Behavior Management Strategies for Middle and High School Classrooms
In middle and high school classrooms, teachers, staff members, and administration have unique behavior management challenges. The use (and misuse) of cell phones, destruction of property, and many other insubordinate behaviors can undoubtedly carve a sizable chunk of time away from why we're there-- to educate kids.
You've likely been to professional development sessions centered on the idea of using positive behavior management strategies instead of reprimanding and assigning consequences. An increasing body of research states that we should reinforce and praise the behaviors we want to see, and not paying attention to the negative ones. The theory is that if you ignore the undesirable behaviors and focus on the positive ones, the negative behaviors will disappear. While I disagree that we should necessarily ignore harmful and disruptive behavior, a greater emphasis on positive behavior can result in a stronger rapport with students, a more productive environment, and ultimately make life easier for you and your students.
As an experienced teacher, I'd like to offer a few tips that can support you in creating a productive learning environment through positive behavioral strategies.
#1 Establish Mutual Respect
I doubt that many good teachers get into the profession for the power, but it is easy to get swept away in the role of the authority figure. Some students may generally mistrust adults and may not respect you right away. That's okay, because you're going to work on building a relationship with that student first, based on mutual respect. The best way to command respect from a student is to give it back in spades. In even in the most frustrating situations, we have to maintain perspective and not allow our emotions to get the better of us, in order show students respect and dignity.
The route of public humiliation and not smiling until Christmas is a rough road to pave and most likely won't lead you to respect. It's important to note, your first interaction with a student should not be a reprimand, especially if it's in the hallway and you two don't know each other. A student with whom you have an established connection is more likely to be respectful when redirected because they have had several positive interactions with you and perceive you to be fair and reasonable.
#2 Find Solutions
Instead of focusing on the write-up, detention, or other consequence, focus on the solution needed to change the behavior in the first place. Because of school policies, we may still need to give out the consequence, but we should also focus on finding fair solutions. After all, you and the student will reencounter each other, whether it's in your class or in the hallways. Instead of giving the chronically tardy student mindless detention after detention, let's not forget to have a conversation about the issue and help brainstorm solutions. It may be that there are home situations outside of the student's control. After a conversation with us in which we express our concerns and really listen to student situations -- and offer to find fair solutions, we may change the heart of even the most apathetic teenagers.
#3 Don't take it Personally
Classroom disruptions and other behavior issues are rarely a personal attack on you. I know how hard it is to keep our cool when we've spent hours preparing a lecture and learning activity that an unruly student disrupts. Staying calm and refusing to take it personally will help us focus on the solutions. For newer teachers, this may seem harder to do than say, but with time, you'll be able to redirect students without it consuming your mind.
#4 Have a Sense of Humor
Sometimes the class clown is actually funny. We have to help the class clown learn when to turn "it" on and when to turn "it" off. In my experience, as students mature and take social cues from their peers, they learn how to do this. Also, sometimes things go haywire in our plans. You should actually expect this to happen. We have to maintain a sense of humor for those times that laughing it off is the only sane option.
#5 Let Go of Total Control
This one is hard, but it is such a valuable skill to have as a teacher. We'd love to believe that we are in total control of teenagers, but alas, we are not. Trying to micromanage and completely control them is frustrating and futile (for both teacher and student). Ironically, the more you give up trying to micromanage every.single.thing. students do or say, the more freed up you will be and the more positive the classroom climate will be.
What strategies have we missed? What works for you? Let us know!