After 2 years of being in a stilted social environment, our kids may have forgotten how to behave in the classroom. However, behavior charts are not the answer. They increase shame, reinforce submission rather than encouraging intrinsic motivation to behave appropriately, and don’t consider the diverse needs of students.
Imagine your boss put everyone’s name who worked in the office on one big chart and then charted your individual achievements where everyone can see it. Now imagine every time you made a mistake you, and everyone else, were forced to watch as the boss moved your name from green to yellow to red. You’d feel embarrassed right? Well, so do kids.
Research shows that the more our students feel safe in the classroom, the more they will learn. There are so many other ways to build a strong, safe classroom community. So, what should we do instead?
Establish reasonable expectations – Many schools have already established a simple school wide list of expectations. Use these as a starting point to discuss appropriate behaviors. It’s also a good idea to be clear on what the consequences will be for not meeting those expectations.
Teach the behavior you want to see – Just like we teach math facts and sight words to encourage unconscious recall, we want to teach children appropriate behavior. After all, kids cannot behave in the ways you would like if they don’t know what that looks like.
Provide visual, non-verbal cues and tools for success – When you touch your ear it means it’s time to listen. Hold up 2 fingers to quiet the classroom. Also, have some fidgets in the classroom for when kids get wiggly or overwhelmed.
Get curious about the problem behavior – Kids do not want to misbehave. There is ALWAYS an underlying issue that gets in the way of them following behavior expectations. Are they stuck in fight or flight? Are they hungry, tired, thirsty, overstimulated, etc.? Utilize the 3r’s- regulate – calm the reactive response, relate – connect with the child with empathy, reason – work together to reflect and find a solution to the problem.
Correct and redirect privately – No one likes to be publicly reprimanded for losing control. Try to walk to them instead of having them walk to you in class. Also, use group discussions to engage the rest of the class while you have a private conversation with the student.
Create a safe space – As I said, often unwanted behaviors are a result of dysregulation. Kids need a space to calm down those big emotions, a place where they can take a moment to decompress, take a breather, or think about making different choices. Add comforting items like a stuffed animal, squishy balls, even a mirror so they can see what their emotions look like.
Use positive reinforcement – Make sure to point out when kids are demonstrating the behavior that you want to see. Shift the focus onto when things are going well instead of shaming them for negative behaviors. The kids that typically display unwanted behaviors are the ones that need this positive reinforcement focused on them as it helps them learn intrinsic motivation.
Employ natural and logical consequences- Misbehavior cannot go unnoticed or ignored. There must be consequences. But they don’t have to be used to shame our kids. Instead, use consequences that directly relate to the misbehavior. For example, talking in class results in being moved to a more manageable spot. Or a student knocks over a tray of food carried by another student. He helps clean it up and perhaps offers to go back and get new food.
Kids do need reminders to stay on track. They do need consequences for negative behavior, and we should reward positive behavior. Share some of your ideas for helping our children learn how to behave in a classroom.