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Meet them at the door

Behaviour Management

Meet them at the door

a guide for classroom teachers and teacher aides

Image of a teacher assistant and students standing outside a classroom in a school.

A good sign of an organised, ‘on-the-ball’ teacher is one who stands at the door a few minutes before the class starts.

Experienced teachers work hard to ‘control’ the teaching and learning process from start to finish. Because the term ‘control’ has negative connotations in some circles – a more apt description may be ‘co-ordinate’ or even ‘facilitate’. Either way, the lesson begins well before students walk in the door: it begins as soon as students can be seen or heard. This is the point when the teacher is legally responsible and takes duty of care from the previous teacher. In most cases, this means when students are outside the classroom (e.g. lining up or placing their bags in the rack), or even as they walk towards it (transitioning). Novice teachers may falsely believe that the lesson begins at the specified start time – this is not the case – it begins much earlier and teachers need to have situational awareness from the second students come into view or can be heard.

A good sign of an organised, ‘on-the-ball’ teacher is one who stands at the door a few minutes before the class starts. They stand confidently, exuding a positive yet firm locus of control, all the while examining and analysing students’ moods and energy levels to prevent issues from entering the classroom. For example, a teacher may stand in the doorway like a security guard, only allowing 1 or 2 students to enter at a time when each student is calm. The teacher greets each student with a smile and perhaps a quick statement such as ‘good morning {insert name here}’. A small compliment such as ‘wow, new shoes, very impressive’ helps to build rapport and establish a positive environment. This process tells students that the teacher is in control, that they are now in a place of learning and that it’s time to calm down and think about the lesson ahead.

Hint: As students enter the room, the teacher may take the opportunity to remind a few students about their behaviour in a recent lesson. For example, ‘Peter, remember last lesson we had a chat about using your classroom voice’. This is called precorrection.

Students enter the room as learners and leave the mayhem of the playground behind. Greeting them at the door has a calming effect – students feel safe – they are emotionally and psychologically transitioned from one place to another. Research shows this strategy reduces behavioural issues and increases time spent on learning (Cook et al., 2018).

Greeting them at the door has a calming effect – students feel safe – they are emotionally and psychologically transitioned from one place to another.

Obviously, it may not be possible to greet each student each lesson, particularly if students are allowed to arrive 10-15 minutes early and wander in as they please. In this case, the teacher may greet students as they enter or soon after, while completing other tasks (such as speaking with a parent). As all high-performing teachers are well prepared, there will be little to do in the few minutes before class starts – they will not be madly preparing worksheets or writing on the board – that work has already been done.

This time is set aside for greeting students at the door, speaking with individual students about concerns, and other such tasks. The teacher might mix things up a little by standing in different locations such as 5 or 6 metres outside the classroom – keenly observing students as they enter the room while providing clear and confident instructions such as ‘Morning Mr Grahame, you know what to do this morning, nice and calm please – I will be in soon’. This strategy works best once students are ‘trained’ in the teacher’s expectations and know exactly what to do before the start of the lesson (for example, they know to choose a book and to read). Another option is for the teacher to stand at the front of the room, watching and waiting for the class to begin while greeting, precorrecting and setting goals for each student as they enter.

Hint: Teachers may aim to greet students at the door once a week at strategic times such as late Friday afternoon after a long play/lunch break. Students in this situation are in weekend-mode, and their teacher needs to ensure they are calmed before entering the room. Allowing overly-excited students to enter undoubtedly leads to behavioural issues very quickly. If issues rear their head on a Friday afternoon, they will be difficult to curtail.

At the tail end of the lesson, the same approach applies but to a lesser extent. Teachers can enforce a routine that may include picking up any rubbish from the floor, students pushing in their chairs and aligning their desks perfectly. Attending to minor imperfections in a militaristic fashion is effective because it is easier to teach students that all rubbish needs to be picked up (even small pieces of paper), rather than allowing ‘some’ rubbish.

Students then exit under controlled conditions and a salutation from the teacher ends the week on a positive note. A quick and final ‘thank-you everyone, I look forward to the next lesson’ is certainly professional and adds a caring touch. Just as students entered with an individualised greeting or instruction, the teacher may allow students to exit 1 or 2 at a time or in small groups. Feedback is provided as students exit. Ensure an orderly, quiet and calm exit procedure is followed – if any students run or are loud, they should be directed to return to their seat where they wait until last. Call students back if they do something silly even outside the room (such as if they run as soon as they are outside the door).

The lesson begins well before students walk in the door: it begins as soon as students can be seen or heard. This is the point when the teacher is legally responsible and takes duty of care from the previous teacher.

Hint: It is common to have students pack up only when instructed to do so. This is important because otherwise students will begin packing up earlier and earlier. Packing up distracts other students and is very annoying when trying to consolidate or review a lesson in the final few minutes. The solution is simple – tell students to only pack up when instructed – if they have already packed-up, make them unpack and wait till last.

References:

Cook, C. R., Fiat, A., Larson, M., Daikos, C., Slemrod, T., Holland, E. A., … Renshaw, T. (2018). Positive Greetings at the Door: Evaluation of a Low-Cost, High-Yield Proactive Classroom Management Strategy. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 20(3), 149–159. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098300717753831

About the author

Image of the managing director of ITAC.

ADAM GREEN

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.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.

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