Does any of this sound familiar?
Full disclosure -- I have done almost all of the things in my teaching career. That's the one of the wonderful things about teaching -- we keep growing, and learning, and get the chance to admit that a strategy isn't good for kids and then find ways to change it. So l'll explain why I am kicking whole class discipline to the curb. I hope that I can convince you to do the same -- or at least give you something to think about.
The Case Against Whole Class Discipline Strategies
The Kid Who Always Plays by the Rules
In every class, there is a kid or a handful of kids always doing the right thing. Always. They are polite, kind, and good listeners. Following classroom expectations is easy for them, almost effortless. I actually am pretty confident that I was one of those kids. And if an entire class got in trouble when I was literally doing every single thing I was supposed to do -- it seemed so very unfair. Think about it -- we don't give a speeding ticket to everyone driving down the highway because three people are speeding. We shouldn't give consequences to kids who aren't in the wrong. Furthermore it undermines classroom cohesion and unity. Kids who play by the rules, really start to not like the kids who don't because they are being for lack of a better word (punished) for their actions. That's not a recipe for friendship, unity or a positive classroom climate.
I keep hearing about recess being taken away at a the elementary level (in schools across districts). Why? Some kids are not following procedures (talking out, lacking focus) so the teacher holds recess out as a carrot or as a stick for the entire class. Do what you are supposed to do, when you are supposed to do it and we'll have recess on time (if you can't I'll take minutes off of recess). I get it. It's something they want. But more importantly, it's something they need. The kids who are having trouble focusing and acting appropriately need to run, jump and play (that's probably why they are having trouble in the first place) so give them what they need and get them outside (and fast).
Withholding Learning Activities is Never the Right Answer
It goes something like this -- Teacher: "I wanted to do this activity with you, but now we can't because not everyone can handle it." or "We were going to do this awesome activity, but now we aren't because of x, y, and z." This isn't fair and it doesn't make a lot of sense. We would never say, you can't behave so we aren't going to teach you how to read or write. If a learning activity is valuable, kids should have access to it -- regardless of their behavior. In fact, this might be the very type of activity that a child needs to become engaged. If you withhold the "fun" learning activities, you are signaling to kids that learning isn't what matters most. That's not a message I am willing to send kids.
Whole Group Rewards- Just. No.
As teachers we are having trouble controlling certain individuals so we look to the class to bring that kid into line. For example, if you get quiet and focus, you will get a jewel in a jar. The whole class has to cooperate and be on task to get the jewel. Another way I've seen this done is time on the board. A teacher uses a timer or tally marks to keep track of how long it takes kids to get quiet. They even have different classes compete against one another by displaying information on the board. I've done it. I have. And the more I think about it, it just doesn't make sense. I can't control the class with my expectations and redirection so somehow I expect peer pressure to solve the problem for me. I expect kids to be able to accomplish what I can't accomplish as a qualified adult with years of experience. It's my job to make sure kids are on task, not the job of kids playing by the rules. They can model good behavior for their peers, but they can't sprinkle magic fairy dust on them and make they behave or mature or overcome a personal challenge. If one kid can't meet the expectations, then the entire class loses, time and time again. This creates a perception that they aren't "good" or "smart" or "hard-working" compared to other classes.
So what should you do instead? Differentiate your Discipline.
I have not, by any means, cracked the behavior code. Every year brings new students, which means new challenges and new opportunities for me to learn new strategies. Here are a few that I employ in my classroom. They aren't anything new or novel. They don't represent a giant behavior plan -- but they work. My classroom is a place where learning happens, and where kids are generally happy and positive. Trust me, I have challenges. No day is perfect and no teacher is perfect. But these simple ideas, help me create a learning and teaching environment of which I am proud.
Address Behavior by Addressing the individual
If a student is not doing what they are supposed to do, I talk to them individually. I explain what they are doing that is causing me to talk with them and most importantly I explain WHY. I also try to end on a positive note. This strategy is in keeping with growth mindset. We want students to behave in certain ways so that they can learn and their classmates can learn. If they aren't demonstrating that behavior, we want to explain what the behavior is that we are looking for and help them work toward it. The message: they can grow and we are here to help them.
Me: I don't mind that you want to talk to your friend but what happens when you are talking your friend when I am giving the class instructions? What is everyone doing?
Student: Looking at Me.
Me: That's right. This means you aren't learning and that other kids aren't learning. It's my job to make sure we have an environment where everyone can learn. So when we are doing something as a class, I need you to focus. and use self-control so you aren't distracting yourself or your peers. I know you can do it.
If the behavior is repeated, I assign an immediate consequence and also include a reflection activity. I also reach out to parents to make sure that they are in the loop (in a previous post, I offer tips for writing parent e-mails). I also try to recognize the same student when they successfully demonstrate the behavior for which I am looking. Additionally, I don't engage in any public record keeping (tally marks on the board for individual kids or behavior charts posted in the room) which could result in shame for the individual or negative feelings about the classroom setting. Lastly, always, always greet the student positively the next day so they know that you are turning the page and it's a fresh start.
Acknowledge all the Good
If I am asking the class to do something: follow directions, engage in discussion, quietly listen, I acknowledge, even in difficult moments that I see kids doing the right thing.
"I am not going to talk over you. I will wait for you to get quiet so that we can move forward with our activity. I see so many of you doing what you are supposed to do and I really, really appreciate that. I see you and I thank you!"
I also call out students by name. "I like the way Jose has his work out. I like the way Jane is ready to go. Bobby is ready to go. Kamil is ready." Some people think this is babyish but I teach middle school and it works. People naturally like to be recognized for doing the right thing. Teens are no different.
Private conference with kids who are getting it right
As teachers, I often talk privately with kids who are struggling with impulse control and behavior. On the other hand, I try to pull kids aside to tell them they are doing awesome. Whether I give them a card, a friendly thank you (while noticing a specific behavior) or an email home, I am building them up and probably ensuring that they continue to be role models for their peers.
Find out what makes them tick
Every kid is different. For some kids, rewards work. For some kids, immediate consequences work. For some kids, it's about building a relationship with them. For others, its offering choices so that they feel in control rather than you. For some kids, the key might be an adult outside of your room who for whatever reasons can more readily connect (if so, it's your job to find that person -- a counselor, mentor, administrator). Once you know which kids are likely to have behavior troubles, you have to create an individual action plan for each of them. You have to act like a detective and use different tools in your tool box before you can figure out which one works best for that particular child. Just as we work to determine a child's reading level, math ability, we have to assess their social skills and ability to work in a classroom environment and then act accordingly. In other words, just as we differentiate our instruction, we have to differentiate our behavior management. If you take on a one-size fits all approach, you do a disservice to your students and ultimately yourself.
Whole Class Approach Be Gone
I don't have all the answers. Does anyone? I just know that a whole group approach isn't right for kids. What classroom management strategies do you employ? Do they work?
We'd love to hear from you.
A P.S. for Parents
We have a lot of parents who read our blog (Yay!). But, I really have to tell parents that unless you have led a classroom full of students students in instruction for a year, that you really can't imagine how hard it is. Think of personal discipline challenges you face with your own children (multiply it by 30) and then mix in emotions, and learning. I would say, that if you hear a teacher is engaging in a strategy that you don't think is best for kids, assume best intentions (if they are using a strategy it's because they value the learning environment and want kids on task learning). Open a dialogue about the strategy but don't be too quick to judge.
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