dv1453015.jpg4 foolproof strategies to prevent misbehavior in class

Misbehaviour in class is what makes teaching truly difficult. There wouldn’t be any teacher, even the most patient and empathic who would argue that a misbehaving student is not an energy zapper. However, to pray for teaching to not have these moments in them is beyond utopia, or a head teacher’s prerogative, so the next best strategy is to arm oneself with some intelligent logical tactics that will lessen the frustration of such instances, and actually teach the student to alter the behaviour so it won’t happen again, and all without force.

Common advice from knowledgeable horse trainers includes the adage, “If the horse you’re riding dies, get off.”

Seems simple enough doesn’t it? Yet in education we don’t always follow that advice. Instead, we often choose from an array of other alternatives which include:

  1. Buying a stronger whip
  2. Trying a new bit or bridle
  3. Switching riders
  4. Moving the horse to a new location
  5. Riding the horse for longer periods of time
  6. Saying things like, “This is the way we’ve always ridden this horse”
  7. Appointing a committee to study the horse
  8. Arranging to visit other sites where they ride dead horses more efficiently
  9. Increasing the standards for riding dead horses
  10. Creating a test for measuring our riding ability
  11. Comparing how we’re riding now with how we did ten or twenty years ago
  12. Complaining about the state of horses these days
  13. Coming up with new styles of riding
  14. Blaming the horse’s parents. The problem is often in the breeding.
  15. Tightening the cinch

Vicki Phillips (1999)

Misbehaviour in class is what makes teaching truly difficult. There wouldn’t be any teacher, even the most patient and empathic who would argue that a misbehaving student is not an energy zapper. However, to pray for teaching to not have these moments in them is beyond utopia, or a head teacher’s prerogative, so the next best strategy is to arm oneself with some intelligent logical tactics that will lessen the frustration of such instances, and actually teach the student to alter the behaviour so it won’t happen again, and all without force.

Before I give you 4 fail proof behaviour management strategies suggested by Vicki Phillips in her excellent book ‘Empowering Discipline’, let’s consider what is going on in the student’s world, and re-tap into the reason why you became a teacher in the first place – the belief that learning is a key to life success.

–       Despite superficial expression and façade, all students have a desire to learn, and a desire to be accepted. This is true for at-risk students also.

–       Students are inherently good people; it is their behaviour that annoys us. Separating these two points is the key to successful behaviour management.

–       Students who are at-risk tend to be students who are very self-directed. We tend to call them disobedient.

–       Often, at-risk students have had nothing but coercive relationships with adults their whole lives. They have been let down so many times that they see every adult relationship as an attempt to dis-empower them further. They have lost trust.

–       Students who have been told they are failures their whole educational life have no concept of the future, and don’t care about learning responsibility for that future. These students will see it being more important to impress the other students in the class and assert their independence.

–       You can’t build motivation in an environment where these students feel powerless, because the need to feel power will dominate their energies.

–       Every movie and TV show that they devour tells them that being the rebel is cool. Don’t underestimate this influence.

–       If we ignore students who misbehave by simply handing out suspensions, expulsions etc, then we do the community a disservice by not attempting to provide research based intervention programs.

The 4 D’s of discipline:

1)  Develop supportive relationships – get to know the kids and take a genuine interest in their lives.

–       Always focus on their assets rather than their deficits. Remember that this is why their motivation and self-esteem is so low – because they have been told they are failures their whole lives. E.g. – if a student asks ‘why do we have to study history, what’s it got to do with me?’, instead of thinking that he should be interested in more than just himself, say ‘I can see that your strength must be in a more practical way of thinking’, and then provide some practical reasons for learning it.

–        These students are starting their learning from a negative space. Encourage every advancement even if it seems minor compared to other students. Call home to tell parents.

–       Remember this: the stronger the relationship, the less resistance you’ll have.

–       teach students how to talk to each other with respect, and at all times talk to them with respect. Don’t get angry – remember that these students are teenagers – just take a moment to consider what that actually means, and how easily we place a great deal of expectation upon such a young age.

–       when these students internalise your belief in them, then they will become motivated to learn

2)  Design a classroom that is structured for success

–       Consider learning styles of students – most are probably kinaesthetic. Work hard on designing activities that will engage this style – it is very hard I know, but is essential.

–       Make things more concrete and less abstract – students need to see practical relevance in what they are doing.

–       Provide choice – negotiate with them what they will learn, but have a boundary of choice. Tell kids that they can choose their own grade: for every piece of work they do it adds to their score – scores at end determine grade.

–       Design classroom rules with students stemming from how they dislike and how they like to be treated.

–       Provide stimulating lessons that have lots of variation in them. You have to have back ups with these students – short and sharp!

–       Encourage risk taking – these students are so used to failing that they won’t try any longer. Make them aware of what they have actually achieved so far, to prove to them that they are moving forward. They will then be more likely to try.

–       Redefine ‘mistakes’ as opportunities for learning – don’t focus on mistakes in work until they are motivated again.

–       Don’t compare them to other students

3)  Defuse potential problems at the lowest level

–       Teach students to become in control of their reactions and emotions. Teach them that they have the choice in which path they take. They are ‘in charge’ of their destiny.

–       Have as your mantra: if you think you can, or you can’t, then you are correct! – this encourages self-talk – a skill that these students don’t have at all.

–       Use positive language at all times – e.g. instead of saying ‘you can’t …. until’, say ‘you can …. when’. It’s better to say ‘yes you can watch the video, when you have finished’, rather than ‘no, you can’t watch the video because you haven’t finished’. It’s better to say ‘is that behaviour appropriate?’, rather than ‘don’t do that’. Instead of saying ‘don’t interrupt’, say ‘you can listen better than that’.

–       If a student becomes very angry, don’t take it personally. Often, the student needs to cool off and will not be able to control themselves or have a conversation with you at that time – allow them to take a time out – send them to a teacher they like – the most important part of this is that they return and discuss the issue with you (which of course the said teacher is aware of and will encourage).

4)  Debrief later so students can learn from mistakes

–       Improve your listening and paraphrasing skills. Be empathic, but assertive too.

–       Develop your questioning skills to get to the heart of a matter.

–       Help the student see the situation in a different way

–       Don’t lecture to the student.

–       Help the student become more self-aware – ‘what triggered such a reaction from you?’

–       Discuss consequences of their actions in relation to how it affected others

–       Try this order of questions

a) What happened? Involves active listening and paraphrasing.

b)    Bigger picture-  allow student to discover the consequences of their behaviour and how it has affected others, and what it has done to themselves.

c)    Has it happened before? Increases problem solving belief as they draw on previous experiences.

d)   Next time – what will they do in a similar situation?

e)    Apologise – fix it

f)     Remind student that a mistake is actually a learning experience

Often the best decision a teacher can make is to take a breath in a behaviour incident. A composed assertive mentor is infinitely more effective than an angry shouting adult. Practice makes perfect, so waste not a moment more. Become one with your profession.

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