Managing student behaviour: advice for beginning and aspiring teachers
Managing the behaviour of a large cohort of students can be challenging for newer teachers. However, there are many useful strategies that aspiring and beginning educators can employ to manage behaviour and retain students’ focus on learning.
IEUA-QNT member and teacher Frank Turtle recently presented a professional development session on this topic for members of our Beginning Educators Network (BEnet).
Frank said effective behaviour management is a result of laying the groundwork and setting expectations from the beginning.
As initial steps, Frank says beginning and aspiring educators should:
- consult with administrators about whether their school has an existing behaviour management plan or policy to consult;
- set expectations with students at the very start of the year and stick with them as it’s better than trying to enforce it later when disruptive behaviours have become ingrained;
- involve students in the process of developing classroom rules; and
- discuss roles of students in the classroom and the consequences of poor behaviour.
Frank said that once expectations are established, remaining consistent in their application is essential. For example, like consequences should be applied for like behaviour. Consistency sets a tone that will remain in place for the long-term.
While expectations and consistency form the basis of effective behaviour management, Frank said it is important to remain realistic. Frank discusses a situation he encountered with his year ten history class during his first year of teaching.
The class was comprised of generally well-behaved students and Frank insisted on absolute silence while he was speaking; however, this direction would only sometimes be followed by students.
When discussing the issue with a mentor, the mentor suggested that Frank should make his expectations more manageable for the class. It is reasonable to expect that some students were asking each other about what he had said. Frank realised it was easy to make a distinction between quiet talk about the content of the lesson and general chatter.
This did not mean that Frank would have low expectations, but rather develop a realistic view about what behaviour he could expect of students.
Finding the real problem
Frank said students rarely set out to be a nuisance and that there is usually an underlying cause of poor behaviour.
Causes that are beyond the classroom, such as issues in home life, are often difficult to address, but there often issues inside the classroom that can be changed to mitigate poor behaviour.
Frank gave examples like students not sitting close enough to read the board, learning better with images or briefer instructions, or needing to be seated away from friends.
Frank said establishing a dialogue with students is important in identifying any issues that may be impacting their behaviour and changes that can be made.
Communicating with parents
Frank said it’s important to communicate with parents about behavioural concerns as soon as they arise.
Examples of situations that would warrant parent contact include: second instance of incomplete homework, an assignment draft not being submitted, a student being sent out of classroom, inappropriate language or regular uniform infringements.
Frank said this communication has the benefit of keeping parents informed and allowing them to address the communicated behaviour issues. This also creates an expectation among students that their parents will know if they behave poorly.
He also said that pro-active communication could prevent some poor behaviours. Letting parents know about due dates and what topics are being covered can help them engage with students at home.
Providing positive reinforcement
Frank said acknowledging good behaviour was often even more important than managing poor behaviour. Positive feedback and praising students in these instances helps to foster good habits.
Asking for help
Beginning educators enter the workforce with a wealth of experience provided by their tertiary education; however, teaching is a profession that includes a significant amount of learning on the job.
Frank said it’s important to ask for help when you need it. If you experience continuing difficulty in managing behaviour or other issues in the classroom, remember that you can approach mentors or trusted colleagues for advice.