Sometimes, behavior gets out of hand. A lot of the time, earlier interventions were possible and the behavior could have been de-escalated before it reached a point where formal consequences were absolutely necessary for the students involved.
The following interventions are steps I learned and adapted from the Love and Logic methods of classroom management. If you haven’t read their book, I’d highly recommend it as a guide to how to have better dialogue with students and avoid power struggles while administering discipline. Try these first, and you may be able to head off the need for a strict disciplinarian response at all.
First Steps to Take with a Badly Behaved Student
Unfortunately, managing a classroom is not going to be possible from a seated position. When a student begins to cross boundaries, the first thing you must do is move towards them. Don’t necessarily look at the student yet. Simply enter their space so that they become aware of your presence. Do not stop teaching.
- “The Look”
If you’re a teacher and you haven’t yet mastered “The Look,” then you’re going to have to work on that one in the mirror tonight. If proximity doesn’t solve the problem, give the look with a possible side of head shake. This should be your first eye contact with the offending student. Continue teaching.
After you’ve moved in and given the look, if the behavior continues, lean down and whisper a quick comment. Don’t stop teaching. Ask the student, “What are the expectations for you during note taking?” or “Meet me after class so we can talk about what’s bothering you.” This should be as discreet as possible.
- Change Locations
Perhaps it’s time to move the student to a new area. The change of space is a powerful psychological force. New surroundings and things to look at, even just on the opposite side of the room can interrupt major emotional episodes. Ask the student to please move their seat. “Will you do it for me?”
- Speak in “I Messages”
Instead of “You’re being too loud.” say “I teach best when it’s quiet.” Keep the focus on yourself and your needs, not on the student and their disruptions.
- Restate Expectations
“I listen to students who raise their hands.” Remind the student and the rest of the class what you do approve of and appreciate. Do not highlight examples of ways to frustrate the teacher by announcing them to the class. “Mahmoud, stop blurting out!” or “Noura can you please quit tapping your pencil!” only bring more attention to the student who is not in line with expectations.
- Give a Choice
“Is it better for you to work here with your group or alone where you can concentrate?” Give students options in which both choices work for you. When they’ve chosen, feel free to further pile on the responsibility by asking, “How will I know that was the best choice?” The student should offer up reasonable criteria at this time. Things like “My work will be complete” or “I’ll be quiet” are great outcomes for the student to mention. Now you’re no longer telling him how to be, he is choosing for himself.
- Remove the Student
In the worst case scenario, try to completely remove the student from the situation before a major behavior has a chance to happen. Send them on an errand for you. Some of our students have a very hard time controlling their emotions, and a quick time out can really help. This is not a consequence yet. This is simply a favor you are doing the student so that they have a moment to breathe and think.
When Consequences are Necessary
If you’ve been completely clear about your expectations, tried a few interventions, and a student chooses to not act in accordance, it’s time for a consequence. It’s important to remember that this is not a punishment. It’s a reminder to students that they have the ability to choose, and that their choices lead to logical consequences. This process can be very stressful for the teacher because, as we all know from our own developmental days, consequences can be painful. The child may react very emotionally when they begin to experience the outcomes of their behavior.
As teachers, we have two main goals when a behavior has continued despite all our intervention strategies:
- Remain calm. The emotional reaction of the child will be magnified if you are also having an emotional reaction. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone experiences the effects of their actions. This is nothing to be shocked or angry about. Your face and entire demeanor should communicate this fact.
- “Keep” the rest of the class. The entire class may be stirred up by the actions of the child. As quickly and as gracefully as possible, restore calm in the classroom. You will want to send the message that this is but a minor inconvenience, and the rest of the period will be going as planned. A teacher is generally said to have “lost” the class when one misbehavior leads to another. Soon chaos takes over and the class is circling the drain. Sometimes this continues for the rest of the school year.
Tips for Providing Consequences
In the heat of the moment, providing a consequence to a child who is misbehaving can be stressful. A flutter of panic rises up in my throat and a tiny voice asks, “What if they refuse?” Fortunately, we can build a toolbox of skills that will help us deliver a meaningful consequence with minimal disruption to the learning environment. The following tips will help you accomplish the two primary objectives listed above.
- Remain calm.
The consequence is designed to inconvenience the student, not you. Do not give the impression that the student’s behavior has affected you emotionally.
- Don’t make threats.
There is really no need to inform a student of what you plan to do if their behavior continues. Don’t give drawn out warnings or make promises about what’s going to happen. Your actions will speak much more loudly than any words after you’ve followed through on discipline with the first unfortunate soul who decides to test you.
- Inform the student privately.
Do not involve the whole class in the consequence by announcing it to the entire group. Ask the student to meet you after class, or speak to them in a whisper while others are not looking. Do not turn the consequence into a power struggle where the student feels the need to “save face” in front of their peers.
- Give yourself time.
There’s no need to rush a decision during an emotional moment. Simply tell the student that you’ll need to take a little while to think of an appropriate consequence. Say, “Your behavior in class today is going to result in a consequence. I’ll get back to you tomorrow when I’ve decided what that consequence will be.” There’s nothing wrong with waiting a day.
- Get feedback from the student
Dignify the student by getting their input about what an appropriate consequence might be. This is not a chance for the student to argue. You were clear about your expectation and the child chose not to follow them. Now they will experience the outcome of that decision. Maybe the student would like to offer a fair consequence involving apologizing to those affected or cleaning up any messes made. Give them a chance to display this maturity.
- Empower students to solve their own problems.
You do not need to step in and “save” the student from the pain of their mistake. The situation created by the student’s behavior must be the students problem only. Remind the student that they are not being punished. Rather, they experiencing the reality of their own choices. Allow students to experience the power of choice. Do not clean up their mess. Resist the urge to save them or to brush the situation under a rug.
In order to protect yourself, document all behavior incidents in your classroom. To save time and further inconvenience the offending student, feel free to have them do a write up of the incident. This can be shared with parents or administration, but it doesn’t have to. Definitely keep these documents for yourself, though.
- Do not punish the class as a whole.
It’s a generally accepted rule of classroom management that whole group punishments do not work. To the best of your ability, single out the problem and deal with it one on one. This will build the trust of the students who do behave.
The Hardest Hitting Consequence
Perhaps it was once different, but today schools have lost the authority to truly create a powerful consequence for students. You may very likely be dealing with students who have legal documentation that limits the number of suspensions they can be given. Students may get passed on to the next grade regardless of how many assignments they neglected. This can be frustrating.
To truly make an impact on a student with bad behavior, one cannot rely only on the proper channels outlined by the school and district. Yes, I’m suggesting that we go rogue. It’s not going to be easy, but it will be worth it. Hear me out.
The best consequences are the ones that take away something the student really wants. But what can we take? We don’t have any way to hold them back or repossess their iPhone. Regardless, these things are surface level. Just things. What the student wants more than anything is acceptance. This will be your bargaining chip.
No matter how tough that kid is acting when they buck up against you, underneath they are a small, broken child. They want the adults in their lives to be proud of them, especially adults they admire. No amount of time outs or seat changes or lost privileges will ever sting like even a flash of disappointment across the face of your hero and mentor.
By following the rest of the tips I’ve written, we can gradually build up to becoming the type of teacher that a kid strives to impress. When the child is furiously proclaiming how unfair the school rules are, one sentence can change their perspective completely: “Will you do it for me?”
It’s not our mission to force students to do things that they don’t feel comfortable with. In fact, we can’t force them to do anything at all. Our goal is to become someone that the student wants to make exceptions for. Someone they trust and are willing to follow, just ’cause. Someone who they’ve never seen argue with a student before, so they know you’re not going to argue with them. Someone they’ve seen give logical consequences to other students before, so they know they’re going to get a logical consequence too.
Consequences are a natural part of life. We can learn how to incorporate them into our classroom. We will be firm and fair, and through in consistency our students will feel safe.
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