An Unusual Approach to Stopping Student Misbehavior

Showing genuine appreciation for our students’ gifts, talents, and enthusiasms can melt away their defiant and disruptive behavior. I was taught this lesson not long ago by a high school student.

As a teacher, I’ve received numerous presents and tokens of appreciation, including countless drawings, a few daisy chains, and even a homemade snow globe or two. But one of my most unusual gifts was also one of the most heartfelt. It was a roll of gaffer’s tape, given to me by a student I had never even taught.

This student was kind of geeky. Actually, he was VERY geeky. His principal appreciated his geek skills, and asked him to come to school on his day off and be the “tech guy” for a professional development day where I was speaking.

He did a good job, too. Everything was set up perfectly and worked great. He wasn’t much on the social skills, though, and barely answered when I spoke to him. Until I asked him about the strange brown tape he used to secure the computer cables.

AppreciationHe immediately brightened up and told me all about gaffer’s tape and how great it is. How it doesn’t leave a residue on the floor yet holds the cord down. He told me to get the 3-inch kind, and gave me several suggestions on how to get the best price. He showed me the proper technique for pulling up the tape at the end of the day (you stand on the cable to hold it down, and THEN pull up the tape so that it won’t wrap around the cable and make a big mess.) I thanked him, and told him I appreciated his suggestions, because as a speaker I always worry that someone is going to trip on a cable.

He disappeared into a closet and reappeared with a brand-new roll of tape, which he insisted on giving me. He offered to help me pack up, and carried some of my equipment to the car.

This student’s attitude had changed totally. He went from being a bit surly to being friendly, open, cooperative, and generous. All it took was a little appreciation.

The Transformation

I have seen this transformation happen again and again. When students feel valued by a teacher, the defiance seems to melt away and the cooperation sets in. The key is being genuine and sincere in our appreciation. When you are fake, it will backfire.

So take a look at your disruptive students. What can you genuinely appreciate about them? Is there something they are into or good at that you can take an interest in? Sometimes this approach can take time, especially if there has been a lack of trust in the past. But sometimes it can be instantaneous, like it was with my geeky high school friend.

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Why Joy Is a Good Classroom Management Strategy

Joy can sometimes get lost in the checklists, schedules, and gazillions of details that need our attention in the classroom every day. And while joy may seem like a bonus extra, I believe it can be an important strategy for encouraging positive student behavior.

Magic Joy Moments

Why Joy is a Good Classroom Management StrategyHave you ever had one of those magic moments when your students were completely “into” an activity? A light bulb moment when the class seems to “get it?” An instant of community over a shared joke or experience? Those moments are all examples of joy showing up in our classrooms.

When student are into what they are doing, or into you, their teacher, there’s little need for fancy classroom management techniques, rewards, and consequences. Students may misbehave out of ignorance, habit, or getting carried away, but that willful defiance disappears. If you think about this for a minute, you know it’s true. When you were a student, which of your teachers did you behave the best for? The playful, enthusiastic ones, or the grumpy ones? Right.

Even if you aren’t extroverted or funny, your students will still respond if you show a sense of wonder or satisfaction in what you are doing.

So where does this joy come from? Many times, it comes from you! When you’re enthusiastic about your subject, or enjoy kids, or simply like to play, your kids catch that energy from you. And even if you aren’t extroverted or funny, your students will still respond if you show a sense of wonder or satisfaction in what you are doing. In other words, geek out a little! Get excited about making a connection with a vocabulary word. Admire the beauty of a perfect geometry proof.

I once knew a teacher who was able to easily manage a very difficult student using his somewhat nerdy love of plants. I even wrote an earlier article about him. Read it here.

Why Sharing What You’re Into Is a Good Classroom Management Strategy

What if you are frustrated and have lost your joy? Sometimes, all it takes is a step back from all the intensity. Remember why you started teaching in the first place. Remember your own zesty teachers. Take a joy break!

Now let your joy shine, and go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStratgies.com

Joy Checklist

PS – I’ve created a checklist to help you tap into your joy.

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Why Sharing What You’re Into Is a Good Classroom Management Strategy

A bunch of us are eating lunch together in the staff room. The topic of discussion is the antics of a certain student. He’s definitely having one of those days. We “professionally” compare notes, and it is clear that the student has disrupted every class so far – except one. He was fine in Mr. Garcia’s class. In fact, Mr. Garcia never has any problem with him.

Why Sharing What You're Into Is a Good Classroom Management StrategyAs we jokingly tease Mr. Garcia about his superpowers as a teacher, a strange idea dawns in my head. Mr. Garcia is a little nerdy. His room is filled with plants – hanging from the ceiling, climbing from the walls… every possible place where a plant could be, there is one. And guess who is also into plants, and in fact comes in before school every day to help water Mr. Garcia’s plants? You guessed it – that student.

Don’t get so focused on your long teaching to-do list that you forget to be yourself.

So what am I saying? That every classroom should have a million plants in it? No, what I’m saying is let your students see and know what you’re into.  If you love a certain sports team, wear the colors on game day. If you sew medieval costumes, bring them in so the students can see them. Love shoes? Mountain biking? Poodles? Handmade pasta? Square dancing? Balloon animals? Whatever it is, share it! And don’t get so focused on your long teaching to-do list that you forget to be yourself.

Even if your students think you’re weird for liking whatever it is, it will make you more human to them. After, all the human connection is what teaching is all about. Plus – big bonus – students will challenge you less if they can relate to you as a person.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

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Should You Make Kids Apologize?

Do you ever “make” your students apologize to each other?

Should You Make Kids Apologize?As a teenager, I decided that forced apologies were stupid and I would never make anyone apologize. (My teenage self  decided that a lot of things were stupid. Stupid was one of my favorite words.) But as a teacher, I have made students apologize, and I probably will again.

For example, back in 2012 I included this little dialog snippet in a story I wrote about my first year of teaching:

“Kaden, you pulled Jennie’s hair. Was that kind?”

“No.”

“What do you think you should do now?”

“Sorry, Jennie,” he says, and with this display of genuine remorse and repentance, skips back to his seat. Lesson learned, right?

Does Apologizing Teach Kids Anything?

So did Kaden learn a lesson? Did it do any good to make him apologize? He doesn’t seem very sincere in this story. But maybe apologizing made him aware, even for a short instant, that his actions might have an effect on another person’s feelings. Maybe it helped him learn a social skill that could help him in the future.

And what about Jennie? Even if Jennie suspects Kaden isn’t 100 percent sincere, she at least knows I’m paying attention and that I care enough to support her.

Although I no longer think “suggested” apologies are out-and-out stupid, I do think they can backfire.

I am NOT sorryAlthough I no longer think “suggested” apologies are out-and-out stupid, I do think they can backfire. I don’t recommend asking students to apologize if:

  • They don’t think they were wrong. In their minds, you are asking them to lie. Either they will feel outrage at how unfair it is, or they will decide that it’s okay to lie to get out of trouble.
  • They think apologizing is humiliating or weak. The goal of an apology is to acknowledge the other person’s feelings, not punish the person giving the apology.
  • They have no intention of changing their ways. Fake apologies can make the recipient of the apology angry and escalate the situation even more.

When Apologies Are Best

Apologies are best when:

  • They are part of a problem-solving discussion, instead of a scold-and-sorry routine.
  • They are recognized as a way to take responsibility for a mistake, whether intentional or accidental.
  • They are not used as a punishment or consequence. Writing an apology letter rarely makes anyone feel better, except the person who assigns it.
  • They do not erase the need for restitution or consequences. If the consequences were necessary before the apology, they are still necessary afterward.

SorryTeaching students to apologize is not a magic wand that will keep them from arguing or bullying each other. But it can be a way to raise empathy and clear the air.

Do you think it’s appropriate to ask students to apologize to each other? I’d love to hear your thought on this topic.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Posting The Rules Isn’t Enough

This is a true story from my first year of teaching. When I first started teaching, I knew how important it was to post the rules. But there’s more to it than that. (From All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching, And How You Can Avoid Doing It, Too –  “The Golden Feathered Pen”)

Why Posting The Rules Isn't EnoughI lift a beautiful golden-feathered pen from the millionth box I unpack, take it out of its elegant case, and sign my name a couple of times. Ahh bliss! The pen reminds me to create my Class Rules poster. Out come the gold stick-on letters and white poster board. An hour later I proudly hang up the “Be Kind, Be Safe, Be Respectful” poster in the front of the room.

On the first day of school, I gather my students next to the poster and we have a little talk. I give examples of safety, kindness, and respect. After the discussion each student solemnly signs the poster with the special pen. I naively think this little ceremony will imprint the importance of the rules in the minds of the students.

The next day Kaden pulls Jennie’s hair. “Kaden, is that Kind?” I ask, pointing to the poster. Kaden looks confused. His head swivels to see what I’m pointing to. He looks back at me and shrugs.

“Kaden, come with me. Look here on the poster. Where is your name?”

“Right there, Teacher.”

“Did you mean it when you signed the rules?”  He nods.

“What do you think you should do now?”

He looks at me for a beat or two. “Math?”

I take a deep breath. “Kaden, what do you think you should do about Jennie?” Eyes dart to Jennie. Shrug.

“Kaden, you pulled Jennie’s hair. Was that Kind?”

“No.” Kaden is an impulsive eight-year-old. Kindness is probably not on his mind when he sees Jennie’s springy hair. He probably just wonders how it would feel to pull it. But he’s smart enough to fig­ure out what I want now.

“What do you think you should do now?”

Sorry, Jennie“Sorry, Jennie,” he says, and with this display of genuine remorse and repentance, skips back to his seat. Lesson learned, right?

If I had a do-over, the student meeting about rules would be a little different. I would be less concerned about the beauty of the poster and the seriousness of the signing ceremony, and more concerned about whether the students know exactly what I expect of them. (After all, how many third-graders sign legal documents? They write their names on things all the time at school. They don’t really know why. They just shrug and do it so they can go to recess.)

I might invite student input on the rules or I might not. In any case, I would make sure to state the expectations in terms of actions (Keep Your Hands to Yourself, instead of Be Kind), and teach each one in many different contexts throughout the year instead of relying on a poster and a special pen to do my work for me.

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Would You Like a New Class?

My first year of teaching, I had what I thought was a horrible class. Every day I would dream those awful kids were gone, and a brand-new set of kids was in their place. Nice kids who would listen and not taunt me all day long.  I wanted a new class.

Would you like a new classThen one day the counselor had to take over because my students had gotten out of control. Within seconds she had them all sitting up straight, quiet, and listening with respect. Wait! Why wouldn’t they do that for me? They were like a new class, but with the same students.

Why the big difference? Human beings (aka our students) will respond differently depending on the situation. In the case of the counselor, they had an ongoing relationship with her that was different than their relationship with me. She knew what they were interested in. She knew their families. And she even knew their secrets. So they acted different when she was in charge.

This brings me to the first thing that needs to change if you want a new class: interactions.

Change InteractionsInteractions

If you find your interactions with your students have become a list of to-dos and not-to-dos, try talking to them about non-school things every once and awhile. Ask about their interests. Let them feel that you notice them as people. While I can’t guarantee that changing your interactions will instantly transform your students into a whole new class, I have seen this strategy work when nothing else will.

environmentPhysical Environment

Secondly, change the physical environment. Rearrange the seating. Change the colors. Change the lighting. Add in music. Add a carpet. Take away some clutter. People (including our students) respond to their physical surroundings. When those surroundings change, chances are their behavior will too. It’s like a whole new class!

Change Systems and RoutinesSystems and Routines

And finally, change up your systems and routines. If the old way isn’t working, it’s time for a new way.

I recommend two exercises from my book The Take-Charge Teacher: “What’s Bothering You?” followed by “The Ideal Class Activity.”

The “What’s Bothering You” activity isn’t hard: make a list of anything that’s bothering you in your class.

Then for the “Ideal Class Activity,” imagine what a perfect class would do, step by step. This will then turn into your new systems and routines.

TemplatesWould you like templates for these two activities? You can get them here, along with all the other resource materials from The Take-Charge Teacher, totally free. Just let me know where to send them, and they’ll be on their way.

Instead of spending the rest of the school year wishing and hoping for a new class, why not try new interactions, a new environment, and some new routines? Things will almost certainly improve, at least a little. And who knows? Maybe you’ll even get that brand new class you’re wishing for.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

 

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An Unbelievably Simple Back-to-School Transition Strategy

It’s back-to-school time. Not the one at the beginning of the school year – the one that happens after a long weekend or break. This back-to-school transition is just as important, but you may not have as much time to spend on getting-to-know-you activities, expectations, and classroom routines. You need something quick and easy to help your students transition back to school. Luckily, I know just the thing!

Who Are These People?

You need to rebuild rapport and re-establish expectations and routines, but with less time to do it, and far less receptive students.

Sometimes when you open the door after an extended break, you hardly recognize your students.  They’re taller and/or thicker and almost look like they belong in the next grade. There are new haircuts and new hair colors. Braces have been added (or removed.) It’s like you have a whole new batch of students.

And it’s up to you transition these “new” students back to school. You need to rebuild rapport and re-establish expectations and routines, but with less time to do it, and far less receptive students.

At the beginning of the year, students are curious about how things work in your room, and getting -to-know-you activities seem natural and fun. Curriculum pressure hasn’t started yet, and testing is a long way off. Now it’s a different story.

Quick and Easy Back-to-School Transition Strategy

Luckily there’s a quick and easy back-to-school transition strategy that builds rapport and also communicates that it’s time to learn.

Luckily there’s a quick and easy back-to-school transition strategy that builds rapport and also communicates that it’s time to learn. Simply gift your students with new school supplies, such as a brand-new pencil, pen, spiral notebook, sticky notes, or fine-tipped marker.  If you have extra time, you can package the new supplies in gift bags with a welcome-back note.

This back-to-school transition strategy can be especially powerful when paired with a new seating arrangement, a class meeting to revisit and revise class agreements, and/or a new incentive system. Then when you jump back into academics, your students will have a fresh new start and a reminder of expectations.

And no excuses for not having their supplies, at least for a minute or two.

This back-to-school transition strategy can be especially powerful when paired with a new seating arrangement, a class meeting to revisit and revise class agreements, and/or a new incentive system.

What Is Your Back-to-School Transition Strategy?

Have you tried giving out new supplies after a break, or do you have another back-to-school transition strategy that works well for you? If so, I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment and let us know what works for you.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

An Unbelievably Simple Way to Help Your Students Readjust to School After a Long Break

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