Teaching can be tough, particularly when you have an unruly class to work with. Every child comes from a uniquely different background. Getting children to conform with classroom behaviour norms can be challenging, if their patterns are already firmly entrenched, and where they have issues such as respecting limits and personal space, or responding to conflict.
It is therefore vital that teachers establish healthy patterns in the classroom, making it clear that what is tolerated at home or in social settings, will not necessarily be mirrored within the school.
These are just a few habits of teachers who know how to effectively improve student behaviour in class:
- Greet each and every student at the door: Personal interaction is vital, as is setting a positive atmosphere in the classroom from the word go. Greet each student with a personal comment or positive wish for the day, so they feel acknowledged and cared for.
- Set rules and regulations early in the school year: Ask students to help you draft a list of rules and regulations for the rest of the year, based on values they feel are objectively important – some of these may be: respecting others’ possessions, listening to others when they are speaking in class, respecting each other’s personal space, etc. When your formulate rules, take the time to discuss each one and give examples. For example, ‘Be kind and respectful to others’ might include speaking in a calm manner to classmates, inviting new students into one’s play circle and avoiding insults. Review your list as the year progresses, to make sure you haven’t left norms that may be relevant.
- Follow a strict routine: Post timetables (with colourful pictures for smaller children) indicating a child’s daily routine and use routines for everything from tea time to arriving and leaving the classroom.
- Decide on consequences for unacceptable behaviour: It can be easy to unwittingly neglect children who are quiet and well behaved, and focus one’s energy on those who are misbehaving. Remind yourself daily to praise good behaviour, being very specific when giving praise – for instance, ‘Joanna, it was great the way you were the first to stand in line when I asked you to… thank you for being so attentive’. When a child breaks one of the rules, consider disciplining them in a positive manner, since this tends to enhance the student-teacher relationship. Positive (as opposed to punitive) discipline involves slowly stopping the undesired behaviour, and focusing on what a student should be doing (instead of what they should not be doing). Reinforce students’ good behaviour far more frequently than you provide negative feedback. Positive reinforcement can include verbal praise for a particular action, a smile, or simple eye contact.
- Set an example: If you raise your voice or lose your cool, it is easy for students to lose their respect for you and/or emulate your behaviour. Be firm yet gentle in your tone of voice and in your choice of words.
- Use a communication book so that you can work alongside parents: A communication book is an excellent way for teachers to let parents know the areas in which their child is excelling, as well as those which may need a little bit of work. Supportive parents will work alongside the teacher to address issues, realising that a collaborative approach is the most helpful for the child herself. Parents and teachers can be very useful to each other, sharing strategies that work with the child.
- Teach the importance of social skills: Emphasise sociable behaviours like sharing, asking permission before taking something, saying please and thank you, learning how to identify feelings through the expression on the faces of classmates and the teacher, etc. Consider introducing stories that display the important social qualities you are seeking to establish and discuss the behaviour of characters and possible outcomes if they had not behaved as they did.
- Have a special ‘time-out’ corner: Younger children who have tantrums or who get too highly strung should be directed to a special ‘time-out’ or ‘quiet’ corner in the classroom, where they can calm down before joining the rest of their classmates once again. Prior to being placed in this corner, children should already know that its presence is positive: to enable them to regain control and/or think about what has just occurred. Children can be asked to calm down in this special area for anywhere from a few seconds to around a minute (older children can take between five and 10 minutes if necessary).
- Children should be taught anger management techniques: It is never too early for children to learn the basics of anger management. These include being in tune to their feelings, using deep breathing, asking for an arbitrator to mediate in case of an argument with a classmate, etc. Children should see how they tend to react when they are angry, and to find alternative ways of expressing their anger if established methods are not productive.
- Establish a zero-tolerance policy for bullying: Children should be taught what bullying is (e.g. excluding one student from play, mocking them, taking their personal belongings, ostracising them); it should be established from the outset that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated because it has both short- and long-term effects for victims. Consider making a list alongside your students of bullying behaviours and have children sign a contract that they will not engage in such conduct. Put posters up along the classroom and school halls to reinforce the points made in class. If children are old enough to be involved in social networking, set aside some class time to explain the nature of cyber bullying and help children protect themselves by setting passwords on their mobile devices and by learning what type of material should never be uploaded onto a social networking site.
- If conflict has arisen, resolve it: Take your time to listen to students, so you can elicit the reasons that conflict or behavioural incidents have arisen. Don’t ask ‘Why’ questions; use ‘How’ and ‘What’, which do not focus on blame. Focus on the solution; ask questions like ‘What can we do so that this does not happen again?’ or ‘What behaviour would have been better than pushing someone else?’. End the discussion with a positive statement about the student, or ask them a question they can ponder on when they are calmer.
- Deal with students on an individual level: Some children are highly active and can feel bored or frustrated in a classroom setting for too many hours straight; ensure these students have a chance to move and let off steam during play breaks; movement and exercise are actually beneficial for all children.
I hope that you have found this blog post interesting. If you have any tips about improving student behaviour, please feel free to add them to the comments below.