Classroom Management, Behaviour Management and Strong Student-Teacher Relationships
Classroom management and behaviour management are essentially two sides of the same coin. They feed into each other and you can’t be strong in one without being strong in the other. Classroom management refers to the routines and rituals that you as the teacher and the students use to get through lessons each and everyday. These can be explicitly discussed or can been unwritten and unspoken routines that the class has developed throughout their time with you.
Classroom management is like the “law of the land” whereas behaviour management is how you go about managing those who don’t quite follow these laws. It’s more of an individual, one-on-one interaction, or a small group interaction. It can be a quiet discussion while the rest of the class are working or a slightly more serious discussion outside of class.
The reality is these two aspects of the learning environment are vitally important to get right, and as a teacher you need the skills to manage both at the same time. As mentioned earlier they feed into each other, they can make each other strong, and are the foundation for a strong and safe learning environment. Arguably two of the most important aspects of a strong learning environment . At the same time if one of these two areas aren’t strong it will undermine the effectiveness of the other and as a result create some unnecessary challenges for both you and the student along the way.
As with everything in the world of education (and in the wider world as well) people are looking for the “quick fix”, they are looking for the shortest path to success. Now in an overworked and underfunded industry like education you can excuse people from time to time for looking for the easy option. The reality is (as with everything in the world) good things take time and developing the skills to manage an entire class as well as managing individual behaviours is no exception.
So, here are some of the tips and tricks, strategies and tactics that you can use that might help accelerate the process a little. In short it can all be summed up in one word relationships.
One word “Relationships”
Now if you think about having a strong relationship with you students, it just makes sense. People (students included) don’t want to upset or do wrong by anyone they know they have a strong connection with. This includes teachers. In fact evidencebasedteaching.org.au identified a strong student-teacher relationship as a 5-star “immense impact strategy” along with “with-it-ness”. So what does a strong relationship with the students look like? And how do you develop one? And what the hell is “with-it-ness”?
Just be yourself
So the reality is a strong relationship looks different for every student in every class. And it can even look different for the same student in different classes or even outside of the classroom environment. Now the reality is building a strong relationship with a student is the same as building a relationship with someone outside the classroom, just be yourself. Now perhaps don’t be yourself after you’ve had a few drinks on a Friday night. But definitely be a “professional educator” version of yourself. Students can tell right away if you’re putting on an act, whether it be the “Tough Guy” act or “Mr Nice Guy” act. The reason they will notice is because teaching is such a high energy game you simply can’t put on the act forever. Eventually the students will notice some chinks in your armour. They will notice some inconsistencies in your behaviour. This is why being yourself is so important. When your classes are a little behind the 8-ball, school reports are due and parent teacher interviews are tonight, the pressure is on. Here you’re really only left to your reflects, this is when you will default back to your natural teaching behaviours and instincts. You’ll have no time or energy to keep up this act. So you might as well be yourself from the very beginning. And kids will appreciate this, even if they never say it. You’re showing you’re human and not this grumpy education machine.
Now this might sound strange but humanising students and teachers is an essential path to building strong relationships. Now what does humanising mean, well it means you understand the student has a life outside of your classroom. You understand that they may have a number of things going on in their life and your homework might not the most important thing they have going in their life right now. Also you understand that they may have challenges outside your class that they can’t simply leave at the door. Showing you understand this, showing you understand their human side is what is meant by humanising students. A brilliant article by Eric Turner discusses the importance of understanding the entire student (as well as other amazing things). Now this also has an added bonus of allowing yourself to be human as well. As you are not going to be on the ball each and everyday. There will be times when your lessons are a little less than perfect, there will be times when your marking isn’t done when you promised. And if you have taken the lead and shown the kids the importance of understanding each other as humans they will take the time to understand you in your entire context.
It’s all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Another important part of relationships is respect. To put it simply respect is a two way street. It must be earned, and earning the students respect is another extended benefit of humanising them. The students will understand that you look at them as more than just a little Shakespeare learning machine. They know you respect them and all their life experiences they bring with them. And some days for one reason or another they will be more productive than others. Some days they just need space and may not be productive at all. If the students can see you respect that, this will go a long way to building a strong student-teacher relationship, respect.
Show you care
So while we are on the topic of building strong relationships with students what are some practical tips and tricks you can use tomorrow that will help speed up this process. Well the simplest answer to this is show you care. Show you care about them more than just the little learning robot you see in your class. This can be as simple as watching them play sport after school or in the weekend. Letting them know you’ll be at their dance recital or their art exhibition. This will definitely go a long way to building that strong relationship and it has the added benefit of showing you that there is so much more to the student than what you see in the classroom. It helps you understand that people aren’t always good at everything and maybe it’s okay that they’re not that strong in your subject. It really does go a long way to shedding light onto the student as a whole person. Now if a student doesn’t have any of the typical hobbies or interests outside the classroom then simply talk to their other teachers and ask about their successes. And when you see the student in the hallway at lunchtime just mention it as you pass by. “Congratulations on doing so well in…..” If the student has had a particularly troublesome past and has never really made a strong connection with the teacher, this will honestly blow their mind. “My maths teacher cares about how I did in music, wow, they really care.” It’s small things like this that will go a long way to building a strong healthy relationship with your students and this will make classroom management and behaviour management a breeze.
Now teaching is a high energy game. The amount of effort you need to put into lesson planning, marking, pastoral care, will probably come close to matching most job outside of teaching. Then there is the act of actually carrying out your lessons, which is as demanding as any job can get. Physically, mentally and emotionally. It is completely normal for you to get worn down from time to time and when this happens things can tough. This is why it’s important to have something to pick you up when you’re down. Something to remind yourself why you’re there. This will get you through the hard times, help you stay positive, and help you be the positive version of yourself that the students love. This can be a giant cat poster with the quote “BELIEVE”, or the have a nice day poster with the giant smiley face. Anything that will remind you that you’re in the business of changing young people’s lives and how truly blessed you are (as every teacher is) to call this your profession.
Have a sense of humour
A small token such as the ones described above will go a long way to helping you maintain the almost impossible energy levels need to be a teacher. Having higher energy levels will help with this next classroom management tip. Have a sense of humour. Without harping on too much, this is another extension of just being human. Having a good sense of humour means when the kids to play up, which they will, you might be able to see the lighter side on their transgression. In many instances the kids will appreciate this little bit of leniency. No doubt they will continue to test the waters and as the inappropriate behaviour escalates so will your response. But showing that you have a good sense of humour, again showing the kids your human side will go a long way to making your life easier when dealing with classroom management and behaviour management issues in the future.
Finally the next tip was mentioned by evidencebasedteaching.org.au as another immense impact strategy for classroom and behaviour management. With-it-ness. Students know when a teacher is “with-it” or not. A teacher who has with-it-ness is able to have their head down helping a student at one end of the classroom and at the same time politely correct a student on their inappropriate language or behaviour at the other end of the classroom. With-it teachers have eyes in the back of their head and know every little thing that goes on in the classroom. So how do you develop with-it-ness. Well just like everything it just takes time. Quietly positioning yourself at the back of the room and simply observing your class will help you understand their behaviours when they think you’re not looking. Another useful strategy will be to observe the same class with a different teacher, again quietly watching from a distance will be extremely beneficial in understanding the kids behaviour. Actually observing any class really will be beneficial. Observing your colleagues is a massive part of professional development that is heavily under utilised but that is probably a discussion for another time.
Honestly this blog posted was meant to highlight a number of different strategies you could use to help you better manage the classroom and student behaviour. But in the end, all the different aspects of building a strong, healthy, productive student-teacher relationship just had to be covered. And all the other strategies for good classroom and behaviour management such as the use of strong and engaging learning activities, having many tools in the teaching and learning toolkit, the importance of being a great verbal and nonverbal communicator, the appropriate use of the carrot and stick, praise early and often in public and gentle feedback in private, keeping the small things small, will have to be covered another time.