By Beth Baker, M.S.Ed., coauthor of The PBIS Team Handbook: Setting Expectations and Building Positive Behavior
Every teacher should have a toolbox filled with their go-to strategies for managing the classroom and helping students be ready for activities. I have a few that I keep in my toolbox, always at the ready for whatever behavior gets thrown at me. Here’s what I recommend adding to your toolbox of strategies:
- Routines. At the beginning of the school year, teach students all your classroom routines and procedures, then practice and practice again. It cuts down on a lot of “I don’t know what to do” conversations when students know the routines.
- Precorrection. It sounds backward, but it is a very simple procedure every teacher should be doing. After you have taught all the routines for your classroom, use precorrection to get students ready for the next activity. For example, before going to lunch you can say, “Remember how we walk in the hallway? Who can remind us in case we forgot?” and have a student demonstrate for the class.
- Attention Signals. Alert students to you and the wonderful lesson you are going to teach. “1-2-3, eyes on me!” is simple and easy to remember. Kids in lower elementary will count with you. For middle and high schoolers, I like to raise my hand and not say anything—kids will get the hint and encourage their friends to be quiet. That also works well at staff meetings.
- Let’s Make a Deal! When I ask students to do homework for character education, I might say something like the following to avoid getting a groan: “For Thursday I want you to write down five feelings you have between now and then and the situations that caused the feelings. If everyone turns in their homework, we will play Feelings Bingo, and I will have prizes. If even one person forgets to do it, we will do a regular lesson.” Students will often encourage each other to complete the assignment.
- Humor. I always laugh at the jokes students tell me. I also remember corny jokes to tell them. This is a wonderful way to build relationships with students. And to a fourth grader, there is no better feeling than to stump your teacher with a silly joke. If you aren’t naturally funny, it’s okay. It’s not the delivery of the joke that matters; what matters is the relationship you are building with a student.
- Sticker Charts. They work well for some students. Be very clear about what the student needs to do to earn a sticker. “Being good” isn’t helpful. Instead try, “I will give you one sticker for every 10 minutes that I see you working. If you are talking, out of your seat, or drawing, I can’t give you a sticker.” This idea also works for middle and high school students, except don’t use the stickers. Monitor students privately, and have them graph the data. After a week or so, teach students to monitor themselves.
- Learn a New Trick. Sometimes when kids are escalated (any age, any grade), their brains get stuck on a loop and they can’t stop yelling. Have a trick in your pocket to throw their brains off track. John was a middle school student of mine who wanted to argue about his point sheet and how I cheated him out of a point. He could not stop yelling at me, and he couldn’t hear any direction. I looked at him and said, “John, do you know the song ‘Sweet Caroline’ by Neil Diamond?” He stopped yelling at me and said, “Yes, I like that song.” I replied, “Me too,” and we sang the chorus as loud as we could, with the other students joining in. Then I asked him to sit down, and he did. After about 30 minutes, we talked about the point sheet like two calm adults.
- Stop Behavior Shaming. Behavior charts are all the rage. The teacher lists consequences on the board, and throughout the day, students’ names are moved up (for good behavior) and down the list (for not-so-good behavior). It isn’t teaching the student anything about how not to do the behavior. What it is doing is teaching the student to feel bad about behavior. If you need to keep track of behaviors, please do so quietly—tally marks on a sticky note, moving paper clips from one pocket to another— let’s stop publicly shaming students.
- Fidgets. Some kids are naturally fidgety. Some adults are, too. I keep a small basket of fidgets in my desk for students who are distractible. I instruct students in the use of a fidget and my one rule: Once the fidget becomes a toy, it is no longer a tool and goes back into my desk until tomorrow when we try it again. Fidgets can be a small stone, a pom-pom, a piece of pipe cleaner, a small stuffed animal, and so on. I am a fidgeter—I always bring a pen to staff meetings, not to take notes but to have something to fidget with.
- Show Up. Years ago, I was teaching in a middle/high school for students with pretty big behavior challenges. We polled our students: What is the most important thing about your teacher? Their answer? That teachers show up. Be there for your students; build relationships with them. Some kids are hard and you have to dig down deep to find something to build the relationship on, but it is there. If students trust you and know that you are there for them, they will follow your lead.
Every teacher has a toolbox of tried-and-true behavior intervention strategies. What works for me may not work for you, and you may have ideas I have never thought of, too. We should be sharing these ideas and expanding the tools in our toolboxes. Behavior change is hard and often won’t happen until we find the right tool. You wouldn’t use a screwdriver when you need a hammer. Behavior interventions are the same—don’t use a sticker chart when you need a precorrection.
Beth Baker, M.S.Ed., is an independent behavioral consultant and intervention specialist at Minneapolis Public Schools, where she works to create positive behavioral environments for elementary students. She was formerly the lead PBIS coach for a school district in the Minneapolis metropolitan area as well as a special educator working with students who have emotional behavioral disability (EBD) needs. Beth is currently on a two-year leave of absence while she is teaching and living in Caracas, Venezuela.
Beth Baker is the coauthor with Char Ryan of The PBIS Team Handbook: Setting Expectations and Building Positive Behavior.
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