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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Optimal Behavior in School Begins with Transparent Teamwork

Behavior is a concern of many teachers. They wonder how to best motivate good behavior and classroom community. It's a good idea to think about this prior to the school year starting with, how do you deal with the toughest situations?

When there's a tough decision, it's typically best not to decide alone.

I recognize that sometimes one has to make a tough decision on their own, and that's to be expected, but in most cases when a tough decision exists, it's best to seek out the consult of others and work together in that regard.

As I think of this, I bring to mind the tough decisions I've faced as a teacher.

Playground/Classroom Conflicts
There's the typical playground or classroom conflicts. A former principal gave me a great strategy for this. First, you say, "Did you take the first step?" The first step in a conflict that's not dangerous is to use your words and talk to the person(s) involved. Then if the student has taken the first step or the first step is not possible, you bring the two children or groups of children up and say, "I want to hear about this situation; everyone will have a chance to talk. Who would like to tell their side first."  You listen. Then you let the other side(s) tell their part. After that you say, "I'm thinking about what's the next best step. Does anyone have any ideas?" Typically students will give some ideas. Then you say, "You are good kids, and we all know that if we work together, we can all do the right thing. Let's make a decision about how we can remedy this situation and get back to play/learning." Usually an exchange like this takes care of the problem and students resume their play or learning.

More Severe Behavioral Issues
Probably one of the toughest decisions is what to do when there is a severe behavioral issue. A child has made a mistake or acted in a way that's impacted others with negativity. What should you do? If you're not sure, and there's no danger, take some time to think about the problem aloud with trusted colleagues, the child's family members, and/or leaders. Then respectfully investigate and find out all the facts--don't jump to conclusions. After that, dissect the issue piece by piece and deal with it proactively looking for ways to teach those who erred so they don't do it again. Usually a logical consequence which is an act that helps to teach students to do what they did wrong differently or not at all, is the best consequence.

Danger or Injury
If there's danger or injury, you have to assess immediately then tell the onlookers what to do while you deal with the dangerous or injurious situation. Older children are typically quite helpful as they can run for the nurse or other teachers to help out. If a child is acting out strongly, it's best to move the other children away from that child, and give that child time to settle down. Often there are plans in place and people with training when a child acts out like this regularly. Then, with the help of other school staff, some can help the child or children in need while others care for the rest of the children. Typically, for situations of danger or injury that go beyond an individual or small group of children, there are protocols in place at the school level. If your school does not have those protocols, then you need to work to create them. We have spent some time on this as a school community and have a number of systems in place.

Establish Protocols and Be Prepared
It's best to set the stage for good action early in the year by creating and reviewing school/classroom protocols and routines with students. Emphasize that your class is a community and that it's everyone's job to take care of one another. Also emphasize that you're helping each other if you report dangerous and destructive acts as it's important for young children to learn what is right and what's wrong. Learning those lessons early saves children from bad situations later on. Also tell students that you are there to help each student help one another, learn as much as possible, and enjoy the school experience. Emphasize that if you all work together to help each other, then everyone will learn well and enjoy school. Then as situations occur, deal with the issues right away by talking about the issues and updating protocols if needed.

As Ruth Charney teaches in her book, Teaching Children to Care, we have to explicitly communicate, teach, and coach classroom expectations. We can't expect students to come to school knowing the expectations related to anything in our classrooms or school. Instead, we have to teach everything including how to enter the room, hang-up your coat, complete morning work, greet a teacher or classmate, recess rules, and more. When we create the community we want with children, we gain their investment and learn together as a team. Work like this prevents most behavioral issues and empowers teachers and students alike.