By: Jessica Lyon
Recently I had someone ask me, “Why does your classroom feel so different?” I asked her what she meant, assuming she was probably talking about my lack of organization, or the crazy 80s color scheme my school decided to use. She proceeded to tell me that the learning environment just felt different. I honestly couldn’t come up with an answer. After she asked me a few questions and was getting ready to leave, I finally realized what was she was referring to.
It’s because my students know the “why” of everything we do and learn. Very quickly into the beginning of the year, I got easily frustrated with my students’ “line behavior”. They wouldn’t line up quietly, they talked down the hallway, and they couldn’t stay in straight lines, despite my constant efforts to keep them that way. I was mortified being the intern who couldn’t walk her 30 students down the hallway. My mentor asked me one day why I cared so much about my students walking in the hallway quietly. I explained to her that I was embarrassed. We talked about strategies and ideas, but then an idea dawned on me. That afternoon, I sat my students down and asked “Why do we need to walk quietly in the hallway?” My students began by saying things like “because it’s a school rule” or “because you told us to”. Then I pushed their thinking more by asking, “But why do I care if you walk in the hallway quietly?” They were stumped. So then I asked, “Well, imagine you’re taking a test, and a really noisy class comes walking down the hallway. What are you thinking about? Are you going to do well on your test?” This sparked a conversation about how it was respectful and polite to walk quietly in the hallway. They began realizing the impact that their behavior had on me. They realized that I looked like a “bad teacher” because I couldn’t keep my class quiet in the hallways. From that day on, all I’ve had to ask them is to show me their hallway behavior. For each student their specific behavior is different, but it is quiet. If a student forgets the rules, I simply have to stop them and remind them, and the problem goes away.
I use this strategy in all my discipline management. If a child is whistling during a test, I ask them to stop because it is distracting others. When a student says something mean to another student, I ask them how they would feel if someone said that to them. When someone steals something off my desk, I explain how it hurt my feelings and how it stinks that I don’t have that item anymore. My students now have a reason to obey and follow rules.
The easiest way to implement this strategy as a first year teacher is to use “I” messages. I taught my students this strategy at the beginning of the year, and we use it frequently to express our feelings. The lesson was taken directly from the Prevention Dimensions Program. The framework for the message is to say “I feel… (insert feeling here) when… (insert behavior) because… (why did that bother you?) and I need… (suggest what the offender could to do to remedy the problem).”
Here are two examples from the past months:
“Class, I feel like I’m a boring teacher when you don’t look at me when I’m teaching. This is because when people don’t look at me when I’m talking, it seems like they aren’t interested. I really need you to look at me so I know you’re listening.”
“Chris, I feel hurt when you play rough with me because it hurts my stomach. I would like to play another game.”
Overall, I’ve noticed that my students respond to people who are real. They know when you aren’t invested in a lesson because something is on your mind. They know when you are thinking something you are required to do is ridiculous. They know when you love the topic and want them to love it too. Be upfront and honest with your students so they trust you and know that everything that comes out of your mouth is worth their time.
Honesty is always the best policy. I want my students to leave with more knowledge and truth than they had before (see quote above).
*Disclaimer: I am NOT saying this has solved all my behavior problems. This method has simply prevented a lot of behaviors so I don’t have to intervene later.