In control or in charge? February 26, 2013Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments.
Tags: classroom management
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Good class control is often seen as the hallmark of a good teacher. No-one likes chaos, least of all the students. But surprisingly, there has not been much discussion of how this can be balanced with a strong teacher-student relationship: a relationship which has had a raised profile since the publication of John Hattie’s meta-analysis of effective education (Hattie, 2009).
Students of all ages do not like to be in a classroom where the teacher cannot ‘control’ the class. It makes some individuals anxious and others frustrated and angry. It does not lead to mutual respect and it certainly doesn’t promote a purposeful, engaged learning environment. But neither does anyone like to be told what to do all the time and be expected to obey someone else’s rules or get into trouble – especially those students who struggle. Having some autonomy, opportunities to be creative and activity that is seen as meaningful is much more motivating than external pressure or reward (Pink, 2009).
I have worked in a variety of roles in education and written extensively on social / emotional issues in the school context including how to promote pro-social behaviour (eg Roffey, 2011) Much of the discussion on behaviour focuses on management in one guise or another, much less on what models positive interactions and the value of relational approaches to behavioural change – especially for our more vulnerable students who are often the most challenging. Could we begin a conversation.to explore the difference between exerting control over individuals (or trying to) and being in charge of classroom processes? One does not promote an optimal learning environment and the other does.
In international research on relationships (Roffey 2012) one hallmark of a healthy relationship is equality. Even where one person is in a position of authority over another they can use this to empower and facilitate engagement in shared goals or they can direct, boss and sometimes intimidate. It is extraordinary that in this day and age we have people in leadership positions who still believe that bullying is an appropriate way to motivate others and get things done. Fear and authoritarian approaches lead to the establishment of a toxic environment- the opposite of social capital and the generation of emotionally safe learning environments. (Noble et al, 2008). Such approaches also do nothing to promote self-control or model pro-social behaviour.
What does this mean in the classroom and for teachers? Here are some thoughts on ways of being in charge of a class without being controlling.
- Establish classroom guidelines with students at the outset rather than impose rules. It takes a little time but saves time later.
- Give students opportunities to take a lead.
- Spend time building relationships – get to know a little about students’ lives and show an interest in them, not just how well they are doing in school – it’s what the research says matters (NSW Commission, 2009, Murray-Harvey, 2010)
- Use strengths-based language and avoid deficit labelling (Noble et al, 2008). Teachers need to maintain high expectations for their students – not just in academic attainments but in who they are becoming as people – those who are told they are naughty, lazy, hopeless or ‘conduct-disordered’ think of themselves that way – it promotes low expectations and generates negativity.
- Promote the positive – say what you value and like about students – if necessary dig deep!
- Be well planned but also prepared to be flexible – some students need space to reduce negative feelings before they can focus on learning (Fredrickson, 2009)
- Make feedback specific (not shallow praise) and ensure that the student is engaged by saying something positive before any negative critique. We often shut off bad news and are more likely to tune into the positive.
- Ask questions more often than making statements. It is both respectful and encourages thinking. This does not mean interrogation! Listen to the answers.
- Ask students to evaluate their own learning and feed back what works for them
- Use cooperative learning strategies wherever possible and try to make learning fun and meaningful – to do this you need to seek some hooks and drivers on which to scaffold the curriculum content: how does this fit with students already know or are interested in?
- Model making mistakes – there are lots of ways to say I could have done that better! Hattie says mistakes should be accepted as part of education – if students are not making mistakes their learning is not sufficiently challenging
- When a student says ‘ you can’t make me’ agree with them and give them back the responsibility – use such go with the flow’ strategies to reduce potential confrontation. It takes the heat out of situations. No-one should need compliance to maintain their self respect.
The evidence says that not only do students respond more positively within such an educational environment but also that teachers have a better time with a stronger sense of professional achievement. (Roffey, 2012a). There are many wonderful educators doing just this but others don’t seem to get it! We need to challenge the myth of control and build the conversation to promote healthy and empowering relationships in school – at all levels.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research to Release Your Inner Optimist and Thrive. Oxford: OneWorld Publications.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning, a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.
Murray-Harvey, R. (2010). Relationship influences on students’ academic achievement, psychological health and wellbeing at school. Educational and Child Psychology, 27(1), 104-115.
NSW Commission for Children & Young People (2009). Ask the Children:
Children speak about being at school. Available from http://www.kids.nsw.gov.au/kids/resources/publications/askchildren
Noble, T., McGrath, H., Roffey, S., & Rowling, L. (2008). A Scoping Study on Approaches to Student Wellbeing. Canberra: Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations (DEEWR).
Pink, D. (2009) Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York Riverhead Books
Roffey. S. (2011) Changing Behaviour in School: Promoting Positive Relationships and Wellbeing London Sage Publications
Roffey, S. (Ed) (2012) Positive Relationships: Evidence-based practice across the world.
Roffey, S. (2012a) Pupil wellbeing: Teacher wellbeing: Two sides of the same coin. Educational and Child Psychology 29 (4) 9-17.
Tags: children with special needs, classroom management, learning communities
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from Dr Brenda Dobia
In her first post, Brenda Dobia examines the trends in school suspensions and comments on approaches for schools to reduce suspensions by encouraging positive behaviours.
The NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations recently made the Sydney Morning Herald with the heading Parents want naughty students to serve time in school. Parents from the Central Coast were questioning departmental guidelines on suspension and the ways some schools were implementing them. They argued for clearer communication with parents, the right of appeal and the option of in-school suspensions.
This follows a recent report highlighting a 33% increase in long suspension rates in state public schools between 2005 and 2009 (Uniting Care Burnside, 2011). The data for suspensions shows disproportionate trends, with regions that have higher rates of social disadvantage showing higher rates of suspension. Similar disparities have been found in other states and internationally (Hemphill & Hargreaves, 2009). In their Australian study Hemphill et al (2010) found that the higher rates of suspension in disadvantaged communities remain significant even after controlling for factors such as antisocial behaviour, gender, age, family functioning, peer group and academic failure.
Excluding students from school frequently compounds academic difficulties and undermines engagement. Suspension increases antisocial behaviour and has negative impacts on students’ wellbeing in both the immediate and longer term (Hemphill et al, 2010). With 42% of suspensions handed out for ‘persistent disobedience’, there is a clear need for more proactive approaches to encourage appropriate behaviour and re-engage students who may be struggling with school for a variety of reasons.
Effective school strategies address student behaviour and wellbeing. While setting clear limits for behaviours that place students or others at risk of harm, a critical focus is placed on teaching and supporting pro-social behaviours that contribute to students’ sense of personal efficacy and acknowledge their contributions to the school community.
Schools and teachers who adopt this approach understand that discipline does not mean punishment. Discipline, deriving from the latin word disciplina which means ‘instruction’ or ‘knowledge’, is fundamentally about teaching. Effective teachers have a range of teaching strategies at their disposal to help students succeed in learning constructive behaviours.
Establishing the right settings to encourage positive behaviour is key. In Positive Behaviour Support (PBS), or Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL), getting the whole school on board in order to come up with a set of clear, positively framed expectations is a vital starting point. Ensuring that everyone agrees on the core expectations and that students are taught what it means to be respectful, be safe or be responsible (for example) in the playground, in the corridors, at the canteen or the bus stop, means that everyone knows what is expected (Mooney et al, 2008). Students’ efforts to demonstrate positive behaviours are recognised and valued.
To ensure success a consistent approach is needed. Often parents and teachers think consistency means meting out the same punishment regardless of circumstances. This rarely provides the best outcomes. Efforts to be consistent should emphasise consistent expectations. Providing effective support to meet expectations is crucial.
Just as with any other aspect of the curriculum, different children will need different levels of support to meet behavioural expectations. Some children learn what is expected quickly and need little prompting. Often these are children who already have effective skills for regulating their emotions and getting on with others. For others it is a huge stretch. Targeted approaches that provide focused support according to the specific needs of the child may be needed.
The reasons why some children have trouble conforming to school behaviour expectations are often complex. Perhaps they have had limited experience of effective modelling at home; perhaps there have been disruptions to their lives which have been difficult to cope with; perhaps they have been treated unfairly and as a result are on guard for any hint of possible injustice; perhaps they have experienced trauma that has undermined their trust in others and led to erratic emotional responses. There are many more possible reasons for student misbehaviour, including reasons relating to students’ experience of school.
While schools and teachers are not responsible for circumstances arising outside the school context that influence student behaviour, they can still be responsive to students’ needs. A whole school approach is required to promote positive behaviour and wellbeing. Rather than relying on a system of regulations and sanctions, successful school initiatives are geared to promoting positive relationships, preventing problems where possible, and intervening early where necessary by bringing together students, teachers, parents or carers and support services in order to tailor their approach to the particular needs of the student (Graetz et al., 2008).
Students who experience school as a place where they are cared for, listened to and treated fairly feel more connected to school (Murray-Harvey & Slee, 2007; Resnick et al., 1997; Rowe et al., 2007). School connectedness has been found to reduce behavioural problems (Loukas et al., 2010), increase wellbeing (Shochet et al., 2006) and improve school achievement (Bond et al., 2007). Building a climate of caring and connectedness between students, staff and parents places emphasis on the quality of relationships. It turns out this is a far more effective way to enhance wellbeing, reduce school suspensions and improve learning (Dix et al., 2011; Slee et al., 2009). By the way, it makes teaching more satisfying too.
References: Arlington, K. (2011). Parents want naughty students to serve time in school, Sydney Morning Herald, July 30. [online] www.smh.com.au/national/education/parents-want-naughty-students-to-serve-time-in-school-20110729-1i47o.html#ixzz1TjpUNNgn. Bond, L., Butler, H., Thomas, L., et al. (2007). Social and school connectedness in early secondary school as predictors of late teenage substance use, mental health and academic outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 40, 357.e9–357.e18. Dix, K. L., Slee, P. T., Lawson, M. J. & Keeves, J. P. (2011). Implementation quality of whole-school mental health promotion and students’ academic performance. Child and Adolescent Mental Health. [online]doi: 10.1111/j.1475-3588.2011.00608.x. Graetz, B., Littlefield, L., Trinder, M., Dobia, B., Souter, M., Champion, C., Boucher, S., Killick-Moran, C., Cummins, R. (2008). KidsMatter: A population health model to support student mental health and wellbeing in primary schools. International Journal of Mental Health Promotion, 10(4) 13-20. Hemphill, S. & Hargreaves, J. (2009). The impact of school suspensions: A student wellbeing issue, ACHPER Healthy Lifestyles Journal. 56 (3/4), 5-11. Hemphill, S.A., Toumbourou, J.W., Smith, R., Kendall, G., Rowland, B., Freiberg, K. & Williams, J. (2010). Are rates of school suspension higher in socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods? An Australian study, Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 21(1), 12-18. Loukas, A., Roalson, L. A. & Herrera, D. E. (2010). School connectedness buffers the effects of negative family relations and poor effortful control on early adolescent conduct problems. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 1-10. Mooney, M. Dobia, B., Barker, K., Power, A., Watson, K., & Yeung, S., (2008). Positive Behaviour for Learning: Investigating the transfer of a United States system into the New South Wales Department of Education and Training Western Sydney Region schools: Report. Penrith NSW: University of Western Sydney. [online] http://handle.uws.edu.au:8081/1959.7/19702. Murray-Harvey, R. & Slee, P. (2007). Supportive and stressful relationships with teachers, peers and family and their influence on students’ social/emotional and academic experience of school, Australian Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 17(2), 126-47. NSW Dept Education and Training (2010). Long suspension and expulsion summary 2009. Sydney NSW: author. [online] https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/detresources/suspexpul2009_oEuDLGhsYu.pdf. Resnick, M., Bearman, P., Blum, R., Bauman, K., et al. (1997). Protecting Adolescents from Harm – Findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Journal of the American Medical Association, 278(10),823-822. Rowe, F., Stewart, D. & Patterson, C. (2007). Promoting school connectedness through whole school approaches, Health Education, 107(6), 524-542. Shochet, I. M. , Dadds, M. R. , Ham, D. & Montague, R. (2006). School connectedness is an underemphasized parameter in adolescent mental health: Results of a community prediction study, Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 35(2), 170-179. Slee, P. T., Lawson, M. J., Russell, A., Askell-Williams, H., Dix, K. L., Owens, L., et al. (2009). KidsMatter Primary Evaluation final report. Melbourne: beyondblue. [online] www.kidsmatter.edu.au/uploads/2009/10/kidsmatter-fullreport-web.pdf. Uniting Care Burnside (2011). School suspension briefing. [online] www.childrenyoungpeopleandfamilies.org.au/__data/assets/file/0008/61784/110411_School_Suspension.pdf
Brenda Dobia is a Lecturer in social ecology and education in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. A psychologist and lecturer in educational psychology, she is particularly concerned about student wellbeing as the basis for student management practices in schools. She is a lead researcher in the PBL research project in NSW, and has previously been seconded to the Australian Psychological Society as National Resources Coordinator in the Kidsmatter project, in which role she was instrumental in developing Kidsmatter curriculum materials.
Are we missing vital opportunities to teach? The value of non-emotional responses to negative behaviour April 3, 2011Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
Tags: classroom management, parenting
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from Dr Danielle Tracey
In this post, Danielle Tracey points out the educational opportunities that can arise when children engage in negative behaviour.
Few would argue that enhancing the social and behavioural functioning of children falls outside the parameters of what teachers and parents strive to achieve. I hope that my post will provoke consideration of how we currently accomplish this, and more importantly, how we appear to miss vital opportunities to achieve this goal.
To demonstrate my position, I’d like to introduce you to two scenarios that centre around ‘Jack’, a Year 1 student in a local school.
At school Jack has difficulty completing a subtraction sum on a timeline in class. His teacher comes over to his desk, praises him for his effort and then begins to explicitly teach him the correct process through instruction and demonstration. The teacher then asks Jack to complete two more questions while she watches and guides him towards the correct answer. She will keep a closer eye on his performance in this area over the coming lessons.
That afternoon Jack arrives home and walks in with his shoe laces untied. His father patiently sits with Jack and first demonstrates how to tie the laces, then takes Jack’s fingers and takes him through the movements whilst verbally instructing each step. His father then asks Jack to give it a go himself, and encourages each attempt made by Jack.
With these two supportive environments it is no doubt that Jack will soon become successful at both completing subtraction problems and tying his shoelaces.
In the playground Jack becomes very excited about a new discovery (a dinosaur egg in the playlawn) and rushes to tell his teacher who is on playground duty. He barges through, oblivious to the fact that his teacher is already in conversation with the Principal. His teacher reprimands him for his actions and says that he is being rude, and sends him immediately on his way.
At home, Jack and his older brother have just purchased the new release Ninjago Lego which is a big hit. Jack snatches the Lego from his older brother in frustration as he has been unable to have a good look at the character. His father enters the room and immediately expresses his disappointment at the boys for their inability to share, confiscates the Lego and sends them to different ends of the house to play independently until they can “learn to play together nicely”.
The difference between the two scenarios
This is the same teacher, and the same parent, who react so differently in these two different situations. Why do we deal with these two situations so differently? Why is it that when seemingly negative behaviour occurs within a young child we move into a discipline mode rather than an educative one? Is it the high emotion of misplaced behaviour, or the assumption that the child has been ‘bad’ and their intention to harm was deliberate rather than mistaken? Whatever the underlying reason, in responding negatively to negative behaviour we are missing an ideal opportunity to teach children appropriate social and behavioural skills.
In the early childhood years, professionals have long recognised the occurrence of mistaken behaviour instead of misbehaviour, and these concepts have been well explored by authors such as Gartrell (2011). Once a child moves out of early childhood, however, we appear to lose the ability to view the child and their behaviour in this way.
So, the challenge is placed before you… the next time a young child demonstrates “poor behaviour”, try to remove the emotion from the situation and teach and guide the child toward appropriate behaviour as you would if they were struggling in any other skill. Or is this easier said than done?
Reference: Gartrell, D. (2011). A guidance approach for the encouraging classroom (5th edition). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Danielle Tracey is a Lecturer in Educational Psychology in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.