Samantha Whaley, MPA - Boys Town National Training
You walk into the first building you visit to see a student running down the hall with a teacher yelling and chasing after him. There is a fight in the lunchroom. . . complete with flying mashed potatoes! You stand there for a few minutes, in shock as several adults walk by, but no one greets you.
At the second school, you walk in and are greeted by a student ambassador. Kids are walking to and from class... it’s a little loud, but most of the sounds you hear are laughing, giggling and general conversation. There is no yelling, there is no running and there are no flying mashed potatoes. There are adults in the hallway, interacting with students, and posters on the walls to remind everyone of the school rules.
This is just a guess, but based on first impressions, I am assuming you would be more likely to go with the second option. I know I would.
Imagine you are new in town and visiting schools for your children to attend. You've done a little bit of research and have narrowed it down to two...
When you walk into a school, it should look, feel and sound like the second example. Kids should be supervised and interacting with adults but still having fun. Expectations should be clearly posted as a reminder for everyone. The positive feeling and friendly environment are exactly what we should be striving for in all of our schools, a positive culture that supports learning both academically and behaviorally. This positive culture is what all educators should be striving for but how can you get there?
1. Be Proactive – “We can’t hold kids accountable for things we’ve never told them we expect.”
Yes, it would be excellent if kids came to school with all the skills and knowledge they needed to be successful. However, if this was the case, there would be no need for school. Different cultural norms, home life situations and family values can create behavioral challenges when you squeeze 30 kids into one small classroom. Luckily, proactively addressing behavior through social skill teaching is an easy way to address and ensure success in your classroom. Teaching skills proactively and using preventive prompts will give you more time to spend on academics in the long run, as you will not have to focus as much on addressing disruptive behaviors. Use our FREE social skill lesson plans to help set your students and classroom up for success, kids will know what is expected of them behaviorally.
2. Praise Early & Often – “If it’s important enough to correct, it’s important enough to praise.”
When was the last time you praised a child for something they were expected to do? Hopefully the answer is today or yesterday or last week. Often, we forget to praise the small steps kids take toward following the rules or learning a new skill. When you praise a child, you are reinforcing their actions and increasing the likelihood that the behavior will continue. Even if a child didn’t get everything quite right, praising the positive steps they took is a powerful way to keep them motivated toward the end goal. This is what that may sound like, “Thank you, Susie, for raising your hand, but remember to wait until I call on you before answering next time.” Yes, Susie didn’t get it just right, but if Susie doesn’t usually raise her hand at all before answering your question, you are making steps in the right direction. Praise these small steps, and follow up with what Susie missed. Not only are you reminding her of the proper behavior, but you are reinforcing the steps she is taking toward meeting the expectation. Hear from a principal who uses positive consequences to keep his students motivated.
3. Maintain Consistency – “Consistent action creates consistent results.” –Christine Kane
Ask most parents, and they will tell you that their baby or child has a very strict schedule. They sleep and eat at the same time every day. For a long time, I thought this was for the parents’ benefit. However, in reality, kids crave consistency and structure. Creating a consistent environment in schools is about more than a schedule. Using consistent language, expectations and consequences allows students to feel secure because they know what to expect. This predictability leads to increased student success academically and behaviorally. Watch this video to hear how consistent language transformed one student’s behavior.
4. Model Desired Behavior – “Be what you want to see.”
The most powerful tool we have as educators is our own behavior. The old adage, do as I say, not as I do has never really worked. Many times, it pushes kids further from the desired pro-social behavior you are expecting. Instead, use your own behavior to show kids what is expected, tolerated and appropriate. Not only will kids follow your lead, but they will respect you more, which can help improve student-teacher relationships.
5. Individualize Student Support – “Fair is not equal or the same; it is what that person needs at that time.”
Whether it is academics or behavior, one size does not fit all. Using a multi-tiered system of support allows you to create a structure and process that best supports the needs of students. Without this type of structure in place, students who receive too little support may misbehave more, and those who receive too much support may not reach their full potential.
Learn more about our professional development workshops that are customized to meet the needs of students there they are at.
6. Teach Replacement Behaviors – “Don’t waste a good mistake… Learn from it. ” –Robert Kiyosaki
As humans, our behaviors are the tool we use to meet a need or accomplish a goal. With this in mind, when Bobby throws a fit because you asked him to start working on his writing assignment, there likely a deeper issue going on than “I just don’t want to do it. ” Maybe he struggles with writing and doesn’t know how to ask for help. Or what if the topic you have asked him to write about triggers a negative emotional response that he does not know how to deal with? No matter the true reason for the behavior, our job as educators is to teach students alternative behaviors that will help them meet their needs in a more pro-social way. This teaching piece of behavior correction is the most important step you can take in giving kids the tools they need to succeed and reducing future misbehavior. Learn more about the importance of teaching replacement behaviors here.
7. Set Low Tolerances – “What you allow is what will continue”
As discussed previously, being consistent with kids allows them to feel safe. The security that predictability provides to students helps them learn what is appropriate or inappropriate in various situations. Having consistent tolerances when it comes to behavior creates boundaries that kids can understand. If the boundary of what is acceptable is always changing kids will see this as unfair, leading to more escalated behavior and non-compliance. Check out our FREE webinar for strategies on setting tolerances.
Creating a positive school culture takes buy-in and support from every adult in the building but the process needs to start with administrators and school leaders. Start implementing just one of these 7 secrets and to start seeing the transformation in your school. Visit our website for more resources on positive culture, Social and Emotional Learning and classroom management.