It’s Not a Quick Fix

In my 13 years of teaching, I think that I’ve picked up a few things when it comes to student behaviour.  That being said, when TVDSB’s Summer Institute sessions came out, I was attracted to two sessions.  Both were being offered by Special Education Learning Coordinators and TOSAs.  One session was on behaviour “Yo! No! Whoa!” and the other on “Behaviour and Safety Plans”.  I think I just wanted to hear if what I thought I knew about behaviour was right.  Don’t we all look for examples of that?  We like having our own beliefs confirmed don’t we?

But if I’m perfectly honest, it’s an area that I’m not always confident in giving advice on.  Currently, I’m working with a lot of teachers that are looking for support with different students exhibiting disruptive behaviour, explosive behaviour, inattention, anxiety, avoidance etc.  Often, I think teachers are looking for me to tell them something magical that will fix a child’s behaviour.

Here’s some of the advice I’ve been passing on from my teaching experience and from the sessions this summer:

1)  Routine and Rapport:  The first thing they mentioned was the importance of developing strong routines and rapports with students in the first 6 weeks.  Putting time into practising routines like transitions between classes, passing out papers, sitting on the carpet etc. will reap curriculum benefits later on.  Making connections with your students is also important.  Take an interest in their interests – especially the students that might be testing you.  It has to be genuine.  Students like to feel liked and their parents like to feel like you like their kid too.

2)  It’s not personal:  Behaviour is not a personal insult to you, the teacher.  Behaviour is communication.  You need to look past the behaviour to find out what is driving it.  The better you understand what is driving the unwanted behaviours, the better you can help prevent them.  Whether it be by training the student to recognize signs of agitation, avoiding certain situations or being aware of triggers etc. Go back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – what is not being met that might be behind a behaviour?

3)  Don’t hold a grudge:  Deal with the behaviour immediately, but don’t hold the grudge all day.  Be firm if something happens and give a consequence if needed.  But later, have a conference with the child or pay attention to the work they are doing so that they know that you are not holding a grudge.  Forgive and forget.

4)  Build Trust and Inclusion:  Deal with bad behaviour privately – don’t shame someone in front of the class.  And if anything, help that child with the “bad reputation” build a more positive image for him or herself.  If kids feel safe and secure in class and you set a tone of respect, the best learning will happen.  Purposely build inclusiveness into your classroom.

5)  Be patient, give it time:  As I mentioned, there really is no quick fix.  A teacher may have to try different things before finding what works.  The important thing is not giving up and keep trying new things.  It takes time before saying that a strategy does not work.  I came away from this session with a fantastic flyer that describes ADD, oppositional students and anxious students and with a great bank of strategies that are and are not effective in helping these students.  But it takes a willingness by the teacher to keep trying things to figure out what works.  Trying too many strategies for too little time could be detrimental too.  It’s that delicate balance of knowing when to persevere with a strategy and when to abandon one.

6) Seek help:  A teacher does not have to deal with a child’s behaviour alone.  Seek the support of your Learning Support Teacher (LST), administration, other teachers, the child’s parents to help you come up with solutions.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  If needed, have a consultant come in to observe and offer suggestions.  Sometimes an objective opinion is really helpful.  Sometimes a subjective opinion helps – what did their previous teacher do?  What was effective?

7)  Practice what you preach:  I’ve been in situations where a student has had pretty good reason to think that adults are not great people.  What if you were able to slowly change their mind?  Be a positive role model.  Help that child understand that you can be an adult they can count on.  And most of all make sure your own actions are consistent with what you preach.

8)  The “X” Factor:  And while it’s important to be strict in the first few weeks, it’s equally important to have a little fun.  What are you going to do to “wow” them and make them want to come back the next day?  What can you do to provoke their curiosity and make them wonder?  Engage them.

9)  Track it:  Data can be a very powerful tool.  How often does that child interrupt?  Try a strategy with that child – what is the effect?  Share the data with that student, or his/her parents.  You want to have both quantitative and qualitative data.  It can also be helpful in PDT meetings.  Document and make sure to have your own paper trail.

10) Read about it.  There are some fantastic books and tools out there.  I know that a few Ross Greene books caught my eye.  As did his “ALSUP” tool.  These are resources I know that I want to know more about. Sometimes revisiting an old resource helps!

What advice would you give a new teacher about behaviour management?

Better yet – what have you learned about behaviour that challenged a belief that you held?

What great piece of advice did I forget to include in this blog?  What would you add to this list?

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