Anyone who knows me will be aware of my penchant for Monster energy drinks (there are other brands available). At the start of my 50 minute drive to work in the morning, I tend to ‘crack’ open the can in the hope that I will have slowly consumed the 500ml of chemical infused liquid by the time I arrive at work, where I will be all set for the day ahead.
One morning last week, I made a small (bad) decision at the start of my journey that had a knock on effect for the rest.
So the bad decision I made? Well, rather than rid the cup holders in my car of the empty cans of past drives, I decided to leave them be. My drive began as usual and around 5 minutes in, I opened my fresh can of Monster. However, my decision not to remove the old cans meant that I had no where to place the new can between sips. I could have thrown the old cans on the passenger floor, but decided that I would just keep the can between my legs. One sharp manoeuvre later left me with a seriously wet and squelchy seat. My trousers were drenched. I had 40 mins left of the drive to go, so thought I could dry them off by directing the fans to my crotch and turning up the heat and fan to maximum settings. I thought I had it solved, yet ten minutes further along, a burning smell started to make its way around the car. Then the hot air turned to warm, warm went to cool and cool remained. Wet bum and broken heater all due to one bad decision.
I happened to be teaching a session on behaviour management on this day and there was something that resonated about this incident. If we make one bad choice when it comes to behaviour, we could potentially create a much bigger problem for ourselves. Whether it be ignoring that swear word that was said, or allowing learners to sit where they want, this small action may have a knock on effect to more inappropriate behaviour with the learners.
When I started my first teaching role as a fresh faced graduate, I was little more than a few years older than the learners I was teaching. My initial decision was to try and find a common ground and gain respect by being the ‘cool teacher’. I didn’t really have any particular behaviour management strategies and just went in to lessons to teach. At first, the group responded well. They would work generally hard and remain focussed. But on the odd occasion where there was misbehaviour, I would ignore it, or make a joke to help refocus the class on me. As the year went on, I felt that I was losing more and more respect from the group. If they didn’t want to do work, they wouldn’t do it. If I challenged, they would laugh. It was tough. I got through the first year and was adamant that this would not happen again. A few simple things that I developed over subsequent years to help with this was:
- Ownership – I owned my classroom. Meeting and greeting learners at the door allowed me to control them coming in. I could acknowledge each and every one of them, I could seat them where I wanted, I could ask them to remove hats/stop eating before entering the room. Further to this, I would change the classroom layout frequently to prevent poor routines from being established. This also helped me to establish a more inclusive environment.
- Policy – I used the behaviour policy of the college in a consistent manner. If a learner was breaching the ground rules, then I would ensure that the consequences were adhered to. This was not only a benefit to them, but also ensured that I covered my own back – there is no way you can complain about classroom behaviour to a superior if you haven’t used the behaviour policy correctly.
- Challenge – I kept my lessons challenging for all learners so that they didn’t become bored. In retrospect, at the start of my career, I often tried to do this in a fun way, but realised later that fun was often at the expense of learning. My recommendation to anyone is to get the learners to think hard about what they’re meant to be learning.
- Relationships – I ensured that I kept relationships professional. In doing this, I tried to know everything I could about each individual that entered my room, ensuring that I gave them all the individual attention they need, whilst acquiring information about what made them ‘tick’. I learnt fast that celebrating the positive behaviours was far more productive than highlighting the negatives and this not only helps the learners to learn the acceptable behaviour, but also helps with building strong working relationships.
Anyone that is aware of behaviour management theory will see that my strategies are underpinned by an assertive discipline approach (Canter, 1976), whose roots are formed by operant conditioning (Skinner, 1938). Evidence suggests that this approach to disciplinary interventions can have a huge effect-size of between 0.7 and 0.9 (Marzano, 2003 cited in Petty, 2006). However, I am not for one minute saying that this is foolproof, but used and developed over time, it helped me to improve the behaviour in my classroom. The more experienced I became, the better behaviour became, but there would still be occasions where I would make a bad decision which would have a knock-on effect, causing chaos in my classroom. On reflection, the bad decisions did tend to occur when I was being a ‘lazy teacher’ – The days when I arrived at the classroom ten seconds prior to the start, or the times when I just couldn’t be bothered to address a poor behaviour. This is much like the lazy decision I made when not removing my litter from the car. On that note, I’m off with my bin bag in tow.