Sunday, November 29, 2015

Applying Classroom Rules and Procedures

Providing positive reinforcement to students who are following class rules and procedures, and consequences to students who are not, is essential to creating a well-functioning learning environment. It begins with setting the tone and the expectations from the outset, with well-defined rules preferably reinforced by collaboration and agreement by the students in the rule-making. From there, it’s a matter of well-tuned awareness and consistent and immediate application of responses to behavior observed in the classroom. Setting up the expectation that behavior will not go unnoticed, un-commented on, un-reacted to puts the students in the position of unambiguous responsibility for their own destiny, which is ultimately empowering.

Things will come up. Most dramatically, the teacher’s conduct seeks to prevent these things from spinning out of control. But it’s also just about knowing what’s going on, such as picking up on what kids are bringing into the classroom from outside, and knowing what responses are effective. I see my ideal default state as being that I act in a state of withitness: occupying the whole room; observing proactively; reacting with cues both verbal and nonverbal, directed at acknowledging what I’m seeing and steering it back to a reasonably level state.

When a student is deserving of positive feedback…
I’ll offer direct, private acknowledgment. Even as the class proceeds, I’ll seek to provide a nonverbal cue or a quiet word with that student, without drawing attention to the exchange.

I may look to give rewards, which may be symbolic gestures or material goods, but I expect to operate more in the territory of added privileges or choices.

I will endeavor to call or email home regularly to acknowledge the good things I’m seeing.

When a student’s behavior needs to be reined in…

At times, I may let the student express their frustration (to me or the group), if that allows the emotion to “drain off.” For this to be effective, the student needs to get right back on task after that release is allowed.

I’ll use humor, which can ease the reasons for anxiety and reinforce my leadership/control. It’s important that my humor not convey a sarcastic tone.

If the whole class is starting to grow restless, I’d be inclined to divert and re-direct into an activity that re-focuses their interest and attention. I’d want to do that in a way that isn’t obvious to them, or show an obvious pattern of doing so.

I’ll say “no” when that’s what needs to be heard. A responsible adult creating boundaries can be reassuring. Consequences encourage responsible decision-making.

More than anything, I’ll be sympathetic. That cannot solve every situation, but it can create the conditions that make for fewer such situations. I’ll encourage students, and “catch the child doing something good.” I’ll remember to highlight positive gains by pointing to concrete examples of their praiseworthy work or accomplishment, as opposed to offering personal praise, which can be hard or awkward to receive.

What’s most essential is the actions a teacher can take in the moment, proactively, exerting a kind of compassionate control, and offering both positive and negative reinforcement so that the students can see before them something to strive for, reasons to want what good behavior and performance can bring them. I know that achieving consistent, effective engagement in this way is an area of learning for me. But the value of it is such is that, for the benefit of oneself as well as one’s students, one would not want to operate in the classroom without it.

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