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Behavior Management: What Works for the Long Haul

Behavior management or managing a class for the long-haul is much more difficult than anyone ever tells us in our teacher training.

Remember when you were getting ready to begin your student teaching and being informed what you're in for when you have no experience to tie that information into? You simply can't fathom what that means or what it looks like in reality. We need a lot of experience in order to make sense great classroom management. In addition, there's a lot of trial and error that goes with figuring it all out.

The more teaching experience we get under our belts, the easier it is to understand and evaluate the various behavior management options.

Here's a few ways that we can manage a class and each method's pros and cons. In addition, I have a few acton steps at the end of this post to get you on a great path to train your students toward self-regulation. 

Here goes...

Proximity

Management by proximity is when you move to stand near a student when they're misbehaving in an effort to stop the behavior while you're still teaching.

Pros: This strategy can work in the short run, that's why we've all tried it. There are ways to use this effectively in combination with a larger plan for accountability.

Cons:  Long-term, students figure this one out and it either ceases to work or students who crave attention use it to get that need met. If you have a few "push the limit until I get caught" kiddos in your class it can have you doing laps around your classroom and really wear you out. 

Consequences

Providing negative effects for your students inappropriate actions.

Pros: It works if we are very consistent and the consequences make sense with the action. 

Cons: It can backfire for some students depending on how you handle it. Inconsistency on our part can turn this into punishment [my teacher is just mean], not consequences [I made a mistake and need to correct it]. Some students just need attention and negative attention is just as good to them as positive attention. 

Praise

Praising students for doing the "right thing" at the right time in order to encourage more of that behavior.

Pros: This works short-term until some students decide they simply don't care what you think. Saying positive words feels good. It feels like we are creating a positive culture in our classrooms and in some ways that's true. We are at the stage of understanding our words matter and that's a really good thing. 

Cons: It can easily turn into manipulation and "begging students to behave". In some classes, it can pit some students against a few "good kids". For example, "I love how Maya got ready and sat on the carpet so quickly and quietly." This is manipulation and sets up some students up to be quietly bullied for being "good" or "teacher's pet". In addition, this doesn't foster self-regulation, just "falling into line". 

Incentives

Reward systems for students who behave in any given situation.

Pros: Some classes respond really well to being given things for behaving.

Cons: It's hard to be even handed with rewards, so students are always trying to figure out what will give them a "ticket" or "marble" or whatever the reward is. Did you recognize and reward students for the same kinds of behaviors every time or is it random? It can start to become manipulation if it's mostly used when classes aren't behaving well. It creates a culture of "what will you give me for doing that?"

Expectations vs. Rules: A Combo Approach

If you can't tell already, this is what I believe in. We have to begin with a combo approach that has a long game in mind. 

The essential question is: How do we structure our classroom management so that we're building a culture and our students are learning to take on responsibility instead of just doing as they're told or doing as they wish until they get caught?

Anything that involves manipulation will eventually fail.

Do we need rules and consequences? Absolutely! We also need progress toward self-regulation and a commitment to creating a culture together.

Here's 3 steps to get you started. 
Start to think in terms of expectations instead of rules.

I know this seems like just semantics, but it's really more complex than that. Expectations set us up for a culture and a class identity vs. rules which set students up for obedience and you [the teacher] for being the behavior police. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be in charge of making everyone behave ALL day long. That's just plain exhausting.  

Decide what you want your classroom culture to be.

Think in terms of character, actions and identity. I like to think "who do I want my students to be when they think no one is watching?" Make a list and be as specific as you can. This is the long game.

Restructure your specific rules into expectations for group members [you and your students].

Depending on your rules, you might need to think in broader terms instead of small specific actions. 

That's plenty to do for now. Next week, I'll add to your list.

 

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