Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

A thin line between soft or being firm in the classroom

A thin line between soft or being firm in the classroom

Related Tags: Classroom Management
More Related Discussions
39 Replies 4767 Views
Being a first year teacher, I face a challenge with my classroom management and might be able to get advice on here. I came into my current classroom at the end of September. School started in August, so therefore the student's were use to the other teacher’s rules. My question is when do I draw the line between coming off as too soft or too firm? I am having a hard time balancing the both. If I am too soft than my student's will run all over me. If I am too firm then I am coming across as mean. I am hoping I can find the balance soon as this is a current challenge in my classroom right now. If there are any insights or strategies that I can incorporate, I would greatly appreciate feedback. Thank you for taking the time to read my post.

Comments (39 Replies)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

MaryBeth Matthews's picture

I remember struggling with this question when I was a new teacher some 29 years ago. What those years of experience taught me was this: When my lessons were really good, I didn't have to worry about discipline at all.
In case you assume I must be teaching in some suburban paradise full of the exceptional children of model parents, let me assure you that is not the case. In fact it is quite the contrary. I teach in an inner-city high school in one of the toughest school districts in America. I sign parole papers on a regular basis. More than 60% of the students in our district drop out of school, and 40% of my students have IEP's.
There is no real trick to classroom management. It's simple, just concentrate on engaging lessons.
True, it's impossible to be fabulous every single day. Even now I will have difficulty keeping students on task if the lesson I have to teach is boring or the project becomes tedious. But, what will balance a less than stellar lesson (as far as classroom management is concerned) are the relationships you have built with your students. It is important for them to know you like them, take a genuine interest. Make the time to get to know them individually. Smile at your students and laugh at yourself. Laugh often. Be kind.
It is also important for your students to respect you, and for you to respect them.
Never purposely embarrass a student. Apologize when you are wrong. Always act professionally. Never yell.
Remember, YOU are the grown-up, YOU are the professional. Yelling and getting angry will never help you gain control of your students. It might startle them for a moment, but ultimately you loose their respect, and they will make fun of you. If you are lucky, they will make fun of you behind your back. If they make fun of you to your face, you may want to rethink your career choice.
If a student does do something that requires reprimand, always do it privately. Let them know you are on their side, even when they screw up. You are there to help them.
I also have consistent class procedures, simple rules, and a class syllabus. These help immensely, because the students always know what to expect. When the class sees that I'm organized, they know they can't get away with any nonsense.
In my experience, good planning, great lessons, and attention to relationships have proven to be the key components to successful teaching and classroom management. Best of luck to you as you begin your career!

Lisa's picture

Behavior is a form a communication and when kids are acting out in a classroom you need to think about the message being shared. Many of the previous comments touch on ways to deal with challenging behavior but you need to figure out what the behavior is telling you so that you can apply the most effective strategy. Your lessons might not be as engaging as you think they are, or your content delivery pace might be off but more likely you may not have enough of a groove yet for the classroom to feel safe and predictable for the kids. Use the feedback (in the form of behavior) to make adjustment. If you care enough to ask this question you're going to be a great teacher.

You have to have some form of positive attachment for learning to occur and for that you have to get to know them. In that process, if you are permissive or too authoritarian you will have plenty of behavioral problems and limited learning. You want to shoot for authoritative which means a good connection with each student and clear/positive expectations. The link between action and consequences needs to be thought through too. When the consequence demonstrate you care rather than want control more will be gained. For example, a middle school student is talking in class, you might first ask that everyone focus for 10 minutes and then there will be a short break. When you take that break speak with the student privately and ask if everything is okay. When the answer is "fine," simply say glad to hear it but we have a lot to cover and when you speak in class that can be very disruptive. You addressed a disruptive behavior, haven't embarrassed anyone and you have gotten your point across.

A classroom where the management strategy includes threats, embarrassment or harsh discipline you are likely to see learning sacrificed for control.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger 2014

So many good ideas!

I always know I've arranged a great learning experience when there is a hum of inquiry. I see students leaning forward, eyes shining, defending their viewponts and I know they have got hold of something that is meaningful to them, something that matters. We rarely have conflicts during those times.

I also treat "misbehavior" by expressing my concern about a student's well-being, thus communicating my expectation that he would normally do the right thing. I always follow-up my observation about a student's behavior with a query concerning the student's future plans with regard to that behavior. They almost always tell me they intend to make choices which fall within our (very clearly stated) behavioral expectations. If they don't follow through, I ask them for their next idea about how to make it work. This strategy can be used over and over until students find a plan that works and falls within behavioral expectations.

My school has managed to whittle our school rules down to three:

1. Take care of the people (starting with yourself)
2. Take care of the environment
3. Make it work

Most missteps children make can be addressed easily by asking: "Are you taking care of people? Are you ready to take care of them? What is your plan?"

This allows students to think for themselves and invest in a plan. We try not to remove a child from interacting with others or engaging in lessons unless we feel they are being unsafe or unusually disruptive to others, but sometimes we do ask kids to "Sit down and get some calm" before they rejoin the group.

Mary Kate <---Adding to her reading list

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

Don't worry if you tee them off sometimes. You aren't there to be their friend. Don't be afraid to stand your ground and say no to them. Most importantly, know your stuff and be an entertainer. Teaching is a form of performance art. If you can make them laugh sometimes it smoothes over a lot of issues and lets them know you can be a court jester at times as well as be a bad cop when warranted. I teach adjudicated youth with emotional disturbances. They can in one minute hate my guts and be eating out my hand the next. Never show weakness!

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

Based on scientific research-- Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Adopt their principles and you'll always know what to do.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger 2014

I must take issue with the idea that responding to challenging behaviors on the part of our students is "not that tough."

Behaviorist strategies such as ABA treat students as if their behavior is just the collection of stimulus response learning acquired over their life span. Students whose behavior exceeds acceptable limits are making a statement. It is always some form of: "I haven't yet learned how to..." When we respond by trying to modify their message (the behavior) we communicate to them that their need for learning is unimportant and they oughtn't to communicate through misbehavior. We have chosen this path because we have internalized a notion that to respond to "misbehavior" with anything other than punishment will encourage the "misbehavior."

Though behaviorist strategies are based on research, the work that underlies them is now quite outdated. The behaviorists operated from the assumption that humans are virtually identical at birth and their futures are largely determined by experience. We know this assumption to be patently false. Even identical twins are not identical at birth, having had differntial sustenance and position in utero.

Having one set of responses for student behavior denies the rich diversity our students bring to the classroom situation. Behaviorist techniques can be helpful for some students in some situations, and understanding how reinforcement and punishment works is helpful in choosing how we respond to student behavior. But bypassing a student's intellect ignores the most compelling research evidence we are currently collecting. Students learn when they care. Students learn how to behave when they care about the classroom and their fellow students.

Behaviorism doesn't care if the subject cares, or thinks, or learns. The only thing that matters is behavior. If we focus on this as a control technique we can create a thin veil of civility, but people are only really behaving because they want to avoid the consequence of going another way. I want my students to make good behavior choices because they care about our classroom, being part of the community, and being able to get along with their classmates, not because they will get "in trouble" if they don't.

Mary Kate

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

I understand that as a Montessori educator you are compelled to reject ABA practice in favor of your own approach, but let me tell you, ABA works and works well with children with disabilities. I should also mention that some of your statements are based on a complete misunderstanding of the method, especially this one:

"Behaviorism doesn't care if the subject cares, or thinks, or learns. "

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger 2014

The focus is behavior, it is independent of the subject's intellectual life. As long as the behavior changes, learning is said to have occured. If you read carefully you will note that I acknowledge the usefulness of this approach in some situations. What I cannot endorse is the use of behaviorist techniques for every situation.

I'm in a full immersion classroom, and some of my students seem to do very well with a positive reward structure, but others don't respond to this approach at all. Instead of setting up an exterior structure to mold behavior, we prefer to engage the child in creating a new approach to the problem situation. Engaging children in active problem solving creates buy-in. Students are highly motivated to make a solution work if it was their idea and their decision.

The better we know our students as individuals, the greater our capacity to respond in helpful ways when students display extreme behavior. Having more than one tool in the tool kit makes sense to me.

Mary Kate

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger 2014

Congratulations, MaryBeth!

It's hard to take a risk and try something different. I share your enthusiasm for the transition away from outside, authoritarian control, to encouraging student self-control. It's scary to admit that we can't control our students (especially as they get older and larger), but the truth is we each control just one person, ourselves.

Motivation has been a huge focus for our staff this year as we are hearing more and more about management strategies derived from industrial design seeping into classroom management. These are the areas we have addressed in an effort to support student engagement:

Giving students a lot of choices. My kids really appreciate having a variety of ways to respond to a topic. Another positive in having flexible follow-up tasks is that some students may use more than one if they have difficulty with that particular topic.

Allowing students to control how and where they work. We have incorporated backjacks into our classroom this year. These are floor level chairs that give the sitter a surface to support the back while sitting on the floor. I have a few students who do most of their assignments while sitting on the floor. The desk is still homebase, but each task is taken to the floor for completion.

Peer power. I've been focusing on identifying as many areas as possible that will support tandem work. I have found that the enthusiasm for that work has increased immeasureably and it is often completed more efficiently than it was when it used to be an individual task. I do have to monitor conversation so that I can redirect if things get too far off topic, but I find that often the conversation students are having is focused on the work and why or why not to do things in a certain way.

Personalize lessons for each group. Story lessons are a common technique in Montessori circles and I try to use characters named after my students in my stories. I make references to things that they have expressed interest in (favorite singers, TV programs, etc.). In the stories, I embue characters with traits that students are developing. I try to play with status relationships within the group, and highlight qualities that students may not appreciate in one another. Kids really care about those stories and anticipate the appearance and development of each character.

It seems to me that what we're really after is getting students into a flow state. That sort of engagement feeds off of itself and the student's singular focus crowds out competing behaviors which don't relate. We're lucky to have longer work periods and individualized learning tasks in order to facilitate "flow" learning. It must be really tough to do when you have fifty minute periods and bell control.

Mary Kate

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

[quote]

Engaging children in active problem solving creates buy-in.

[/quote]

That's exactly how PBS works. Also, the STEI model of curriculum planning, implementation, and assessment, includes a significant level of student involvement and taking ownership of personal responsibility in the learning process. I'll add UDL (Universal Design for Learning) to that list as well.

[quote]

The better we know our students as individuals, the greater our capacity to respond in helpful ways when students display extreme behavior. Having more than one tool in the tool kit makes sense to me.

[/quote]

Knowing your students in detail should be a basic expectation of any classroom teacher, regardless of what classroom management strategies are employed. I am fortunate to have IEPs and Behavioral Care plans (worked up by licensed mental health therapists) to assist me in gathering that knowledge.

Sign in and Join the Discussion! Not a member? Register to join the discussion.