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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Teacher Tuesday: behavior management

I've written a lot about behavior management on this blog, and get a lot of questions on social media about the topic, so I am rounding up some of my thoughts into one place today. Behavior management is a HUGE topic with a lot of factors to consider. I hope these ideas give you a helpful starting point if you are looking to make some changes in your own classroom.


Let me start by saying that "behavior management" is not my favorite way to describe the topic I am discussing. It is, I think, the most commonly recognized, and also fairly succinct, so I am using it here, but really what we are talking about is not "managing" the behaviors of our students but rather encouraging the development of our students' character. Right? If all the teacher cares about is handling whatever behaviors the students choose to exhibit in their classroom with the least amount of disruption to their instruction, they are never going to have a very happy or productive class. So, while I am using the term "behavior management", please understand that what I really mean is

RELATIONSHIPS.

The foundation of "behavior management" is really relationships. No classroom is run on systems alone. The systems provide structure, but it is the relationships fostered amongst students, between students and teacher, and beyond the classroom walls that truly foster healthy emotional, moral, social characteristics that then lead to appropriate, supportive, productive behaviors.


It's important to understand that before we start talking about any sort of system. In many cases, that relational foundation (and effective and engaging teaching) is all you need to encourage appropriate behavior and foster the development of students' character in the classroom. When I worked in a very high SES school who highly valued music (and all of education), that was pretty much what my classroom ran on. I had high expectations for my students but I also loved them dearly and cared about them as human beings, and I fostered the same relational attitude in my students. End of story.

Now, however, I work in a much different environment: a title 1, urban-ish, low SES school with a low sense of value for music class (from staff and parents, trickling down to students). I do not want to make any generalizations here about the particular characteristics of each school and how that affects the students' attitude towards music class and their behaviors in class, but in my case those are some of the contributing factors to the change in my systems. In my current school, relationships are still 90% of my "behavior management". However, my students also need concrete structures, routines, and procedures to demonstrate and remind them of what appropriate behaviors are. There is a whole lot more I could say on the why's and the how's here, but let's leave it at that for now. 

With all of that said, here are some of my thoughts on how I think about the way I speak to my students to better develop my relationships with my students and develop foster positive character. Click on the picture to go read each post.

The Phrase I Want to Stop Using in My Classroom ("worry about yourself")

Talking to Children to Encourage Self Identity

Whew! OK. So now let's talk concrete systems. 

The most important element of my concrete procedures that I have implemented in my classroom to reinforce and demonstrate appropriate behaviors (the key in my student population being the appropriate expression of emotion) is the 3-prong individualized behavior reinforcement strategy. One component is the "rest area", which I present to my students as an opportunity for the students to reflect on their behavior and make positive changes on their own. The second is positive reinforcement through the "happy note", which I rotate through all students equally (as opposed to choosing "the best student" each time). The third is the "behavior slip", which is a note I send home when I need reinforcement of a particular, recurring difficult behavior outside of my classroom. Read more about each one here:


The second most important element is the routines I have established, particularly for transitions. Routines are so important for young children, especially for those who don't experience a lot of structure outside of school. Predictability gives all of us a sense of control and comfort. Read the two posts below for more on my class routines for transitions:



One of the more difficult aspects of behavior (and relationships) for my students to master has been working in a group setting. So much of their learning in school is independent- they are handed an assignment, which they might do well on or not, but it doesn't affect the performance of the other students on their own assignment. In music this is often not the case- the success of one student depends on the success of the group as a whole. This is quite frustrating for most of my students! A big part of developing the social skills, beyond the fundamental relational component I already addressed (obviously HUGE for this), is practice. And concrete demonstrations of the importance of teamwork. I've created a "team system" in my classroom, which has since been expanded to the whole school. The particular way in which I use the teams in my classroom is a very intentional evolution over time as students develop their social skills and character, but the basic system has been highly effective in giving students a concrete demonstration of the importance of teamwork. Read more about the team system in the posts below:


Color Teams in a PBIS System


The final element of my concrete systems and structures are the "rules" I use to establish the fundamental expectations for how everyone will relate to each other in my class, and the ways I reinforce those expectations for the whole group. These are probably the least important elements of the systems I have in place to concretely demonstrate the character traits I want to foster in my students, but they do provide more of the structure, routine, and rhythm to the class that provides students with a sense of control and predictability. Read more about those below:

My Three Classroom "Rules"

"Letter System" to Reinforce the "Rules"


Looking for more thoughts and ideas on the topic? You can catch up on all of my posts on the subject of "behavior management" here. Have some thoughts, ideas, or questions to share? PLEASE leave a comment! I love hearing from you!

7 comments :

  1. I just stumbled across your blog today and wow! What a goldmine! I am moving to a brand-new school and classroom in my district next year so I'm looking to explore some new management and incentive techniques with all my classes. I love the houses idea that you've mentioned in a few of your posts... Do you award any sort of incentives in your classroom for color groups (like how the whole class uses the letter incentive system) or is it more just organizational? Or, is that something only handled on a school wide level?

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    1. So, the house thing has been an intentional evolution over time with the end goal of removing as much extrinsic motivation as possible for positive behaviors. When I first started the color groups in my room, whichever team had the most points at the end of each month got to use one of the pillows from my reading corner at their seat the following music class. Once we went school-wide I stopped giving any specific incentive in my room beyond giving them points towards the school-wide tally. Now this school year we have been working towards phasing out the extrinsic motivators (i.e. points), so while the principal used to give popsicles to the winning team each month, we no longer give any prize for the most points even though we are still passing them out and tallying them each week. The students haven't made a peep but are continuing the positive behaviors we were trying to reinforce in the first place! The current plan is to get rid of the point system completely at the end of this school year but keep the "houses" for friendly competition at assemblies etc and for team-building events. I hope this answers your questions- please let me know if I can help with anything else! Thank you for the lovely comment. I'm so happy you are enjoying reading.

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    2. Incredibly helpful! I love hearing about how successful this has been in your classroom and school. Thanks for the quick answer!

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  2. Yes! Such great, thoughtful information about classroom management. It is always about relationships. When my students act up, I no longer to react, but rather to ask "what do you need from me right now?" That simple question disarms them and helps them to understand that I'm there to help them in that moment.

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    1. I'll never forget the time this year when one of my 1st graders kicked two other students out of anger/frustration. The two of them responded by calmly suggesting that he sit down for a minute, and then approaching him and asking him in a very concerned way why he had kicked them. The way we respond to "acting out" can make such a huge difference (and I often need to be reminded of that)!

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  3. I've always loved reading your behavior management posts. It is precisely those relationships that will cause your students to remember you fondly years later, or even come back for a visit :) Thanks for sharing! #fermatafridays

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    1. Thank you! I've enjoyed your thoughts on behavior management as well- your use of humor in the classroom is similar to mine. You gotta have fun!

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