The best advice we can give new and seasoned teachers on behavior management is to understand the root of student misbehaviors and address it appropriately.

As teachers, we’re juggling numerous things at a time. And it can be frustrating to constantly correct misbehaviors, so we often jump straight into strict consequences. Although this may fix the issue immediately, it won't correct misbehaviors in the long term.

Here are three strategies to help you better understand and address misbehaviors.

1.Be Mindful About Your Unspoken Rules

Unspoken rules are the deep-seated rules we are unaware of until the rule is broken. Because we are unaware of our unspoken rules, we rarely possess the language to express our concerns, frustrations, or even expectations. We tend to believe these rules are just the way the world works, and often cannot understand why someone would choose not to follow them. But once they break them, we usually realize we never taught the desired behavior or even explicitly shared our expectations.

Reflecting on what is bothering us about a student’s behavior and why we are bothered can change how we discipline students. It’s important that we help students become more mindful about their behavior by addressing the root of the problem.  

Example: Every day during lunch line up, Byron rushes past everyone in his row, almost running into people, to get in line first.

Response: "Byron, I get that lunch is very important to you; it is important to me, too. But buddy, every day I notice you running past your classmates to get in line first. This makes me feel like you aren't thinking about your friends and makes me worry that you are going to crash into someone. I need you to walk to the line, and tomorrow, I am going to remind you to walk."

  • Every day I notice you running past your classmates to get in line first. You are addressing the situation directly (what) instead of being apprehensive with the student. The student will be able to understand exactly what behavior you are addressing.
  • This makes me feel like you aren't thinking about your friends and makes me worry that you are going to crash into someone. You are explaining why this conduct is worrying. By establishing a reason, you are building empathy with your student. You are also addressing the root of the problem.
  • I need you to walk to the line, and tomorrow, I am going to remind you to walk. Finally, establish redirection. Avoid redirections like “Go to the back of the line.” By addressing our concerns, we are building empathy and providing an alternative to the behavior in question.

2. Use Quick, Simple, and Constant Redirections

Ever use the phrase criss-cross, apple sauce to redirect students? Quick, simple phrases can help redirect students to your expected behavior. Creating routines for behaviors — such as how you want your students to enter the classroom or how you want their laptops set — can help you run a successful classroom.

Tip: Avoid using verbs to redirect students, which can unintentionally present negative feelings toward the redirection. For example, instead of saying, “Copy what is on my board,” say, "My board equals your paper."

Here are more examples to use in your classroom:

  • “45 degrees” – When you say 45 degrees the student understands that laptops must be closed at a 45 degree angle.
  • “Feet, back, straight” – The student understands you are asking them to sit correctly.
  • “Level zero” – Students must now be silent.

We must accept that a big part of any teacher's role is to discipline students. But it is how you redirect students that makes the difference between a successful classroom and an average classroom.

3. Track Behavior with an ABC Tracker

Sometimes we have one or two students that need a little more than just a simple redirection. Most of the time, these students have lagging skills or unsolved problems that you have not yet identified.

Lost at School by Ross W. Greene describes lagging skills as social, emotional, or executive skills that a child has yet to master. Unsolved problems are problems students face that they do not yet have the tools or skills to solve. Identifying lagging skills or unsolved problems can help you apply long-term strategies to correct misbehaviors.

To identify a pattern of behaviors, use an ABC Tracker:

  • Antecedent. What happens before the behavior occurs?
  • Behavior. What did the student do?
  • Consequence. What happens after the behavior? How did you react?

Once you’ve identified the behavior trend, understand which lagging skill(s) or unsolved problem(s) the student has a difficult time dealing with. Then, apply strategies to correct the behavior accordingly. Check out this video where Specialist Westley Baker explains how to use the ABC Tracker.

The ABC Tracker explained by Selected Specialist Westley Baker. [Captions coming soon!]

Remember, this is a strategy that will take time. And it’s unlikely you’ll use this strategy with all of your students. Include other teachers in your tracker if it’s helpful; they may be having the same issues as you — and sometimes, it takes a team.

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