Few people enter the teaching profession because they are passionate about controlling behaviour or disciplining prospective pupils. Most become educators because they want to make a positive difference in students’ lives. However, countless well-intentioned yet potentially ill-prepared teachers find themselves in situations during the school year where they feel compelled to use forms of intimidation, manipulation, bribery, yelling, scolding, or even false praise to make students behave. These archaic classroom management techniques often backfire— as they did for me early in my teaching career—and result in students losing respect for and disliking the teacher.
This article originally appeared in the September 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine
Due to the struggles I had faced with managing behaviour in my first two years of public school teaching, I was approaching burnout and feeling somewhat defeated. Since I am convinced that teaching is my vocation, I was determined to stay in education and learn from my mistakes to improve my practice. Instead of continuing with the traditional, stereotypical classroom management methods, I realised that I needed to develop my “classroom leadership”. Through a combination of personal experience and perusing countless articles and book chapters of educational experts like Doug Lemov @Doug_Lemov, author of “Teach Like a Champion” and Michael Linsin an author who writes blog posts on smartclassroommanagement.com, I feel like I have identified the three most essential “classroom leadership” tenets: removing extrinsic motivation and threats, maintaining consistent procedures and consequences, and communicating with parents or guardians on a regular basis. Initially, I struggled in these areas, but when I was able to implement them with fidelity, I found that I was much more successful in curbing inappropriate behaviour while motivating students to learn.
Leadership vs. Management
Leadership, as described by General Maxwell D. Taylor, is “the art of influencing and directing [people] in such a way as to obtain their willing obedience, confidence, respect, and loyal cooperation in order to accomplish a mission.” This is very different from “management,” which is “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people” as defined in the Oxford Dictionary. In the context of education and classroom management, it appears that many educators follow this mentality of “dealing with or controlling” student behaviour and in turn construct a culture of learning through strategies that often come across as manipulative or oppressive rather than inspiring or empowering.
Tricks and Treats Are Harmful
It is best for a teacher to avoid the overuse of positive incentives such as candy or extra credit for good behaviour and negative incentives such as threats of phone calls home or visits to an administrator. When I pressed the “reset button” in the middle of the year and re-established my standards and removed the trinkets and repeated warnings, students realised that learning itself can be satisfying and that misbehaviour would indeed result in appropriate disciplinary action. Upon some reflection, I see that I could have avoided the push back had I started without the extrinsic motivation tools. Although it took several occurrences to redirect behaviour, it ultimately changed the culture in the class to one that was easier to handle. I understand now that earning respect on the first day without candy or threats is a recipe for success.
“Do What You Mean and Mean What You Say”
This advice is very difficult to execute unless the teacher commits to a high standard of behavioural and academic discipline in the classroom. All routines and procedures should be practiced early and often, and students who compromise rules ought to be reminded in a stern, yet nurturing way. Expecting rules to be followed builds trust; enforcing rules does not equate to a lack of sensitivity. “Easing up” or letting students “slide” may give the impression that the rules are just guidelines and do not always apply. Students will often test the waters and see what they can get away with before the teacher enforces discipline—if the teacher even decides to do so. Early in the school year, I felt that giving a fifth warning was better than sending a student to the office. It was during those moments that I wished I had been consistent with my consequences and followed through with my disciplinary procedures. Later on, when I re-established norms in my classroom, students realised that I was going to follow-through with my management system.
Communication Builds Rapport
Classroom leadership extends beyond the classroom. The leadership strategy of connecting with parents demonstrates care and concern for students’ success and well-being. When teachers build relationships early in the school year with parents or guardians, it usually has a significant impact on the behaviour for the remainder of the school year. Contacting parents as early in the year as possible to introduce oneself, offer to share feedback, and humbly solicit advice from the parent(s) is a strategy that many teachers do not employ enough. I found that when I called parents about their son or daughter the student was on better behaviour afterwards. Messages that say, “I care enough to keep you informed of your student’s progress” are very helpful, too. A strong first impression like a phone call builds trust and creates an alliance which can be utilised to support the student and maintain behavioural and academic accountability.
I recommend that teachers utilise these three strategies of classroom leadership. I have witnessed the positive effects when all these techniques are implemented as soon as possible, and I am confident that they will make a difference in any teacher’s classroom.
Dan Van der Vieren @RTBCoaching currently teaches maths to adolescents (grade 7) in the United States.
He started teaching secondary maths in 2014. Dan loves to learn from other educators. He can solve the Rubik’s Cube and plays finger-style classical guitar.