In one of her recent articles published in Education Weekly, Tracey Garrett describes a hypothetical interview scenario between a recent graduate pursuing a 4th grade teaching position and the principal. Inevitably, classroom management came up. “How will you manage your classroom?” the principal asked. The teacher’s response: “I’ve developed a point system that rewards good behavior with tickets. At the end of the week, these tickets are placed into a raffle for a chance to win prizes.” This is a common response and a common classroom management system, but it is one that Garrett, not to mention a slew of other well-respected behavior-management experts like Richard L. Curwin and Allen and Brian Mendler, take issue with.
In his book, Discipline with Dignity, Curwin refers to a study conducted by Tyre, Scelfo and Kantrowitz who found that children expect to nag their parents nine times before getting what they want. “If you do such and such, I’ll give you such and such” has become something of a cultural attitude—one that many teachers unintentionally reinforce “through the proliferation of reward and bribe systems in which stickers, stars, and points become substitutes for doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do,” argues Curwin.
This is not to say that extrinsic or reward-based systems should be blacklisted entirely, but we echo Curvin’s belief that “they should not be the foundation of a teacher’s classroom management plan.” If not rewards, then what should be the crux of a teacher’s classroom management system?
Disciplining with Dignity: 5 Classroom Management Tips
Engage Students in a How-Can-I-Help-You? Approach
When your students aren’t focusing on what they are reading or when they submit careless work it is bothersome—but many of us are bothered for the wrong reasons. We’re bothered because we’ve taken it personally; we’re bothered because WE wouldn’t have done it that way.
When you engage your students in a how-can-I-help-you approach, your frustration manifests through care and respect. Next time your student disrupts class or fails to turn in assignments, catch the student on the way to lunch and say, “Hey, I’m worried about X. Am I seeing this correctly? I want to do everything I can to help you. Do you have any ideas?”
Ask Your Students What They Expect of You
Generally speaking, we spend a lot of time telling our students what we expect of them and very little asking them what they expect of us. What if that changed?
Here’s an idea we borrowed from Angela Bunyi, a teacher who, as she puts it, “puts herself into the mix.” If you take a look at the picture to the left, you’ll notice a list of expectations she has for her students. But on the right column, she has asked students to make a list of their expectations for her. It bothers her students that she has a habit of checking her email and talking loudly to other teachers, so they’ve asked her to change her behavior—and she gladly obliges.
Try Using Incident Reports
This is another idea we snagged from Mrs. Bunyi. Do your students love telling you about how student X is bothering student Y? Do they do this during transition times or when you are in the middle of something important? Because you care about your students (and their safety), more than likely it’s your instinct to drop everything and investigate what’s really going on.
So that you can give each “incident” the attention it deserves, have your students fill out an incident report where they provide dates, witnesses, the location of the incident, what they did, and how they believe the situation should be handled.
Playtime Isn’t Just for Kids
When it's your turn for recess duty, consider participating in a game rather than standing on the sidelines. If you're teaching at the secondary level, try running to grab a ball that has been thrown out of bounds on the lunchtime basketball courts, or visit a colleague's P.E. class during your prep. Playing with students is a great way to honor them and nurture relationships with them.
The playground is also a perfect location to have a conversation with that student you read about in Jane’s incident report. Don’t take recess away from students who have misbehaved; use the change of scenery to your advantage. It’s much easier to talk to a student about what was going on inside the classroom when you are outside of it.
Create Partnerships with Parents
Often the first time we speak to a parent is when we are at our wits end with their son or daughter. Not the best way to initiate a relationship, is it? If you’ve developed a relationship with parents and shown them that you truly care about their child, chances are that you’re going to have more buy-in when you need their help.
Why not give them a call when their child does something well, just to let them know? Or why not move your classroom parties to the evening hour, but keep the time brief to honor parents’ schedules? Or here’s another idea: Send home regular invitations for parents to come in as “guest readers” or classroom assistants.