Three Considerations to Support Successful Behavior Management
Behavior management is something that changes from class to class, from teacher to teacher, and sometimes, from year to year. What works with one group may not work for the next. But what remains the same in every class is the paramount need that students have to feel safe and respected in the classroom. Without this, it is nearly impossible for a classroom to function effectively. And so, it is important for a new teacher to have an outline of how and when they will give positive and negative feedback. But how is this developed, and how can it be done? The considerations that follow can help any teacher think through their behavior management and develop a system that works well for their class.
1. Consequences for Misbehavior.
No matter how good a teacher’s management system, there will always be students who refuse to follow the rules of the classroom. It is necessary, then, for every teacher to have a consistent plan for reacting to misbehavior in the classroom. At my school, the primary grades use a card-turning system. As a third grade teacher I also have the opportunity to assign detentions should I deem it necessary, though I rarely do.
My consequences look something like this:
1st Infraction: Verbal warning and redirection.
2nd Infraction: Student writes their name on the whiteboard (visual warning).
3rd Infraction: Student turns their green card to yellow. (visual warning).
4th Infraction: Student turns their card to red. Parent is notified of misbehavior.
5th Infraction: Student writes lines related to the infringement (if irresponsible, student writes a paragraph on what it means to be responsible and how they can improve in responsibility).
6th Infraction: Student is sent to another classroom for self-reflection. Detention is considered.
If a behavior problem is ongoing, I will schedule a conference with the child’s parents and develop a plan with them that will offer the child an opportunity to grow in the area of deficiency.
2. To Reward or Not To Reward?
The first question that teachers must consider is whether or not they will reward their students for positive behavior. Some teachers believe that reward systems, such as a prize box or a class money system, teach children that they should behave simply because there’s a reward involved. Other teachers argue that students need the reinforcement of positive behavior that a reward system provides. I, personally, find that students respond well to praise and rewards, and that some of my students have grown immensely because of the systems in place in my classroom to provide that praise.
In my classroom, we use a monetary reward system we call “Hoot Bucks”, to connect the money to the owl decorative theme used throughout the classroom. Students can earn Hoot Bucks by doing well both academically and behaviorally. An A or A- on a test, for example, earns $30; behaving well in class for one lesson earns $20. A student can earn quite a few Hoot Bucks in both methods, which means that those who behave well but perform poorly academically (or vice versa) can still earn class money. Hoot Bucks can be spent on in-class, no-prep incentives such as “sitting at the teacher’s desk” or “taking shoes off for a day”.
I find that these incentives often serve as the means by which students choose ways to make their classroom experience more comfortable. Several students frequently choose to take their shoes off for a day, which has helped a few of them focus better in recent months. I also have students that love sitting in the bean bag chairs, and I find them more focused when they’re in the bean bag chairs than when they’re in their desks. Giving them this choice helps the students learn self-regulation, because they can see that they learn better with the change to their environment.
Hoot bucks can also be taken away when students misbehave. If a student rushes through a project and misses several instructions, I might give them a $50 Speeding Ticket. If they’re chronically forgetting important textbooks or items for lessons, such as their Mandolin for their music lessons, I will charge them an increasing fee. The Mandolin issue, for example, is widespread in my class. The price for forgetting the Mandolin for the weekly music lesson, which always happens on the same day, started at $10, then went up to $20, and now it’s up to $40. By increasing the price, the punishment becomes more severe while still limiting the negative communication I might have with parents.
Here is a flowchart showing how students can earn income in my classroom. We are currently studying the American Revolution, which started largely because of tax increases in England, and so I have included the rent and taxes which I am using as a practical lesson for my students on taxation without representation.
Click here to see the flow chart!
3. Individual or Group Rewards?
Another important question to consider is whether a class should be rewarded as a whole or as individuals. Some teachers argue that classes are best served with whole-group rewards. This fosters competition amongst the groups and promotes positive peer pressure. Students are more likely to want to follow instructions if the whole class wishes for them to follow that instruction. Other teachers rightly recognize that this can also lead to bullying of the student who struggles with self control or neglect of the students who behave well despite the misbehavior of their group. I believe that a balance of both provides the best of both worlds while eliminating the problems surrounding the use of just one or the other.
I use a Group Point system that helps the class focus on growing as a whole group. There are three table groups of four students each in my classroom. Each table group competes against each other for group points, which can be earned by fast transitions to the next activity or by focusing well when others are distracted. The group at the end of the week with the most group points at the end of the week gets stickers. The teams, though, also work together for a whole-class reward. When the class earns a collective 60 group points for three weeks in a row, they have a popcorn movie party at the end of the day the following Friday.
There are many reasons why this method is effective. It ensures that the efforts of individual groups are recognized along with the efforts of the whole class. It also ensures that I have a means by which I can hold the whole class responsible for their behavior without having every student individually turn their card (this will be discussed more in the following section). When the whole class, and I mean truly the whole class, is involved in distracted discussion, for example, I have the whole class put their heads down for a minute. At the end of the minute, I take away three group points each. I only use this when over 75% of the class is involved in the misbehavior, and usually only for issues of talking during a silent work time or while walking through a hallway connected to other classes.
But still, it is imperative to recognize individual behavior. If I just used this system, then the 25% of the students who are following instructions would not be recognized for their behavior. By incorporating the Hoot Buck system, I support the behavior of individuals who are controlling themselves and modeling positive behavior to their classmates.
Some teachers might find the use of both really confusing. How do I decide when to use Hoot Bucks, when to have a child turn a card, and when to use Group Points? I have created another flow chart, shown below, to help explain that process.
Click here to see the flow chart!
All students, but especially those in the primary grades of elementary, thrive on structure. A great classroom management system should provide that structure. The structure will give students security and help them learn appropriate behavior for work and play. When creating a classroom management system, it is imperative that teachers consider the strengths and weaknesses of several different management systems so that they can find the one that will work best with their class. The key questions a teacher must ask are:
A). What will I do when a student misbehaves?
B). How will I respond to positive behavior?
C). Will I use individual rewards or group rewards?
When a teacher answers these questions, she or he will have a much deeper understanding of the system by which they will monitor their classroom behavior.