Ahh, “behavior management.”
Research shows that “behavior management” is one of the top challenges for teachers, one of the factors attributed to teacher attrition, and a top priority for school administrators. But what does it mean, to manage behaviors?
It is a teacher’s job to gain the cooperation of his/her learners. Think about those words . . . gain the cooperation of . . . What are our expectations of a well-managed classroom? Cooperative learners? Engaged learners? Compliant children?
Many of the systems we find in classrooms (i.e., clip charts, color charts, marble jars) are contingent upon compliance. But compliance with what? We often inundate children with vague classroom rules (what does it really mean to “be respectful”?) without clear operationalized expectations for, say, getting clipped up or clipped down. What is the tangible real difference in behavior between “good job” and “great job” on a clip chart? Ask any kid. They’ll tell you it’s the teacher’s call, and it usually depends on the teacher’s mood.
And that’s moving UP on the chart. Let’s talk about moving down.
Commonly, moving down on the system relies on punishment – lose five minutes recess, “think time,” or call parent. Consequences are good, you say? But, how do these things TEACH the behavior we want to see in children? A child is not sitting still in class, so taking away the one time of day that they can move freely (recess) will teach him/her to sit still? And if we are clipping kids down and enforcing these consequences consistently, then are we actually managing behavior? Because the consequences aren’t changing the child’s behavior and now we’re in a punishment cycle where we feel compelled to make the consequences stiffer rather than to consider the entire system is failing. Let’s reconsider the system together.
These systems operate on some assumptions.
What if we dismissed all of these false assumptions and envisioned a classroom community built on trust and acceptance of individual children’s needs? What would that even look like? Let’s start by establishing new assumptions.
So if we assume all kids are doing the best they can and that they need our help to realize their full potential, how would that change our approach to building classroom community? What if we flip from managing behavior to creating community and developing strategies for meeting individual students where they are?
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