Positioning, put simply, is moving and standing (or sitting/crouching) in locations that maximise the effect of the teacher’s physical presence.
If you have read anything about classroom management before, you will have noticed a common thread: high-performing teachers consciously control and manipulate every aspect of the work. This includes the standard tasks found in most job description forms such as planning and record-keeping, but also the millions of minute decisions made in class such as facial expressions, body language, word choice and so forth. Among the teaching community, a well-known classroom management technique is positioning. Positioning is quite easy to understand, practise and implement. It is highly effective and both a proactive and reactive behaviour management strategy.
Positioning, put simply, is moving and standing (or sitting/crouching) in locations that maximise the effect of the teacher’s physical presence. Think of it like this – if you know a police car is following you while driving, you are probably not going to break even the tiniest of road rules. The same effect can be expected in the classroom setting. In fact, many other common behaviour management techniques work hand-in-hand with positioning. Research suggests that teachers should continually move amongst and around students as this provides a cue to help students self-manage and monitor their own behaviour – it also makes them more accountable (Englehart, 2013).
Hint: Research by Schuldheisz (2001) showed that active supervision increases on-task learning from about 50% to 70% when compared to passive supervision (i.e. when the teacher doesn’t really pay attention to everything going on around them).
Positioning works like this: the teacher first considers where they think behavioural issues are likely to arise. This brief analysis is based on experience, knowledge of the class and plain old instinct. The teacher may have a ‘feeling’ that a group of students are a bit excited and not really as on-task as they normally would be. A slightly more challenging activity combined with the time of day (after lunch for example) would also be a factor. The teacher decides to deliver part of the lesson while standing next to or behind this group even if only for a minute or so.
This gives the teacher maximum control, visibility and the ability to use low-key responses for minor infractions. The teacher can easily tap an offending student on the shoulder if they are talking out of turn. It also helps to proactively calm students down while demonstrating to the class that you are competent, confident and ‘with-it’. It shows the class that you expect compliance from everyone (weaker teachers may avoid being near students who they find challenging or whom they dislike). In other words, positioning helps the offending students (or those predicted to offend), but also sends positive signals to the rest of the class about the importance of being on-task. In a way, positioning is a favour to students as your efforts prevent them from getting into trouble.
Hint: Another common classroom management term is ‘proximity’. This is the idea that being close to a student encourages on-task behaviour. There is a slight difference between the ‘positioning’ and ‘proximity’ concepts, but the terms can be used interchangeably. Positioning is the way in which teachers circulate around the room. Proximity is one aspect of positioning. It is a static position measured by the distance between 2 people and the subsequent effects on behaviour. Research is clear that proximity is highly effective, including when working with students with disabilities and disorders (Conroy et al., 2004).
Positioning is composed of 2 elements: proximity and circulation. Teachers who effectively use positioning as a strategy not only place themselves in certain positions, they also move from position to position strategically. They move from location to location so that their presence is maximised and to put out spot fires. Circulating clockwise or anti-clockwise is effective and means each student can be attended to at some point. Teachers can circulate and temporarily position themselves near those who seem unsettled or who have a habit of being off-task.
Teachers can address the whole class from any position in the room including from the side or rear. Another option is to wait for all students to be seated, and to then choose a ‘base’ for the lesson. For example, your base could be the spare seat next to 1 or more students who need extra attention or behaviour cueing. Use your base like your teacher’s desk. Drop your folder, stationery and other items at your base and even deliver part of your lesson from that location (standing close-by or while seated). This tactic means students lose the ability to strategically sit in areas that reduce your access to them: students who intend on being off-task will attempt to sit in corners or nooks and barricade themselves with desks and peers. By randomly selecting different delivery positions, these students’ plans are foiled and undesirable behaviours are somewhat thwarted.
Hint: When circulating, remember to utilise other behaviour management techniques such as voice tone and volume, facial expressions and situational awareness. If you are crouched at a desk helping a small group of students, ensure you are on the outer side so you do not have your back to anyone. In other words, like a lifesaver at the beach or swimming pool, aim for an unimpeded view. As you support the students closest to you, continuously scan the entire room and use your peripheral vision to spot anything suspicious.
Position 1 in the figure above is traditional and effective for formal teaching, particularly when introducing a topic or reviewing learning at the end of a lesson. Stand here at the start and end of each lesson (or Position 2). Position 2 is a good spot to sit in a chair and deliver content or to wait for questions as they arise.
Position 3 is a starting point for working around the room and visiting each student. Be wary of those behind you however – crouch side-on if necessary. Position 4 is near the front door and helps you to control entry and exit points. It is also a good vantage point for when students are working in pairs or groups and you don’t want to hover. Try standing in Position 5 and discussing or explaining content on the board (at the front of the room).
Position 6 gives you an eagle-eye view of the whole class – it’s great for monitoring a silent reading activity. Position 7 is a side-on view and is a good spot to take stock and plan your next move. Sit at position 8 and face the class while helping the student in the adjacent desk – put students who need regular help there.
As you can see from the figure above, all but one position (Position 3) faces all students at all times. Move between each position while thinking about the benefits and drawbacks of each. If there is a free seat somewhere (such as to the rear left near Position 6), sit there for 10-15 minutes and manage the lesson from the perspective of a student – see what effect this has. The most powerful position to be in when targeting a challenging student is the seat right next to them.
Teachers who effectively use positioning as a strategy not only place themselves in certain positions, they also move from position to position strategically.
Hint: A good rule of thumb is to provide effective instructions (to the whole class or group) first and then immediately position yourself in the vicinity of one or more students who are most likely to not follow your instructions. Your presence will encourage them to stay on track.
Englehart, J. M. (2013). Five approaches to avoid when managing the middle school classroom. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 86(3), 103-108. https://doi:10.1080/00098655.2013.772500
Schuldheisz, J., & Van Der Mars, H. (2001). Active Supervision and Students' Physical Activity in Middle School Physical Education. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 21(1), 75-90. https://www.doi.org/10.1123/jtpe.21.1.75
Conroy, M. A., Asmus, J. M., Ladwig, C. N., Sellers, J. A., Valcante, G. (2004). The Effects of Proximity on the Classroom Behaviors of Students with Autism in General Education Settings. Behavioral Disorders, 29(2), 119–129. https://doi.org/10.1177/019874290402900201
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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