Hey there, new teacher! Is behavior management on your brain? As a new teacher, a well-managed classroom is the first step to a successful year.
Behavior Management Begins with Routines
“In an effective classroom students should not only know what they are doing , they should know why and how.”
The secret to a well-managed class does not lie in any clip chart, token system, or prize box. While there are tons of classroom management techniques out there that utilize these (I’ll discuss some today), they are sort of like the sprinkles on top of a cupcake- it’s a nice touch, but not necessary if the cupcake is really good quality. Ya get what I mean, here? If you’ve set your students up for behavioral success, you find that you won’t end up relying on the “sprinkles” quite so much.
Specific + Consistent + Kind
Be specific with what you want and don’t want. Be consistent with your consequences. Be kind in your delivery.
Let’s start with part one- be specific:
You build a strong foundation through routines and procedures, explicitly taught.
Begin with general classroom rules. I use the Whole Brain Teaching Technique in my classroom, (additional info at bottom) and I use the 5 rules that go with this system. Teachers today are highly encouraged to include the students in the process of creating classroom expectations. Even with the ready-made rules, I still do this! For each rule, we talk about the meaning, and list examples and non-examples of each rule in action. The non-examples are important and powerful, because you are showing them what you don’t want to see. (Thus eliminating the, “well, you never said NOT to…) I post these along with the 5 Rules so we can easily refer to them.
Not only should you be specific in your instruction, but also in your feedback! For example, when a student chooses to complete a Pickle activity to practice skills he needs, instead of playing the math game he doesn’t really need with his friends, praise him for Making Smart Choices! (rule #4) Conversely, when little Johnny interrupts little Susie, remind him that interrupting was something we discussed as breaking Rule #3 (Respect Yourself, Respect Others, Respect This Place)
Set your students up for success!
Show and tell exactly what you expect from your class, and most of the time they will give you that and more! Oftentimes, misunderstanding is confused for misbehavior. When children know exactly what to do, when to do it, how to execute it, and what NOT to do, it leaves little room for much else. (Now, there are always outliers here, those who don’t comply for the sake of it, and we will discuss them later in this post- we are starting with general management first 🙂 )
There should be a procedure or routine for EVERYTHING that happens in your classroom. And each of these procedures should be explicitly taught to the class. There is no time better spent all year than the time you invest setting up your classroom routines.
Some of the most important routines you should be specifically teaching during the first few days of school are:
- Whole Group Instruction Time
- Independent Work
- Small Group Instruction
- Morning Procedures
- Work Completion Procedures- where does it go? Then what?
- When Work is Complete- Idle Time
- How to Line Up
- End-of- Day/Pack Up
Listen, between me and you, your administration is going to ask you to immediately launch into teaching the curriculum on day one. It’s tempting because you are afraid of falling behind on the pacing guide, plus you don’t want to be left in the dust of the other teachers on your team. Please learn from my mistakes! It is so. much. harder. to teach behavior later on. I often joke that once I have my routines in place, I could teach my class Swahili if given the time. (And, if I knew Swahili.) You get the idea though. You will make up the time later when you don’t have to repeat and redirect 14 times during a lesson because your students know what to do!
“There’s a difference between trying to control students and establishing control of your classroom. Rules are about compliance. Procedures are about coherence.”
The second essential part of this formula is remaining consistent. If behavior management begins with routines, it ends with consistency. And your management will end if you aren’t consistent, I can guarantee you that! From the moment you set up your class rules/routines/procedures, there should also be subsequent consequences for not following the outlined expectations. Obviously, these will differ based on grade level. The consequence in itself, however, is not as important as the consistency of the follow through. Especially in the beginning! It is so easy to bend and give a little smile, maybe let a few things slide during the first few weeks. Resist the temptation! It is during these first few weeks when your students will be learning the most- not about math or science, but about YOU. Are you a pushover or no-nonsense? They will decide for you based on how you react to every situation.
When your best, sweetest, quietest student lines up incorrectly- you STILL have to administer the same consequence as the girl who does it every day. Never pick and choose who gets what consequence or reaction from you- this breeds confusion and creates an unsettled/unsafe space. Your students feel safest when they know what to expect both from you and from the daily happenings in your classroom. Remember that the consistency they experience in your class may be the only consistency they get. Knowing what to expect each days lessens anxiety and boosts confidence.
“If kids come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job more important.”
This is what will set you apart from many other educators. This is often the most difficult step because human nature is to react to disobedience with frustration and anger. Take your emotions out of the equation and don’t take bad behaviors personally. It really has little to do with you. Now, there are entire textbooks dedicated to the analysis of bad behaviors in students, so I am going to try to sum up my philosophy as succinctly as possible.
Redirection or administration of consequences should be swift and specific. Then, move on. Do not continue to bring up any incorrect behavior. As soon as the child behaves correctly, praise the corrected behavior and, again, move on. By doing this you are focusing on the behavior itself, NOT the person. When you refrain from embarrassing a child you are showing kindness and teaching forgiveness. I often joke with my students saying, “It’s a good thing I like you!” They learn pretty quickly that you will always love them personally, but you don’t accept certain behaviors (and those behaviors have consequences!) That’s an important and powerful message! The student and their behavior are not one and the same. There are consequences for our actions, but learn from your mistakes, don’t live in them.
So…May I Be Frank For a Minute?
“…often the students who are the most demanding get the most help and attention …the most demanding students are not always the ones who need the most help.”
You learned in college that “there are no bad children, only bad behaviors,” right? They also probably drove home points about positive discipline and reinforcement. Listen, it’s all good stuff, but – I’m being honest here- there are totally some kids out there that are just bad to be bad. All the positive reinforcement in the world will not change their behavior. THESE kiddos need consistency, consequences, and -you guessed it- kindness. Again, we can analyze the behaviors and try to determine if it’s stemming from a poor home life, traumatic experience, etc., but really, they need you to provide the structure they are missing.
You won’t succeed with them right away, it may even take months until you see the smallest of change in their behavior, but stick to it. The formula works, and I’ve taught some tough kids with rough lives. My first few years were in a Title 1 school and when I was absent the first time (for my own wedding), the principal and security guard both had to sit in my classroom with the sub in order to keep control. Now, my behavior management was FAR from perfect (still is!), but my kids responded to me because I showed them kindness, and they knew there were hard and fast lines. This takes a while to find the balance of, but if you stick to the formula you will find your own style as the year(s) develops.
Now, About Those Particularly Tough Students…
If you have taken the Classroom Setup E-Course, you already know what the general feel and flow of your room will be. Decide on a concrete management system that best fits your classroom. Think grade level/age/classroom type i.e. inclusion, SPED, gifted, team teaching, etc. What makes more sense for your classroom? Some basic but effective option are:
- Weekly Parent Contact Behavior Updates: Class Dojo Reports, Weekly Behavior Logs
- Daily Parent Contact Behavior Updates: Teacher signs students’ planner, student colors in each day where they fell on the behavior chart, notes, Class Dojo message, etc.
Upper-elementary students may not need daily updates, but the primary grades tend to respond better to this. That said, choose what works best for you! I actually use a mix of both, and modify as the year goes on. Typically, I can use less daily feedback as the students understand more of what’s expected.
I have used both a behavior clip chart AND a Weekly Behavior Sheet with success.
The clip chart is simple, just have students move their clips up and down throughout the day depending on what you are observing. Wherever they end up by 2 o’clock is what they write into the parent contact box at the bottom of each day on their planners. I sign everyone’s planner every day using this method. It is time-consuming, but for a difficult class it has proven effective. When the students know that their parents see how they behaved each day, they are more inclined to behave better!
For that particularly challenging class I mentioned above, I also used a daily behavior chart. There are tons of options for these, but here is how I set mine up:
I literally made a tally mark for every infraction. On Thursdays, I sent home the weekly total in each category home in their folders for parents to sign. This may sound intense. It probably goes against every positive-reinforcement technique you were taught in college, but it worked for me and what I needed that year. Each class will be different! This past year, I actually didn’t use either of these! My students were pretty chill and only needed the Classroom Economy system that I use, plus the Scoreboard, to maintain good behavior. (They were an easy bunch, behaviorally speaking! )
And on the topic of the Scoreboard…
Here is my final tip for you today! This technique changed my management game, plus it is all about positive reinforcement! The Scoreboard comes from the Whole Brain Teaching system and works like this:
As you are teaching, you award points to either the class or to yourself (the teacher). It’s YOU against THEM and they eat it up! If they are off task, say, “Woohoo point for ME! Give yourselves a mighty groan,” and award the “teacher” a point as the class goes, “ughhhh”. When the class is on task, say, “Have a 1 second party!” The class yells, “yes!” and you award them a point.
I have no set number of points that they have to reach per day, but in order to win, one side must have at least 3 more points than the other. We work for Fun Friday recess time, freedom to sit with friends during class, game days, etc. Make it work for you! The best thing about this is that there is never any “taking away” of points from the kids. Instead, YOU end up gaining points and “beating” them! They respond by working hard to behave correctly so that they can get more points than the teacher. It discourages those who may want to act out from doing so because he/she knows the class will be upset if anyone causes them to miss out on points! I have witnessed this work for ALL grade levels, K-12, and it is extremely effective!
There’s a link at the bottom for more information on Whole Brain Teaching that explains this in more detail if you’re interested! 🙂
Whew! Can you tell I’m passionate about behavior management? It’s because it can truly make or break your year. I totally missed the mark my first year and I struggled because of it. Looking back, it shaped the teacher I am today and I am thankful for those experiences, BUT I’d like to save you from them!
For more TIPS and IDEAS for your first year, check out the New Teacher Survival Series!
In conclusion: ROUTINES! Make em, Love em, Keep em! 🙂
Until Next Week ~ Stay Inspired!
Check out the other posts in the New Teacher Survival Guide!
Read more about Whole Brain Teaching!