Teachers are busy people. When ‘on class’ (as they say in the profession), there are few who can match the teacher’s ability to multitask. Teachers simultaneously manage 20-30 (or more) students, deal with constant interruptions from visitors, take and keep records, teach and manage behaviour – all in a flurry of activity that lasts for 50-60 minutes at a time – sometimes up to 2 hours. Experienced teachers make it look easy. However, they are extremely busy: working their class, using their peripheral vision to keenly watch suspected off-taskers, and continuously adapting their language, explanations and questions to suit the differing needs of students who all function at various levels of ability and motivation. Teaching is not boring – well, not most of the time – but it can be.
Hint: A related behaviour management concept is ‘become obsolete’ which means the class is so well behaved and systematised that the teacher is no longer needed for large portions of the lesson and is simply there for content and facilitation purposes. Students come in, follow the entry routine, start their ‘anchor activity’ such as ‘writing to learn’ and know exactly what to do during all stages of the lesson (pair work, individual work, transitions, exit procedure etc.). This is the ultimate goal of behaviour management.
Typically when people enter the profession and begin working, they are overwhelmed and exhausted at first. This continues for a year or 2 until the business of the classroom becomes normalised and the teacher’s senses are no longer overwhelmed. Throughout their formative years, the beginning teacher learns about instructional strategies, behaviour management and other such things by attending courses, reading blogs or books, and from trial and error on the floor. After a few years they come across a peculiar situation where they find themselves feeling bored – students are working hard, everyone is silent, on task and calm – how unusual! No low-key responses to divvy out and a calmness permeates the room.
All students are aware of the rules, expectations, consequences, procedures and systems. They all seem engaged and motivated, albeit to varying degrees, and on track to achieve their goals. The teacher has built their self-esteem high enough that everyone strives to meet their learning targets – each student believes that they can achieve their goals and are working hard for their favourite teacher. However, this teacher finds him or herself in uncharted waters. For the first time they have nothing to do, nothing to say, no technique that needs implementing. As this phenomenon comes out of the blue, something of a mild panic sets in – the teacher asks, ‘what is going on here?’ and ‘do they all hate me so much that they don’t want to even look at me?’.
These thoughts can be dismissed though because a milestone has been achieved. The teacher has perfected their behaviour management and instructional design approach. Funnily enough, when this happens many teachers don’t know what to do and they start to interrupt students to address the abnormal silence – asking questions, commenting on students’ belongings and joking around. The teacher exhibits classic off-task behaviours and is actively distracting students from their learning – they are attention-seeking!
Hint: What makes a good teacher? Research shows that there are 3 key elements: rapport (e.g. a sense that the teacher cares), wide-ranging and high-quality teaching strategies, and the ability to confidently manage the class in a fair, non-threatening and predictable manner (Woolfolk et al., 2006).
The lessons that we take from this phenomenon are two-fold. First, there is indeed an end to the never-ending rollercoaster that is beginning, learning and refining your behaviour management repertoire. The end product of this effort sounds fanciful at the start but is nonetheless very achievable: an otherwise challenging class that has few behavioural issues, mostly engaged students and a friendly environment. Nothing feels better than when school managers or other teachers come into your class and see 32 students working hard – particularly when the class has known ‘trouble-makers’ that wreak havoc elsewhere.
Secondly, it teaches us that behaviour management is an iterative, gradual and exponential process. It may feel like an unassailable task and then suddenly it all comes together somehow. When this happens, practitioners plug the last remaining gaps in the overall approach which propels the quality of their teaching to even greater heights.
Let’s use an analogy to drive home the point. Imagine a large dam wall with cracks forming everywhere. Each crack is a hole in your teaching skills and understandably, there are cracks everywhere to begin with – water is billowing through all over the place. Gradually and with patience, each crack is filled – slowly at first but then faster and faster as the finish line becomes clearer and the focus narrower. The engineer becomes more proficient at their work.
Nothing feels better than when school managers or other teachers come into your class and see 32 students working hard.
A few of the final cracks are particularly difficult to overcome, but with time, they too are mastered. Eventually the last crack is rendered like it was never even there and the engineer can sit back and marvel at their handywork. Suddenly the engineer has an epiphany: there is a more efficient way he or she thinks. Proactive planning, regular maintenance and scheduled checks are so much easier than running around plugging cracks after they have formed. Now the engineer watches and waits for new cracks to form, almost hoping for something to happen just so they have something to do – something that will put an end to their ‘boredom’.
Woolfolk Hoy, A., & Weinstein, C. S. (2006). Student and teacher perspectives on classroom management. In C. M. Evertson & C. S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 181-219). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
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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