Many teachers ask me for behavior management tips. They complain about “unpredictable” or “problematic” students and want to know to minimize these challenges.
I’m sure we all have experienced “unpredictable” or “problematic” student behaviors in our classes. The key question is how can we respond to them in positive ways that are helpful to the student exhibiting the behavior, to the rest of our students, and to our own sanity?
In order to foster positive, not punitive classroom management strategies, teachers need to always keep this question in mind: “Will what I am about to do or say bring me closer or will it push me away farther from the person with whom I am communicating?” This is the most important behavior management tip.
The only real behavior management tip—the only practical way to minimize unpredictable negative behavior—is to be proactive, rather than resorting to the usual reactive approach of responding after inappropriate student behavior.
Behavior Management Isn’t About Rules
It seems rather obvious that teachers should teach expectations, and most teachers try by teaching rules. The problem is that rules are aimed at obedience, but obedience does not create desire. Teachers who rely on rules place themselves in the role of a cop to enforce rules rather than as a facilitator of learning.
Rules are necessary in games but are counterproductive in the classroom because enforcement of a rule immediately creates adversarial relationships. A much more effective approach is for teachers to list responsibilities and keep them few and positive. These become expectations, a key characteristic of all successful teachers.
Behavior Management Isn’t About Classroom Management
Another crucial approach is to understand the differences between classroom management and discipline. Classroom management is about teaching procedures, practicing them, and reinforcing them until they become routine. The biggest mistake so many teachers make is to assume that students know what the teacher would like students to do without first establishing procedures. This is the key to making instruction efficient and is the teacher’s responsibility.
Discipline is about the student’s behavior, self-discipline, and impulse control and is the student’s responsibility. The easiest way to minimize unpredictable negative behaviors is to let students know your procedure for dealing with them. This is in contrast to the usual approach of announcing the outcome (consequence) ahead of time.
Just bring to your students’ attention the fact that we are all constantly making decisions. If a student chooses to act irresponsibly, then the student will decide on the consequence—pending approval of the teacher. In simple terms, the procedure is to elicit, rather than to impose. The student created the problem, so the student owns the solution. A prime reason that this approach is so successful is that people do not argue with their own decisions.