Classroom Behavior Management
Guidelines for Success
The Needs of the Teacher
Teaching is hard work, a fact made clear by the high percentage of teachers who leave for other professions after less than five years. The effective classroom manager takes advantage of school support resources and attends to his or own level of personal stress.
Consult, Don’t Sulk. What if you went to the doctor with a health concern, and she said to you, “I don’t really know how to treat your illness, but I’ll give it a try anyway?” Chances are, you’d find yourself another doctor fast! Our fellow professionals in medicine are different from educators in an important manner: They don’t feel bad about not knowing everything and eagerly seek the advice of others.
Yet there is something about the culture of schools that makes teachers uncomfortable about seeking assistance. Am I admitting ignorance? Will my supervisor think less of me?
To change this culture, leadership needs to come both from within and from the top. Principals must send the message that peer consultation is not just approved, but it is expected as a criterion of positive professional evaluation. This should especially apply to beginning teachers.
- Pass along the expertise. Arrange weekly “Round Table” discussions in which master teachers can field concerns from beginning teachers.
- Form a Behavior Consultation Team consisting of the school psychologist, behavior specialist, and others with expertise in problem-solving and classroom management to receive teacher referrals and provide evidence-based recommendations, progress monitoring, and follow-through. A useful guide to this process can be found in 25 Minutes to Better Behavior: A Teacher to Teacher Problem-Solving Process.
- Mandate professional consultation after the third office referral for disruptive classroom behavior. Something is not working, and it may be that the teacher needs additional support… and permission to seek it.
Be Good to You! Teaching is a high stress profession due in major part to the fact that teachers are given enormous responsibilities but too little in the way of decision-making power. This is especially true in large school districts where policy is frequently made at the top and delivered to the building level as a mandate. For many, each new school year seems to bring a new initiative, a new curriculum, a new program, a new something to learn and teach. Top-down policy making in the context of the needs of high risk students can create an exceedingly stressful working condition. Add to this the long work hours, student discipline problems, and the seemingly ever-present media reports on “how schools are failing our children” and one can easily understand why so many good teachers leave for other professions.
Most individuals choose a career in education because they want to be of service – they want to be part of the solution, and the overwhelming number of them work very hard at it. Whereas the occasional “Staff Appreciation Day” sponsored by appreciative administrators is valued, it is rarely enough as a complete stress management intervention. Teachers and their fellow educators need to take responsibility for their own emotional well-being on a regular basis.
- Stop admiring the problem. When educators get together, whether in the lounge or after work, there is a natural tendency to tell “war stories” and commiserate with one another. There is nothing unhealthy about that unless it begins to dominate all of the social interactions. Know when to cut it off and turn the talk in a solution-focused direction. If “shop talk” in your home means complaining about work, put a strict time limit on it. One educator we know made a deal with her fellow educator spouse: “Fifteen minutes of shop-talk, then that’s it for the evening. Period.”
- Plant your flag on the smaller mountains. An educator’s day-to-day professional life is defined mostly by minor victories and continuing challenges, not Grand Accomplishments. Pay attention to those little victories! What worked? Who improved? The typical day is full of little triumphs if one takes the time to appreciate them. Taking five minutes at the end of the day to jot down the successes can be a very healthy activity.
- Keep learning. Continuing education can be especially stress reducing if it is focused in an area of personal concern. Both professional and personal development can enrich skills and offer new and healthier outlooks. Learn a new language. Become computer literate. Learn to meditate. It is not only the outcome of learning but also the process that feeds and refreshes the mind.
- Stay fit. The “mind-body connection” is now established doctrine in the health sciences. Physical exercise is an excellent addition to any healthy stress management program, and it doesn’t take much. Find a buddy and walk at lunch. Organize a regular after or before school volleyball game. Park at the far end of the lot. Wear a pedometer and set goals. Climb the stairs just for the exercise.
- Listen to yourself. Be careful of the natural tendency of people in stressful situations to exaggerate reality to fit their temporary discomfort. Watch for overgeneralized, stress-inducing words like “always,” “never,” and “everyone.” For example, change “These kids never listen!” (which is certainly not true) to “The kids are not following directions well.” Work out an agreement with a friend to call each other on the use of these stress-words.
- Take care of one another. Get in the habit of recognizing the skills and successes of your fellow educators in the building. Peer approval can be very reinforcing, and a single, little comment can make someone’s day. “I heard the field trip was a smashing success! Congratulations!” “That is a great bulletin board!” “I love the way your kids listen to you so well in the hallway.” “I glanced in your room, and they were just glued to your presentation!” The simple task of offering praise can feel just as good as receiving it.
- Reward yourself. Made it through another week? Another semester? Do something nice for yourself that is only for the pleasure of it. Visit a day spa. Get a massage. Go to a ball game. Buy a new pair of shoes. All the while, say to yourself: “This is because I work hard, and I deserve it.” (Important: In order for this technique to be effective, one must first work hard and deserve it!)