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Pick your battles

Behaviour Management

Pick your battles

a guide for classroom teachers and teacher aides

Multiple students in a classroom doing a numeracy activity.

Similar to the sidestep and other avoidance techniques that circumvent time-wasting interactions and altercations, ‘pick your battles’ is a fantastic and highly effective concept that anyone can implement easily and effectively. Teachers of all levels of experience and expertise would improve their practice by taking a more strategic approach to tackling the multitude of behavioural issues in the classroom. Like mushrooms growing in a field, behavioural issues seem to pop up everywhere. Some are hidden, some are in clusters, some are bigger than others, and some you have never seen before. You don’t need to squash every mushroom to get to the other side of the field – squash those that are in your way and ignore the rest.

When you take over from another teacher or enter an unfamiliar class with significant issues, choose what you want to achieve in terms of behaviour – you can’t fight 10 battles at a time but you can fight 1 or 2.

This tactic is similar in nature to selective ignoring which is where the teacher pretends the behaviour went unnoticed. Picking your battles is slightly different in that the teacher will have already acknowledged and engaged with the problem in some way. For example, a student might be committing multiple classroom offences on a regular basis – a serial offender – always out of their seat, calling out, refusing to work and distracting others. This student has ‘been like this’ for years according to previous teachers.

This mountain of a challenge cannot be conquered in a day. A more ‘doable’ approach is to tackle 1 or 2 aspects of the problem at a time. This doesn’t necessarily mean ignoring all other undesirable behaviour, but it does mean there is a clear focus and an achievable goal. This approach helps the student as well because he or she also has something achievable and specific to work on. The teacher may speak with the student at the start of the lesson and ask him or her to concentrate on a particular issue (e.g. not wandering around the room). This is a pre-planned precorrection. At the end of the lesson, the teacher privately speaks with the student and provides feedback such as, ‘well done today, you normally get out of your seat about 10 times, but today was only 3! I am very pleased.’. This is a strength-based approach which utilises positive prompting and social prompts.

Use this technique to gradually quell issues over a period of time. When you take over from another teacher or enter an unfamiliar class with significant issues, choose what you want to achieve in terms of behaviour – you can’t fight 10 battles at a time but you can fight 1 or 2. For example, you might work on keeping the floor clean as that is a very winnable battle (see ‘control the floor’). You might also decide to concentrate on controlling the volume (see ‘noise control’) which is more challenging but comes with greater rewards if you triumph. While not ignoring other issues completely, a focus helps students to achieve goals and gives the teacher a reason to provide positive feedback. It also takes time to ‘train’ students in your expectations and systems. Once these 2 issues have been addressed (1-2 weeks should suffice), you can move your focus to other areas of concern such as introducing routines, bad language, seating plans, contribution to group work and so forth.

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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