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How YOU can Handle the Most Common Misbehaviors in the Classroom.
The new school year is starting soon and you know you have a whole bunch of new faces to learn. You also know that whilst most kids are great, you WILL get misbehavior, some easy to deal with and some that will drive you to the edge of insanity. I know I will! In this article, we will take a look at the most common misbehaviors in the classroom and how to handle misbehaving students.
What is Misbehavior?
Misbehavior is improper, inappropriate or bad behaviour.
As educators, it is more important not to focus on what the misbehavior is but how to address it while maintaining the continued learning for the whole class. There is ALWAYS a reason WHY misbehavior occurs in a class but in the heat of the moment, it is our job to minimise the impact on the class as a whole. To start with let’s look at what the most common misbehaviors are in the classroom, both for elementary/primary schools and high/secondary schools. I’m not going to talk about bullying or fighting as these require a whole post to themselves which I will write at a later date.
Common Behavior Problems of Elementary School Students.
- Talking when they shouldn’t.
- Temper tantrums.
- Lack of work.
- Taking things without permission.
- Calling out answers.
Common Behavior Problems of High School Students.
As I was researching the common misbehaviours of high school students I realised that most of the above Elementary School misbehaviours were also relevant to high school students. The misbehaviours listed below are more prevalent in high schools but may be evident in elementary schools to a lesser extent.
- Lateness to class.
- Cell/Mobile phone use.
- Lack of Classwork.
- Lack of Homework.
- Social Chatter.
How to Handle Misbehaving Students.
When I started writing this article I envisaged addressing each one of these misbehaviours but as I was thinking about how I handle misbehaving students and as I was researching how other teachers address individuals I quickly realised that it’s not the individuals that we need to focus on (we don’t teach one to one) we need to focus on ourselves and our management of the whole class at the same time as the student or students causing the problem.
I went back over the copious notes I made when training and remembered an inspirational man from whom I watched lectures or videos. It became apparent that I should use his teachings to explain the methods I use on a daily basis.
Dr Bill Rogers; Behavior Guru.
The behaviour guru Dr Bill Rogers explains things in the clearest way I have ever found. Everything from my classroom persona to my behaviour management I owe to his video series. I am going to describe his most effective methods here and include some videos throughout this post. If you’d like to find out a bit more about him, I’ll also include a link to his website at the bottom of this post. Here’s a little taste of what he is all about:
The titles of the series give an overview of his approach to managing behaviour in the classroom setting.
- Positive Correction: This part is based on the idea that good behaviour is based on building positive relationships between teachers and students. This is something I rely on heavily in my classroom. It is the understanding that shouting and screaming at a student only fosters a behaviour pattern where the student shouts and screams back (monkey see, monkey do). Whereas displaying a respectful, encouraging behaviour will foster a similar response from the students.
- Prevention: This section relies on setting up the expected behaviour in the class. If students know what is expected of them in your class from the get-go, you can refer back to it throughout the year. I get them all to write my simple 4 rules in the back of their book at the beginning of the year and if needed get them to refer back to it during a confrontation.
- Consequences: This builds on the previous idea; the students already know what is expected of them and what the consequences are if they are not followed. This clear structure allows students to make positive choices in their behaviour.
- Repair and Rebuild: Things will go wrong, there will be behaviour that falls outside the structure you have set; if you think there won’t be, you’re kidding yourself! What we do and how we approach the aftermath is the most important part in my opinion. This should be done with the premise that we want to continue to build a relationship with that student. We want them to feel like we are still on their side, even after a breakdown in behaviour.
My Top 7 Bill Rogers Principles.
Your zenith as a teacher should be working to become an assertive teacher. Assertive teachers expect good behaviour but don’t rely on dominance to achieve it. They rely on respect and clear boundaries.
1. Teacher Style.
The idea here is to grow into an assertive teacher. It is the fine balance between being an Indecisive teacher and an autocratic teacher. I can list many teachers that fall into both of the latter categories, I bet you can too. When I first started teaching I followed bad advice and styled myself on the autocrat; this didn’t work and ultimately I had to change schools as it had ruined my relationships with students and staff.
- An indecisive teacher is one that through their own behaviour allows the class to overrule them, they set no boundaries through fear of either not being liked or “losing” the class. In short, they hope the class behaves.
- An autocratic teacher rules with an iron fist. They demand respect without earning it. There is no wiggle room in their rules. They generally shout without control and can be perceived as a bully.
- An assertive teacher is your zenith, you have to train yourself to get there but it really is the only way to teach effectively. If I’m being honest, I’d say I’m 90% there, I work at it daily, the better I get, the better my classes run. An assertive teacher expects good behaviour but not by using dominance or hope. They plan for good behaviour, they set clear boundaries and adapt to every situation that presents itself.
2. Positive Language.
This is a simple, easy and elegant behaviour to start using but it works from the start. We were all told to use please and thank you and to speak nicely to people by our parents, now we are adults we definitely shouldn’t stop! Instead of telling a student to stop doing something, tell them what they should start doing and always with a thank you.
For example, if I have two students who are chatting and off-topic instead of saying “Will you two stop talking to each other” I may say “I’d like everyone to be listening please, that includes you, Paul and Daisy…Thank you” and move on. Saying thank you implies that the students have already complied leading to them actually complying.
3. Black Dot, White Square.
This idea focuses on keeping things in perspective. It is very easy to focus on the misbehaviour in the classroom and ignore all the good stuff. In the black dot, white square idea the black dot represents the misbehaviour and the white square represents the good behaviour. If we focus on the white square we can easily avoid thoughts like; This class are always bad (are they really?). No one ever does the homework (really, no one?). That student is always calling out (I don’t think they do, do they?).
As I started to use his method I found I was choosing my battles more wisely. I stopped pausing my class (and disrupting the flow of the learning) when a student arrived late, I now acknowledge they have arrived and kept the lesson moving. If it is persistent lateness I will address it either later in the class or at the end of the lesson/day.
Here’s the thing:
This has the added benefit of the late student will feel more comfortable to slip into the lesson and start learning, after all, I have no idea why they are late, only assumptions. They could have been ill, lost something or been to the school office to collect their lunch. Bringing this up in front of the class will damage my relationship with the student AND the class.
I have spent way too much energy chasing homework in my life (yes, I know you have too!). I have found that if spend the time I previously used to chase homework to celebrate and reward the homework I did get in, over time I got more homework in. The students saw positive effects of doing the work and wanted a piece of that pie. Again, persistent offenders are spoken to privately rather than in front of the class.
4. Choice in Direction.
This is a tactic I have only been using for a couple of years but wish I had been using from the beginning. Again it is a simple minor adjustment to how I address a situation, not something to instil in my students. Rather than just giving them a demand, I calmly give them a choice. One option is what I want them to do and the other is the consequence. 9 times out of 10 they will choose your preferred option.
For instance; “Paul, you can either complete the work you are supposed to be doing OR you can come back at lunchtime to do it” or “Daisy, you can either stop chatting to your friends OR you will go to the heads office”. The rest of the class (the white square) will also benefit from a calmer approach. The student/s in question will choose the correct option and the lesson moves on with minimal interruption. Remember to thank them when they have made the correct choice.
In the very small minority of cases, the student will choose the consequence. It is very important for the success of this tactic that you follow through with the consequence quickly and immediately or this tactic will never work again with that class. Make sure you consider this when giving the choice, never promise what you can’t deliver!
Again, another very simple method of mastering your classroom presence. Like us, students will have lots going on in their heads and also like us, they need some processing time. It is very unlikely that they will comprehend what you are saying the moment you start talking. The way this work is:
- Gain eye contact: Paul…pause…
- Give instruction: Please face me and listen….thanks.
6. Partial Agreement.
This builds on the ethos of modelling the behaviour you want to see. I’ve also heard this method being referred to as “being the adult”. This is something that some teachers seem unable to do sadly. They simply think they can’t be seen to give an inch and will argue to the death to get the last word.
This strategy diffuses conflict in an instant because it allows some give. It also helps builds respect in the class. The “white square” see you compromising for the greater good of the class and the “black dot” witnesses you actually listening to them. For Example:
- Teacher: “Paul, stop chatting and get on with your work.
- Paul: “I wasn’t talking, I was doing my work”.
- Teacher: “Ok, maybe you were but now let’s finish the task”.
In this case, you’d been watching Paul get more and more off task for the last 5 minutes, he definitely was talking. However, what matters more? Is it more important for Paul to admit he was wrong or to get on with the work? If you find yourself wanting to “not let them get away with it” try just letting it go, trust me, it’s better for your stress levels and better for the class and the student. Win-Win!
7. Controlled Severity.
Unfortunately, there will be times where you have to raise your voice but how we approach this can also be adjusted. In the heat of the moment, it is easy to let the anger get control of you and let your raised voice be fueled from that anger, at this point you are not in control of the class even if you think you are!
Excellent teachers will have set very clear boundaries and will only use an “act” of controlled severity fuel the raised voice. A short, sharp, louder tone to remind them that their actions are not within the expected behaviour is all that is needed. Your voice should immediately return to your normal calm voice. It is a voice that tells them they have crossed the line but you still care about them, their actions are not acceptable but you still want them to be the best they can.
Again, controlled severity is and ACT, it is not actual anger, it is a tool to say very simply….you crossed the line, you are now aware you have crossed the line and we are now back to normal.
This method should not be used too much or it will desensitise the class to it. The class should know it is there but not want to go there. I once heard it referred to as an electric fence. You know it will sting so you don’t touch it!
But What About When They Just Say No.
You Should Now Be Able to Handle Common Misbehaviors in the Classroom.
I have found that employing Bill Rogers tactics in class dramatically improves the progress of all students, it reduces my stress levels and it makes my class a much happier place to be for everyone. Some take time to master but they ALL work. Go for it, give it a go!
I bet you will know teachers who will benefit from reading this, maybe direct them to this post or better still share it on your social media using the buttons underneath!
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Here are some extra reading materials you may find useful: