Why Ignoring Misbehavior Won’t Extinguish It

Students who misbehave to get the teacher's attentionI had just about had it with one of my 3rd graders. All day long it had been one thing after another. Shouting out, clowning around, throwing things, making faces and fart noises, wandering the room… you name it, this student was doing it.

Students who get in your face while you are talkingI finally just about lost it when he walked up to me while I was addressing the class and interrupted me mid-sentence to show me his new watch. Couldn’t he see I was busy? And then I finally realized he was acting out to get attention.

Common wisdom says the way to “extinguish” attention-getting behavior is to ignore it. In my experience, this doesn’t really work. I find what usually happens is the attention-getting misbehavior will keep accelerating until you finally snap and react in some way. Once the misbehaving student gets a reaction, the misbehavior is reinforced, making it more likely to happen again.

Preventative Attention - attention you give a student to prevent attention-getting misbehavior
If you have students who tend to act out to get attention, shower them with attention the moment they arrive in your room, before they’ve had a chance to start misbehaving. Say hello when they walk in. Ask their opinion about something (anything!) Ask them to show another student how to do something. Notice and comment on something they are doing right. Do not be fake and weird about it, but keep it going as consistently as you can for as long as you can.

If your students are already acting out, do what you need to do to stop the misbehavior, then start the positive attention routine as soon as possible. For example, when the 3rd grader tried to show me his watch during direct instruction, I smiled and said, “Show me during recess, honey,” and gestured toward his desk for him to sit down. Then I quickly called on him to answer a question I knew he could answer.

It may seem like this takes a lot of time and energy, and it does. But it takes even more time and energy to deal with all that attention-getting misbehavior all day long while trying to stay positive and maintain your sanity.

Do yourself a favor and give your needy students a little preventative attention. It couldn’t hurt, right?
Why You Can't Extinguish Misbehavior by Ignoring It

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How to Work With Parents

Once I was literally backed into a corner by a ranting mom. She yelled and waved her arms while I was trapped with my back to the wall, wondering what to do. There was no one to help me in my isolated computer lab. It was just the two of us. Every time I opened my mouth to answer one of her concerns, she would shout me down. I was finally able to extract myself from the corner and walk to a populated area, but for awhile it was a little scary.

I don’t know any teacher who doesn’t have a parent story or two.

I don’t know any teacher who doesn’t have a parent story or two. There are stories about intimidation, public criticism, lack of involvement, too much involvement, and more. It seems parents can “misbehave” in just about as many ways as their kids. Kind of makes you wonder… could classroom management principles be applied to parents? Let’s take three powerful classroom management principles, and see how they might work with parent interactions.

Clear Expectations 

One of the most powerful classroom management strategies I know is to clearly, explicitly, and systematically teach our students how things work in our class. How can students know what we expect if we haven’t taught them?

Same goes for parents. What do you expect them to do if they have a concern? Make an appointment? Email you? Text you? Write you a note? Is it okay for them visit the class? If so, when and how do they do that? Is it okay for them to interrupt your lesson? How will parents know how their kids are doing? What are your homework expectations? What is the best way for them to team up with you to help their kids succeed? Is volunteer work available in your classroom? If so, how do they sign up and what are the volunteer expectations? Is it okay to come any time, or do they need to be there at a certain time?

The truth is, most parents have no idea how much energy and attention it takes to run a classroom and they can’t understand why they can’t just show up and talk to you for awhile.

When I first started teaching, I offended a few parents by ignoring them when they showed up in the middle of class. Couldn’t they see I was busy? Well, no, they couldn’t, so they decided I must not care about them or want to listen to their concerns. The truth is, most parents have no idea how much energy and attention it takes to run a classroom and they can’t understand why they can’t just show up and talk to you for awhile.

I recommend teaching parents these expectations as many ways as you can. Put them in every newsletter, on your website, in your voicemail message, and in the signature line of your email. Use email and text autoresponders to tell parents how to contact you, and where they can go for information.

Develop Rapport Through Positive Interactions

Another powerful classroom management tool is rapport. When students feel like you care about them as human beings, they are much less likely to act out in class. The best way to build rapport is to learn who they are and share who you are.

Parents like knowing that an actual, caring person is teaching their child.

The same is true for parents. The more you can learn about them and develop a friendly relationship, the better.  When they show up for back to school night, conferences, or class activities, try to learn a little about them before getting down to business. If they don’t show up, use whatever contact information you have to send a friendly message from time to time BEFORE any problems or concerns arise. Some teachers use a family communication journal to help them keep track of when and how they have reached out to parents.

Use your newsletters and online communications to share personal information about yourself, such as favorite sports teams, hobbies, and so on. Parents like knowing that an actual, caring person is teaching their child.

Avoid Power Struggles

The ability to avoid power struggles and remain calm is a critically important classroom management skill. It’s also important in interactions with parents. Parents are emotionally involved with their kids, and are used to making important decisions about them based on their culture, family traditions, and parenting philosophy.  Teachers are used to making decisions about their classrooms based on their professional training, experience, and district mandates. Hmm… I wonder what could possibly go wrong here?

The ability to avoid power struggles and remain calm is a critically important classroom management skill. It’s also important in interactions with parents.

No matter how great you are at building relationships with parents and setting up expectations, conflicts are going to happen, and emotions may run high. If you are feeling angry or threatened, it is best to withdraw. Don’t answer that email until you’ve cooled off. If the parent is there in person, offer to make an appointment to talk about it another time. Pretend you have to get to a meeting, and go where there are other people.

If you are feeling calm, listen first and try to repeat back both their words and their emotions. “So let me see if I understand. You are feeling ____ because ______.” Ask them what they want, and try to meet their needs if possible. Many times there is some sort of miscommunication, and when you listen the problem will disappear. This is another good time to use the family communication journal, so that you can document any agreements.

Do you have a great strategy for working effectively with your students’ families? If so, I would love to hear about it. Please feel free to comment below or email me. I always love to hear from you.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Teach Them to Remember

I have to admit there are times when I just don’t think I can say “without talking” or “please get started immediately” one more time without screaming.

We all know the importance of giving clear prompts and directions to students. In fact, I believe the ability to give clear instructions is one of the most important skills for a teacher to have.

But I have to admit there are times when I just don’t think I can say “without talking” or “please get started immediately” one more time without screaming. Why can’t our students remember how to do simple things like getting ready leave, especially since we do it every single day?

They’ve totally learned the routine, which is: Goof around until the teacher tells us to stop and reminds us what to do.

And how many times have I given “the lecture” outside my door after lunch? “Welcome back from lunch. When you get in the room, please go straight to your seat and begin reading silently.” Don’t they know by now?

Well, they do. They’ve totally learned the routine, which is: Goof around until the teacher tells us to stop and reminds us what to do.

One way to avoid this trap is to teach students to do the routine without being reminded. If I am using an incentive, I make sure they understand they will only get the incentive if they do the routine without me having to tell them how. If they seem to be forgetting, I sometimes say, “I wonder who is going to get (incentive) by remembering what to do without being reminded?”

If we expect our students to remember what to do, we also need to teach them how and when to remember it.

If we expect our students to remember what to do, we also need to teach them how and when to remember it. In other words, we need to teach them the trigger. We can’t expect students to do a routine without being reminded unless they know when to start.

In the lunch example, the students WERE following my routine. They were coming in and reading silently. It’s just that the trigger was me telling them to do it. After I trained them to remember it for themselves, the trigger was coming through the door after lunch.

They had been just as bored and frustrated hearing those phrases over and over as I had been saying them.

Side benefit: I actually had a few students thank me after I trained them to remember instead of waiting for me. They had been just as bored and frustrated hearing those phrases over and over as I had been saying them.

Have you successfully trained your students to be self-starters? How did you do it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or in an email.

And now, as always, go create a great day for yourself and your students!

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