George Lucas Educational Foundation
Classroom Management

Good Teacher…Bad Behavior!

April 20, 2016 Updated April 12, 2016

Throughout my many years supporting students and instructional staff in education, I've witnessed many teachers effectively employing a variety of classroom management skills...despite receiving little to absolutely no training during their teacher preparation programs.  This is amazing.  It is a testament to the grit possessed by so many determined teachers. This tells me that many teachers are either employing strategies taught by their school or district, or they are actively researching and applying what they have  learned independently.  This is smart.  When there are behavior problems in the class, doing the same thing and  "wishing" behaviors will just go away is certain to cause teacher burnout.  

Some teachers are trying a strategy that, while around for years, in many cases actually tends to cause more misbehavior from the very students who are already making teachers want to pull their hair out!!! Public posting (e.g. writing a student's name on the board) of misbehavior is a sure fire way to set students off.  Especially your frequent flyer students.  You know, these are the students who never miss school, and it feels like a week vacation on the rare occasion they are absent.  I've been there, and it's exhausting.  Here's the thing. Research has demonstrated that students prefer to be corrected privately.  But I don't need research to tell me this.  Think about it...who wants to be "called out" in front of their peers?  Can you imagine sitting in a staff meeting somewhere and the leader writing your name on the board or yelling across the table for you to pay attention?  What might your reaction be?  Would it create an environment where you'd want to be?  Does this approach bring out the best in you?  Likely not.  You'd want to leave.  If this were the culture of your work environment, you would eventually seek greener pastures if the reinforcement available did not compensate for the negativity.  Unfortunately for students, they do not have this option.  They are stuck.  They must experience this day after day with little to no possibility of movement for an entire school year.  They are not happy, and you would not be happy either.  

If you are using this strategy, I would highly recommend (for your own sanity!) you use a misbehavior recording sheet to  more discreetly record instances of misbehavior.  This can simply be a piece of paper with student's names on it that you can use to keep a tally of misbehavior (by the way, you should use this paper for tallying exceptional behavior as well!).  This is not a judgement on you.  Most teachers work waaaaaay too hard.  I just want your job to be easier.  If students are to achieve, teachers must feel fulfilled in their jobs.  Using strategies that make your job more difficult is counterproductive to your fulfillment and to student achievement.  Public  posting is an old school strategy that can actually work in safe and caring classrooms with relatively few behaviors and highly motivated students. If it is working for you and you have few behavior problems, then you probably shouldn't change it.  A good guide to measure the effectiveness of your public posting is by observing what immediately occurs after you publicly call out a student or mark a student's name for misbehavior. Does it improve the student's behavior, or does the student continue the misbehavior or even take it to the next level?

For those of you who are using a strategy that entails progressively moving a clip down from green, to yellow, etc., you may want to consider creating more colors and starting your students in the middle, then allowing them to move up for exceptional behavior.  When students start at the top and can only move down, it quickly takes away motivation and tends to create more misbehavior.  Also, if they do move down, I'd allow them to move back up for improvements.  Leaving their clip down is kind of like perpetually leaving them in the "dog house."   

While punishment has become a "naughty" word in education, it is in fact, not!  A true punisher is simply something that decreases the future occurrence of a behavior.  If this is a "bad" behavior, then punishment is a good thing! And if this is wrong, then I don't want to be right.  The problem isn't really about applying a punishment for misbehavior.  The problem usually involves how the punishment is given, and how frequently it is delivered relative to the amount of positive reinforcement delivered.  If you are following a 4:1 ratio of positive reinforcement to punishment, you are probably in good shape.  Just beware of how you are delivering that "1."  If you deliver punishment in a way that is "mean" or coercive, the ripple effects can be devastating to the make up of your classroom.  They say "one lie can undo a thousand truths."  I think this can be applied to the poor application of punishment as one highly coercive interaction can undo a thousand positive ones.  Be careful of the tone, volume, and cadence of your voice (check out my featured article "The Art of Tung Fu"), and be sure to deliver your punishment privately whenever possible.  For more tips on managing behavior, check out Tips for Function Based Discipline in Schools.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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