This ‘no-brainer’ will get you out of many tight corners and can de-escalate a potentially hazardous confrontation in no time. Students who are attention-seekers, off-taskers, frustrated or simply testing the boundaries might throw a ‘grenade’ in the hope that you ‘bite back’. If you do, your reply gives them something to latch onto which they can use as the basis for their next move. They will usually reply in turn with something smart, which you inevitably feel the need to respond to, and the game has begun – you have been ‘sucked in’ as planned. Student score 1; teacher score 0.
While the don’t bite technique does not advocate ignoring the student altogether, it does provide an avenue for avoiding the escalation by shutting down the conversation in one fell swoop. For example, a student in a high school maths class (William) pulls a tennis ball out and starts throwing it in the air. The teacher suspects this is a trap, and not wanting to bite, takes the ball in mid-flight without so much as a glare. The teacher continues teaching. The follow-up is at the teacher’s discretion, if there is any at all, not at this critical juncture of the lesson as William had planned.
Alternatively, the teacher may signal for William to hand over the ball. Should he defy this command, the teacher may still refuse to bite and decide to continue teaching like nothing has happened. Knowing the teacher, William then decides to not aggravate the situation further and puts the ball away. The teacher confiscates the ball a few minutes later when the class is working on practice questions.
In this scenario, the teacher’s concern is maintaining lesson flow. This is achieved by ignoring the invitation from a known attention-seeker. As the teacher is explaining something important to the whole class, he or she decides to continue teaching. Once the explanation is over, the teacher gives students 6 minutes to complete 3 maths questions. This time is used to address the undesirable behaviour. A private but stern half-response goes like this, ‘William, remember our chat about attention-seeking behaviour, we will talk later when I am ready, but right now it’s learning time’. The teacher doesn’t invite a response and immediately moves away to help another student.
Being in full control at all times, the teacher strategically chooses when and where to address the issue. This often means a time when attention-seeking students like William get no attention from others and hence no reward for their behaviour. William nervously counts down to the next break knowing his impending ‘private chat’ with his teacher is going to eat into his play time. As students leave the room, the teacher publicly asks William to stay seated and everyone is reminded that the teacher is no push-over – the teacher always follows through. A 30-second chat, some error correction, 10 bits of rubbish picked up from the floor and an apology is all it takes to satisfy the teacher. A deal is also struck so that if it happens again, William must leave his bag at the teacher’s desk for the whole lesson. This is an engineered control that is both a consequence and a preventative measure.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.
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