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Connecting with Kids: Proactive Behavior Management Strategies

By Lori Jackson and Steve Peck

Why we must plan proactively, rather than relying solely on interventions

Phew, October. We all survived back to school! The routines for parents, students, and teachers have started to gel. It’s getting a little easier to wake up on time. Morning routines at home are working a little smoother and classroom expectations are starting to take hold. With that said, it’s a great time to do a little checkup to make sure we have everything in place just in case the honeymoon doesn’t last! 

Time to check out the foundation.

So let’s be honest, we know the honeymoon isn’t going to last. That’s why It’s even more important to make sure you have a solid plan to help support the behavior of your students. We think about this process the same as we do the process we have for teaching reading or math. We can’t wait until the first test to see if our kids need math or reading instruction, right? So let’s not wait until the first issue in the lunchroom or the playground to start teaching our students to manage their own behavior. The time to teach the skills kids need for classroom management is before there is an issue. When you approach it in this way, you’re not making the assumption that your students are coming to your classroom already knowing how to understand their emotions and manage them. You’re viewing what some call “soft skills” the same way you view their academic skills. They need to be taught so that students can learn and practice them and use them when they matter. 

We’ve heard from so many teachers over the years about the students that right out of the gate gave them challenges.

One teacher shared with us the struggles of getting one student to sit at his desk each morning instead of roaming the classroom during morning work. Previous years classrooms had allowed him to roam as long as he wasn’t bothering anyone. Unfortunately, he was now in a grade where it was important that he take place in morning activities and in order to do so he needed to be at his table. 

Let’s look at this situation as the perfect opportunity to think about a proactive whole class approach to classroom management- before a situation presented itself. We would suggest a whole-class conversation about how different activities during the day make you experience different emotions. As the teacher, share different emotions from your own day. For example, a faculty meeting might make you feel anxious if you have to talk in front of a group. Then, share that feeling anxious might make you not want to go to the meeting. Get students talking about how different emotions can make you behave in different ways. Then brainstorm ways you could manage the emotions. This whole class exercise is a good way to start talking about emotions and how they impact our behavior. It isn’t going to fix everything, but it is a place to begin. 

How would we add support for the classroom roamer? Our roamer will need some direct teaching to connect his emotions to the behavior of roaming. This can start with some observation from the teacher to see if there is any pattern to the behavior. We would also recommend taking photos or video of the behavior. Video is an excellent way for students to come face to face with their behavior so they can understand the context in which it takes place. Help the roamer by sharing an example of an emotion that you feel and how it drives a specific behavior. Then support this connection in your student with their own behavior. Ask, “What emotion do you think is driving you to roam around the room in the morning? 

When the teacher of the roamer had that conversation, what she learned was that several emotions were at play- depending upon the morning. With support, she worked on strategies to manage one emotion at a time. The first was that the roamer felt “anxious” when he wasn’t sure what activity was happening in the morning and what he would be asked to do. So the strategy for his feeling “anxious” was to ask his teacher when he entered in the morning what specifically he would need to do. This strategy took some time to reduce the anxiety(and stop the roaming) but it did eventually take hold. Then when the roaming behavior appeared again, she repeated the process and addressed another emotion. 

Hold up, you know this strategy? You call it previewing and you do it with so many of your students. Yes, it’s an excellent strategy for anxious kids.  Let us share how this process is different though. 

If we just “preview” with our roamer and don’t help him to learn the emotions driving his behavior, he won’t ever learn how to manage feeling “anxious” when he experiences it again- and we know he will. We want him to know how to manage his emotions and to drive his OWN strategies.   This is why it is so important to put our students in the driver’s seat when it comes to managing their own behaviors that come from their emotions. It’s giving them the keys. 

Give it a try this month. Proactively begin sharing the emotions behavior connection with your students. This way, when you have a student who needs a little more, you’ll already have laid the foundation and you can hit the ground running. 

Further Reading
This post includes mentions of a partner of MindRocket Media Group the parent company of edCircuit
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