Praising a student near them for appropriate behaviour often works as well. With all of these strategies, your goal is to make the student aware of the inappropriate behaviour in a respectful way and get them back on task. If the student continues to be uncooperative, try touching the student. Be ready for challenges! For several good examples of language you can use with students in confrontational situations such as this, see Tawanna’s handout.
If these tactics do not work to stop the misbehaviour, further consequences will be required. Since the student has already been given a warning, if they do not start to behave, try giving them a 10-minute timeout in an isolated area of the classroom. If they still require further consequences, give them a 20-minute timeout in a buddy teacher’s classroom. For maximum success, always send them to a classroom with a much older or much younger group of students, not a group from the same grade. If it is necessary to call home to report the students’ behaviour, try saying, “________ was acting up. Don’t worry, I took care of it.” Never ask a parent for suggestions on how to deal with a students’ behaviour.
In a classroom setting, it is helpful to develop a daily routine. Basically you will need to develop a procedure for everything that requires students to move. Try mixing TPR terms with classroom management to teach students when to stand up, sit down, pass things, get things, etc. They will need to practice these procedures over and over again in order to make them into habits. The end of class is another time when routines are very useful. Often students will start packing up to leave class before the bell has rung, leaving the teacher with 5 minutes or more of wasted time at the end of every lesson. To prevent this, you can set the time on your classroom clock behind by a few minutes. Exit tickets are another good way to keep students busy at the end of class. Try giving them an exit ticket (verbal or written) with a question that each student must answer in order to leave the classroom.
The last thing Tawanna said at the end of her presentation was to remind us that “students don’t misbehave, they give us opportunities to manage.”
Source: Tawanna Billingsley, NTPRS 2011, Handout & Slides