The right approach to redirecting behaviors in an educational setting makes a huge difference to students and teachers. Today’s teachers are under pressure to ensure each student in every class is always on task and actively engaged in learning. It’s a tightrope walk, complying with administrative expectations, and the moods and various concerns of students. Dialog with students, using an engaging approach, to find the real cause of a negative behavior. Regardless of results, it’s always necessary to address and redirect undesirable behaviors. Allowing negative behaviors to continue without redirecting is worst thing a teacher can do, both professionally and relating to classroom discipline.
Sees Students as People not Lists of Rules
Communicate sincere concern when you begin addressing bad student behaviors. If a student’s head is down, ask if they are OK, before reviewing rules about staying on task. Let students know your concern for their well being comes before simply obeying the rules. Use a friendly, soothing tone of voice.
Similarly, begin by complimenting a student on something personal. It can be a previously well answered question, a piece of jewelry or clothing, a hair style or manicure. Build a bridge by admiring something, or communicating a common ground. Perhaps the student wears a piece of clothing featuring a sports team or band that you like. Express that connection. “Hey, I’m a Bulls fan, too. Better watch out. I might steal your hat for myself. Why don’t you take it off until class is over?”
Types of Questions to Ask
There are many approaches to asking about students’ needs. “Are you all right? What is bothering you? Is something preventing you from doing your best on [the given assignment]? Why do you feel [anxious, angry, tired, sick]? Would you like help with…? How can I help you finish [assignment]?”
Suggestions to Student
Try suggesting things to students that fit well with your disciplinary actions and will still be received as an offer of concern. Do you need a different seat? Are you close enough to the blackboard [overhead projector, teacher, etc.]? Do you need a drink of water [stretch break, visit to a councilor]? Do you need to sit by yourself? Would different materials help [different pen/pencil, unlined paper, etc.]?
Validate Students’ Needs
There are infinite reasons why a student may be distracted or irritated, and many times we cannot solve those problems. Classrooms are often too hot, or too cold. They have uncomfortable furniture. If you can’t immediately solve the need, show the student you recognize their discomfort and that you care.
For example: “Johnny” acts out because he hasn’t eaten breakfast or last night’s dinner. Perhaps you don’t have a snack to give him, or it’s inappropriate to have food in your classroom setting. Validating Johnny’s need shows him you care. “I know you’re hungry. I’m starving, too. Lunch is coming soon, so please do your best to work on [assignment] and I’ll help you the best I can.” I have had great success using these techniques in the classroom; you can use them to improve your classroom management skills.
Joe Capristo taught high school for six years in an extremely challenging and hostile school environment. He continues to teach and tutor high school and college students.