A fresh approach to managing behaviour in the classroom

Getting the physical and cultural environment right.

Getting the physical and cultural environment right is the first step.

Notwithstanding that the topic of managing behaviour is a is complex one, it’s one that needs to be explored. That is, if we are serious about turning our classrooms into the positive and sustainable learning environments. Managing behaviour is really about creating a physical and cultural environment that allows for, and encourages desirable pro-social behaviours. Creating the right environment provides opportunities for children to learn how to self-regulate, to make ethical choices and to show consideration for others (empathy). I would also argue that getting the social/emotional quotient right is the foundation of any quality ‘academic’ learning.

This approach seems to be a world away from a behaviour management system that relies heavily on strategies that attempt to minimise negative behaviours with the use of discipline and punishment. For me, the term ‘managing children’s behaviour” also has connotations of trying to maintain control and achieve compliance. And it seems as though this model is the default setting in classrooms as well as being the model that is prevalent throughout society.

Managing behaviour is really about creating a physical and cultural environment that allows for, and encourages desirable pro-social behaviours.

Fortunately, there is an alternative model that we can turn to. It is based on sound research and makes sense intuitively. This alternative model requires us to evaluate our expectations of the children; is the task I am asking them to do at their developmental level, is it achievable, desirable and genuinely engaging? The familiar behaviour strategies that teachers typically employ such as cajoling, bribing, and punishing will do little to rectify the core issues, if our expectations are not reasonable or realistic. Nor is it likely that these strategies will achieve lasting behavioural change. A successful behaviour management model requires a high degree of trust and a strong emotional relationship between the teacher and the students.

It’s important to appreciate that what is typically perceived as ‘bad behaviour’ is simply a case of undeveloped social skills. Children are not necessarily trying to be difficult or uncooperative. They really do want to please and behave in a positive manner. It is more likely that they are lacking the skills or ability to solve problems effectively.  So, assuming that the physical and cultural environment is genuinely flexible and supportive of ‘child-centred learning’, then the next step is to teach, explain and model specific strategies to support and guide children to manage their emotions and interactions.

A key element to this approach is called cognitive training. This means that children are told exactly what they should be doing and how they should be responding. They are helped to identify and recognise their emotions. They receive generous explanations of why certain behaviours are inappropriate and how they impact on others. This is an approach that requires the adult to be a very patient and consistent ‘broken down record’. Repetition and consistency of message and expectation is paramount.

It’s important to appreciate that what is typically perceived as ‘bad behaviour’ is simply a case of undeveloped social skills.

By using cognitive training, you are not focused on achieving compliance. Instead, you are focused on using communication and negotiation to encourage reasoning, respect and cooperation. As well as fostering a desirable classroom culture based on respect and empathy, it is also a way of teaching communication skills. The children are learning through modelling, rather than it being taught by a specific series of lessons. That’s essential. The children will learn best by using these skills and seeing the positive impact they have in their daily lives. These are skills that require high levels of emotional intelligence and they are skills that can be learned. It’s a win-win scenario.

As well as cognitive training, there are also the familiar strategies of inducement (“I’m sure someone as clever as you could tidy up those blocks.”) and rewarding desired behaviour (“If you tidy up those blocks, we can play your favourite game.”) Needless to say, as long as the inducements and rewards fit into the classroom culture that you are trying to achieve, then they are also effective strategies to use.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

Links to some resources that I used for this blog post and that you may also find useful can be found below.

http://www.rootsofaction.com/parenting-children-with-adhd/

https://theconversation.com/what-are-the-best-ways-to-discipline-kids-34966

http://rnz.to/1pVzpUJ

9 thoughts on “A fresh approach to managing behaviour in the classroom

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