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.

Continue reading

Redefining the meaning of ‘good learning outcomes’.

Can you identify the learning going on here?

Can you identify the learning going on here? You bet.

We now know that creating great learning outcomes for students is no accident. The research tells us that 1. the learning needs to be made ‘visible’ and that 2. specific strategies need to be used to make that happen. I wrote about that in detail here.

But fortunately, we don’t teach in a vacuum. A classroom is a complex and dynamic environment full of humans people from different backgrounds and with specific emotional needs. Managing that environment effectively helps achieve the desired learning outcomes that we seek. Of course, effective management is built on a strong emotional relationship between the teacher and the student.

Over the years I have made some major changes in the way I manage behaviour. First of all, I have made myself more knowledgeable in the study of human behaviour. That knowledge has led me to reflect on how I create an environment that caters for the needs of all the children in the classroom (including myself), the parents and society as a whole. As a result, my teaching practice has changed dramatically. You can see that summarised in, 10 Easy Pieces.

I have looked closely at the NZ Curriculum document and been encouraged to see that helping children to become confident, resilient and connected citizens are highly valued goals. So in effect, I have presented those skills to the children as being highly desirable and made the learning of those skills ‘visible’. It may come as no surprise to many that a classroom culture that celebrates those core values and opens up the definition of what good learning outcomes look like, will also be an environment that achieves good academic learning outcomes. The reality is, when you get the emotional quotient right, the rest will follow. I think this is what the resistance to National Standards has always been about. Have we as a community, as teachers,  lost sight of this? Or maybe it never really existed in the first place.

The obvious problem with the narrowing down of the curriculum, in terms of managing behaviour, is the need for compliance. “Take this medicine, it is good for you”. It is a system/environment like this, that tends to bring out the undesirable behaviours. This environment will not be conducive to allow great learning to happen; learning that is natural and meaningful, that is. What the teacher is asking the student to do, may in fact be boring or not developmentally appropriate. (I will write more about this in a future post). This is not ‘putting the child at the centre of the learning experience’.

Experience tells me that you will be hard pressed to find a child who does not arrive at school in their first year, enthusiastic for learning. That’s why the ‘provoke, listen, respond’ philosophy is so effective. It allows the teacher to harness that enthusiasm and to be flexible and make adjustments when appropriate. Trust your children to be keen and enthusiastic learners. Children are our greatest resource in the classroom. They are full of knowledge, wonderment and joy. Tap into that. Let them be your ‘guide on the side’.

In my next post, I am going to share some specific behaviour strategies that are recognised as being effective at creating a positive and sustainable learning environment. Stay tuned. They’re effective. And can be applied to any age group or setting.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Making learning ‘visible’

You are entering a learning community.

Welcome to our learning community.

The two criteria that make the most impact on improving learning outcomes for students are as follows;

  1. the quality of the relationship between the teacher and students and,
  2. the quality of the interactions/feedback between the teacher and students.

Note that it is not the things that we are told it to be or would assume it to be – eg. smaller class sizes, modern learning environments, access to computers, homework. Variables/criteria like these may have an impact on student learning outcomes, but not in the realm of the two mentioned above.

That’s what the research tells us. I recommend that you check out what John Hattie and his team have to say about improving learning outcomes for students. It is referred to as ‘Visible Learning‘. What a great description. 

Needless to say, I am a big fan of this research and have spent the past decade reflecting on this knowledge and given careful consideration on how to implement this into the daily programme in the classroom. I feel like I have made great strides in making the learning in my classroom visible.

I am encouraged by the feedback from parents. They are open to these ideas and open to the possibility of seeing a classroom embrace the idea of ‘visible learning’. It is important to be able to have that conversation with them.

But it is not without its challenges.

  1. The teacher needs to create a classroom environment (physically and culturally) that allows for the providing the best quality feedback. With only one teacher shared amongst 20+ students, creating opportunities for direct feedback and the allocation of that time is critical.
  2. The teacher has tremendous responsibility in choosing the content to be taught and how it is to be taught. My experience at the ‘chalkface’ has allowed me to come up with some guiding principles.

Children need an education that is as broad as possible, for as long as possible. I am concerned about how even the very youngest students are being measured by narrowly defined achievement standards rather than encompassing more ‘human’ achievement goals. The good news is that the New Zealand Curriculum document allows for that possibility. It is sufficiently broad to allow us to focus on social as well as academic goals.

The importance of this should not be underestimated. According to Peter O’Connor of the Auckland University School of Education, high academic achievement at school is not a determiner of a ‘happy’ life out in the real world. 

In future posts I will highlight how I go about creating a physical and cultural environment to achieve the ‘Visible Learning’ that is now known to be so desirable. To do so has required me to be innovative and very responsive to the needs of the children and the community but still stay ‘within the system’. The challenges that I have listed above can be overcome. Stay tuned.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

Effective teaching and learning looks like, sounds like…

Quality relationships and quality interactions are very human skills.

Creating good quality relationships and interactions are highly prized skills.

I sometimes like to think that becoming a primary school teacher was a happy accident. That’s probably because, like most other school leavers, I had no idea of what career I could or wanted to do. And even when I was doing my teacher training, I was still full of doubt. There was the added complication that the  training course seemed to raise more questions than provide answers. I’m glad that I persevered because having spent over a decade at the ‘chalk face’, I have finally been able to answer many of those questions.

I have never tried to drink from a fire hose before but that is what the training course felt like. The volume of content was huge and in hindsight I can see how it reflects how the education system as a whole works.  During the training course, I felt like a vessel to be filled up. I learned quickly how to filter, how to turn off the tap. I honed in on the content that I thought would be relevant to being a good teacher creating great citizens of the world and great learners. I filed questions away to be answered another day.

I have come to appreciate that an effective teacher is one that is able to be a good gatekeeper of the volume and the quality of the content to be shared.

For teachers to be good gatekeepers it is essential that they are really connected to the needs of their students. Yes, that idea of bringing teaching down to a human level. Whether you are teaching 5 year olds or 15 year olds, you need to be working at their speed, to their rhythm. Provoke, listen, respond. This is a process that is directed by the teacher. As much as possible it needs to be natural, organic and authentic. And I understand that this is not going to be easy within the existing education model that we have inherited.

My role is to note, record and highlight the learning that is taking place, to make sure it is connected to the national curriculum and then redirect it or provide some more provocation. It’s a successful learning cycle. A sign of this success is when I see children sharing stories of their learning with me and their families, with enthusiasm and without being prompted.

Have you ever asked yourself the question, ‘what is it that you remember most vividly from your days at primary school’? I think I would be right in suggesting that it has something to do with the memory of a ‘kind’ teacher. (I think you will also have strong memories of that not so ‘nice’ teacher). This was one of the key learnings that I honed in on when I was training to be a teacher. The importance of this has become increasingly meaningful to me over the years I have spent in the classroom. I have already written about ‘the role of positive relationships in fostering great learning’ and how it has impacted on my teaching. This is not my idea, by the way. This is based on research by a team led by John Hattie. What’s strange about this however, is the fact that in all my years of teaching and all the professional development courses I have been required to do, not one has been focussed on this human/emotional aspect.

The research also highlights one other essential ingredient in fostering great learning; it is dependent on the quality of the interactions between the student and the teacher. Once again, in my mind at least, this skill is one that is centred around the very complex emotional skill of communication. Filling trainee teachers with knowledge and content is one thing, but teaching them how to develop good social relationships and have good communication skills is an entirely different matter.

So it seems quite simple really. It all comes down to 1. quality relationships and 2. quality interactions/learning conversations. In a future post, I will explore the second one in more detail and try to explain what the implications are for learning in a classroom setting.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Ease Education: a place to reflect and critique

Thank you to everyone who has given me feedback about Ease Education. I am pleased to report that it has all been positive so far. Although some people have questioned my sanity…”don’t you have anything better to do with your time”? Well actually, it’s no big deal. Teachers are always reflecting on their teaching practice and I am no different. I am just taking it a step further and recording my reflections. After all, this is the internet age.  And I do realise that it is very presumptuous of me to think that others will want to read, share and engage with this stuff.

Answer that

Should we just ignore this negative view of the education system?

The education system touches most people in some form or another throughout their lives. It’s a community thing. It’s a public service. It deserves to be discussed. We should always be striving for the best. There is so much at stake. And I really want to reiterate that this site should be viewed as a place to critique the system, not as a place to criticise teachers. That’s an important distinction. Nothing is perfect. There is always room for improvement. My hope is that this site will be a catalyst for constructive conversations that will in turn lead to improved outcomes for all users of our education system.

And for me, a quality education system will be based on these principles. Schools operating under similar guiding principles do exist already. Some parents seek them out because they appreciate the benefits they bring. I think it would be wonderful if we could enshrine these principles into the public education system as well. For everyone to benefit.

Join me, as I endeavour to explore this possibility.

Ease Education: Teaching at a Human Scale

You can also find Ease Education on Twitter and Facebook

Welcome to Ease Education.

At the chalk face

At the chalkface

Yes, welcome to Ease Education.

So, why Ease Education?

That’s easy. I love teaching. I love working with children. And recently, I started to enjoy it even more.

The catalyst for my new found passion for teaching came about when I began working with younger children. I had to quickly update my curriculum knowledge and adapt it to cater to those younger minds. At the same time though, I noticed something interesting; regardless of the age group that I was working with, there was one ‘thing’ that didn’t change.

That ‘thing’ was, ‘the role of positive relationships in fostering great learning’. Regardless of what level the children were at ‘developmentally’, it became increasingly apparent to me that the way we related to one another was the critical and constant factor in determining the quality of the learning that was going on.

The role and importance of ‘relationship’ was not a new thing to me. But that shift in year level gave me a stronger sense of its value. By this stage in my teaching career, I had had enough experience at ‘the chalkface’ to have gathered, what I considered to be, a relatively high level of expertise and confidence in teaching. This left me with some spare capacity to be able to reflect more critically and effectively on my teaching practice.

A couple of other things also happened around that time too.

I could feel that I was at risk of burning out. I knew that I couldn’t sustain such a high level of input, and remain in teaching over the long term. It wasn’t sustainable for myself or my family. I had to start working smarter, and do so without compromising the children’s learning.

I also became better at listening; to experts, to researchers, to colleagues, to parents and most importantly, to children. What a revelation. The impact of better listening was profound. Combined with the other factors, the change in my teaching style and the quality of the learning taking place was truly transformative.

Mind you, the classroom still feels chaotic. But in a more calm way. It still feels exhausting. But in a more rewarding way. It all just feels easier. It feels like there is more choice now on how the class operates and functions.

Hence, Ease Education: Teaching at a Human Scale.

I have created Ease to be a place to share the deliberate acts of teaching and relationship that I have found to have had a positive impact on the culture of learning in the classroom. To share those strategies that are making our class a fun place to be and consequently, an easier more productive learning environment. For everyone. And it really means everyone. It’s all about inclusivity.

This new way of working accommodates those children who think differently or who have different interests or different needs. Because all children come to school with different life experiences, expectations and emotional needs. ‘Teaching at a Human Scale’ allows for all those differences to be catered for. As a class, we are all on a journey together. And it’s this journey of exploration that I want to share.

Of course, when I use the word learning, I mean learning in the most broad definition that the New Zealand curriculum documents currently give teachers license to implement.

The New Zealand Early Childhood Education curriculum (Te Whariki) and the New Zealand Curriculum (for years 1-13) are held in high regard in teaching communities the world over, for the freedom and flexibility they give teachers.

But that flexibility doesn’t always get transferred to the classroom. Teachers often find themselves working in a system that is effectively at odds with what these curriculum documents offer. The child-centred principles enshrined within these documents are not matched by the day to day actions in the classroom. I fear that those wonderful principles are at risk of becoming so diluted as to become meaningless.

Administrators’ penchant for teachers to be ticking achievement boxes, has practically boxed them in. Politicians’ penchant for creating ‘world class learners’ has led to an education system that looks increasingly dehumanised. Parents’ penchant for having ‘selective amnesia’ of their own schooling experience, consigns their own children to repeating the same misadventures on the pathway to adulthood and the ‘real’ world.

There is no shortage of evidence that justifies why we should be doing our utmost to put children at the centre of their learning and humanising the teaching process. The research and literature that promotes child-centred learning implores us to teach with our hearts as well as our heads.

And that’s where Ease comes in. I have taken that first tentative step towards exploring the ‘how’; how is it possible to truly and genuinely, put children at the centre of their learning experience?

I want Ease to be a meeting space/testing ground where the child-centred literature and educational philosophies intersect with the realities of daily life in the classroom. I want Ease to be a place to explore ways of humanising the teaching process.

To do so requires the support of the administrators and school communities. There is a need to educate the administrators, teachers and parents. There is a need to expose them to the research and literature. We need to highlight the existence of a viable alternative; that there is a better, easier way that will benefit all parties and most importantly, the children. We need to give administrators, teachers and parents opportunities to explore these different ways of working.

It’s time to take some calculated risks and to give yourself permission. There is nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Finally, while Ease Education is mainly focused on primary school-aged children, specifically new entrants, the content being shared here can be applied to all age levels, and even beyond the classroom.

Ease Education: Teaching at a Human Scale