Tag Archives: behavior management

Here’s What “Maintaining Classroom Discipline” Looked Like in 1947.

A few weeks back, my buddy Michael Parker West shared a 1947 McGraw Hill instructional video on maintaining classroom discipline in his Twitterstream.

Check it out here:

Pretty crazy, right?!

If you can get past the fact that there is absolutely no diversity in the model classroom — something that would have been common in the segregated classrooms of 1947 — there’s a ton of meaningful lessons about classroom management in this video.

Here’s what MPW spotted:

– Talk *to* students, not at them
– Strive for trust, not control
– Discipline ≠ punishment

Here’s my main takeaway:   Teachers have to be ready to accept responsibility for student misbehavior and/or academic struggles.

All too often, we go full on “Mr. Grimes” — blaming poor marks or poor behavior on laziness or lack of interest.  That flawed, y’all — built from the notion that the primary responsibility for student learning and engagement rests with the kids in our classrooms.

Professional educators recognize, however, that academic struggles and student misbehavior are often a function of crappy lesson design or uninspired school spaces. 

When kids don’t master a concept, they work to identify common misconceptions and then address those misconceptions in new lessons. When kids under-perform compared to students in other classes, they study the instructional practices used by their peers in order to become better educators.  When kids seem disengaged or disrespectful, they reflect on the steps they can take to build a classroom culture where respect is an expected norm.

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I’m not saying that every student struggling with academics and/or behavior is “the fault” of the classroom teacher. 

We’ve all taught kids who needed academic or behavioral help that goes far beyond what teachers are trained to provide — and we are all working within constructs that really do leave our hands tied sometimes.  Need an example:  Sometimes, I feel like direct instruction is the only way I can get through the huge curriculum I’m responsible for teaching.  That bores my students — but I don’t know if I have any other choice given that getting through the curriculum is an expectation I’m held accountable for.

But I AM saying that the bulk of the behavior problems and academic struggles that I see in my own room are because my lessons are boring or I’ve forgotten to build strong relationships with each of my students.

Stated more simply:  Check yourself when your kids are struggling in class.  Maybe there’s something that YOU can do to create more successful learning experiences for your students.  Bare minimum, blaming kids isn’t going to get you anywhere.


Related Radical Reads:

Five Lessons for the Student Teachers in Your Lives

Three Classroom Management Tips for New Teachers

More Thoughts on Classroom Management

More Thoughts on “Classroom Management.”

As regular Radical readers know, I’ve been thinking a lot about classroom management lately — specifically strategies that teachers can use when working with kids who frustrate them.  Much of that thinking was expressed in last week’s post:  Three Classroom Management Tips for New Teachers.

But I’ve also shared out thinking through Twitter, too.

Here are some of the ideas that have resonated in that space:




For me, this boils down to a few simple truths:  First, relationships matter.  Particularly with frustrating kids.  We forget that sometimes, convinced somehow that the REAL trick to fixing frustrating kids is finding the right consequence.

That’s lunacy, y’all.  Quit trying to punish frustrating kids and start trying to understand and appreciate them.

Second, frustrating kids have spent years being punished by schools and by teachers.  The moment they walk through your door, they are EXPECTING you to dislike them and to fuss at them.  That’s what our schools do to struggling students — and the result is kids who have quit trying to behave or to learn long before they ever walk through your classroom door.

That shouldn’t surprise any of us.  Would YOU keep investing in spaces where you fail over and over again?

The solution is to do EVERYTHING you can — over and over again — to show frustrating kids that they CAN be successful in your room.  Until they are convinced that they have a fighting chance of being accepted and acknowledged and appreciated, you aren’t ever going to get their best effort.

And as I mentioned above, that’s on YOU.



Related Radical Reads:

Three Classroom Management Tips for New Teachers.

Is Your School a “Rules First” or a “Relationships First” Community?

Writing Positive Notes to My Students is the BEST Way to Start My Day.

Three Classroom Management Tips for New Teachers

A few weeks ago, I was asked by a university professor to speak to a group of student teachers on classroom management.  The topic has been on my mind a ton lately, primarily because I know of several colleagues who are struggling with managing behaviors in their classrooms.


So I figured I’d share three tips for managing classrooms that have always worked for me:

Good classroom management starts by carefully structuring your classroom and your activities:  One lesson that I’ve learned the hard way over the course of my career is that conflict and behavior problems are JUST as often a function of mistakes that I make as they are a function of the choices being made by the students in my classroom.

Instead of carefully considering personalities when building my seating chart, I’ve created groups with students who have a history of clashing with one another and conflict happens.  Instead of making multiple copies of a classroom task, I’ve expected kids who are still learning about cooperation to share important resources or lab supplies and conflict happens.  Instead of creating engaging activities to fill unstructured time, I’ve given kids tasks that aren’t all that interesting and conflict happens.

So instead of questioning the choices of your students in moments where your classroom feels like it is out of control or where conflict has occurred between kids, start questioning your own choices.  What could YOU have done to avoid those conflicts to begin with.  Good classroom management requires being proactive, not reactive.

Good classroom management starts by building positive relationships with the kids who frustrate you the most:  Here’s two simple truths:  First, most of the classroom management issues that you deal with are probably related to the actions of a small handful of students.  Second, you probably don’t enjoy those students very much.  In fact, you probably have no patience for them at all — or you probably dread seeing them each day because you know that the chances of drama or conflict are high.

But here’s the thing:  Those are the EXACT kids that you need to build positive relationships with.  Here’s why:  You don’t manage behaviors with rules and consequences.  You manage behaviors with relationships.  If a frustrating kid knows that you love and appreciate them, they are far more likely to cooperate with you when you DO have to correct his behaviors or choices.

What does that mean for you as a teacher?  Find the most frustrating students in your classroom.  Say hello to them when they walk in the room.  Celebrate them when they make it through an entire lesson without conflict.  Give them a small treat or privilege whenever they’ve done something deserving of recognition.  Call on them when you know that they have the right answers to your questions — and celebrate their answers publicly in front of their peers to prove to everyone that you see the value of “those kids” too.

Doing so builds trust  — and trust is the real lever towards changing behaviors in the long run.  Doing so also will reframe your own thinking about frustrating kids.  Instead of remembering every bad thing “that kid” has ever done to disrupt your classroom, you will start to see him/her as something more than their negative behaviors — which will help you to be less reactionary the next time that child misbehaves.

Good classroom management depends on your willingness to assume good intentions of every student — including those who frustrate you:  One of the things that I’ve been wrestling with this year is my own reactions to the frustrating kids on our hallway.  I catch myself jumping to conclusions immediately about the reasons for their every action based on nothing more than assumptions that I’ve made in the moment — and my assumptions are almost always negative.

Those negative assumptions are not only incomplete, they are also almost always inaccurate.  The result:  I catch myself punishing kids without fully understanding the entirety of a situation.

That’s unproductive, y’all.  Your assumptions shouldn’t be guiding your decisions when dealing with frustrating kids because when you are frustrated, your assumptions aren’t all that objective.

To address this weakness in my own practice, I’ve stolen a strategy from Crucial Conversations:  When I see a student behaving in a way that surprises me, I ask myself, “Why would a reasonable, rational person act this way?”

Here are some examples:  If I see a student shout at another child, I ask myself, “Why would a reasonable, rational person act this way?”  If I see a student with a phone out in a space where they aren’t supposed to have their phones out, I ask myself, “Why would a reasonable, rational person act this way?”  If I see two students bickering over something that happened in class, I ask myself, “Why would a reasonable, rational person act this way?”

By doing so, I’m reminding myself that no child comes to school WANTING to get in trouble — and that while there may be no excuse for poor choices, there are OFTEN lots of reasonable, rational explanations for those exact same choices.  By getting curious instead of furious about a student’s behavior — an argument made in this fantastic Edutopia article — I’m far more likely to build a healthy relationship with my frustrating students AND to spot reasons for poor choices that can be addressed in a systematic and deliberate way.

Does any of this make sense?  

I guess what I am arguing with all three of these suggestions is that a frustrating child’s behavior in our rooms might just be an even better reflection of our relationship with that child or the choices that we are making as teachers than they are a reflection of who that child is as a person.

Our job is to do more than “manage behaviors.”  Our job is to take professional responsibility for the impact that OUR choices and actions are having on the behavior of the frustrating students in our classrooms.



Related Radical Reads:

Is Your School a “Rules First” or a “Relationships First” Community?

Writing Positive Notes to My Students is the BEST Way to Start My Day.

Second Guessing My Kids of Color


Is Your School a “Rules First” or a “Relationships First” Community?

Over the next year, I’m participating in a school-based book study of George Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset.

If you haven’t read it before, you ought to pick it up.  What I dig the most about it is the fact that George’s ideas are incredibly approachable.  Not only will you walk away with a better understanding of just what innovation looks like in action, you will walk away with a belief that innovation is doable.


My a-ha this week came in a chapter on the importance of relationships in education.  

George references this Atul Gawande bit describing how ideas spread through an organization.  In the article, Gawande describes something called “the rule of seven touches” that he picked up from a pharmaceutical sales representative:

I once asked a pharmaceutical rep how he persuaded doctors—who are notoriously stubborn—to adopt a new medicine. Evidence is not remotely enough, he said, however strong a case you may have. You must also apply “the rule of seven touches.” Personally “touch” the doctors seven times, and they will come to know you; if they know you, they might trust you; and, if they trust you, they will change.

That’s why he stocked doctors’ closets with free drug samples in person. Then he could poke his head around the corner and ask, “So how did your daughter Debbie’s soccer game go?” Eventually, this can become “Have you seen this study on our new drug? How about giving it a try?” As the rep had recognized, human interaction is the key force in overcoming resistance and speeding change.

I know firsthand that the rule of seven touches works with adults.  Here’s why:  I’m ‘notoriously stubborn’ too! 

Need proof?  Ask literally ANYONE who has worked with me professionally over the last 25 years.

If you are going to have ANY chance of convincing me to embrace a new practice or behavior or to walk in whatever direction you are hoping I’m going to walk, you are going to need to rely on more than just your authority or position.  Instead, you are going to have to have a series of smaller interactions with me that build trust.  If I don’t come to know you — or worse yet, if I’m not convinced that you’ve tried to get to know me — I’m never going to trust you.  And if I don’t trust you, there’s not a chance in the world that you are going to convince me to take your ideas for a spin.

But I wasn’t thinking about adults when I read about the Rule of Seven in The Innovator’s Mindset.  I was thinking about the students who struggle with behaviors in our schools.

You know the kids that I’m talking about:  The ones who aren’t in their seats when we want them to be or who use unkind words to their peers or who can’t keep their hands to themselves or who are late to our classes time and time again or who are in spaces where they aren’t supposed to be or who mouth back when we try to correct their behaviors.

For years, my response to those behaviors had nothing to do with “the rule of seven touches.”  Instead, my response was more along the lines of “the rule of seven consequences.”

I’d sign their behavior trackers or fuss at them in the hallways or chase them back to their classrooms with a stern voice or the ‘evil eye.’  I’d write them up and send them to the office and argue that we needed MORE consequences if we were ever going to ‘manage their behaviors.’

I actually took pride in being ‘the strict teacher’ and would warn kids at the beginning of the year that if they didn’t behave, I would be their LEAST favorite teacher.  I’d call their parents during my planning period, intentionally trying to get kids in trouble.  “Wait until you get home,” I’d crow.  “Your mom is NOT happy with you.”

The funny thing is that NONE of those ‘command and control’ approaches to dealing with student behaviors worked.

Students who were suspended time and again or fussed at time and again or shouted down by teachers time and again or ‘disciplined’ time and again by the adults in a schoolhouse don’t become MORE likely to follow your rules or to participate in your school community in positive ways.

Instead, they resist and fight back and begin to doubt and disrespect everything and everyone in your school community.  Why would you expect cooperation from kids who have been buried in consequences by important adults at every turn?

So I’ve done my best this year to create “positive touches” with the students who struggle with behaviors on my hallway.  

Specifically, I’ve learned the names of kids in different classes that I stumble across over and over again out of place in the hallways.  I say hello using first names every time that I see them. I ask about their weekends, about their interests, and about how their days are going every chance I get.  I say goodbye as the head out the door at the end of the day.  I say, “It’s good to see you!” a thousand times a day to kids who have gotten used to being somebody’s outcast.

There’s nothing remarkable about any of these interactions — and they cost me nothing.  But they are deliberate — designed to get kids to ‘come to know me’ because I realize that if kids who struggle to behave ‘come to know me’, they are more likely to trust me.  And if they trust me, I’ll have a better chance to coach them around behaviors when I need to.

And it’s working.

I’ve already established trusting relationships with some of the most ‘difficult’ kids in our school.  Those kids stop and listen when I ask them to.  If I need them to head back to their classrooms, it happens without any kind of resistance involved.

When they make poor choices, I can call them out on it and know that they will hear me rather than slip directly into denial or anger or belligerence.  What I love the most is that many of them have started stopping by my room on purpose just to say hello in the morning — and they’re bringing friends who want to get to know me, too.

None of this would have happened in previous years, y’all.

That’s because in previous years, I would have tried to drop the hammer on these kids every time I saw them in the hallways.  I would have chased them away or fussed first and asked questions later.  I would have used every punishment that I had available to me, convinced that those punishments were not only deserved, but essential to “send a message” to kids.

Can you see the flaws in my logic?

My priority was obedience first and relationships later, not realizing that obedience — or the lack thereof — was a direct reflection of the state of the relationship that I had with each individual student.  The kids who misbehaved the most were the ones that I’d done nothing to get to know and appreciate and value and celebrate.

Now don’t get me wrong: I haven’t ‘rescued’ any of these students yet.  They aren’t behaving everywhere that they go in our building.  In fact, it’s not unusual for me to find out that they are in trouble for shouting at other teachers or staff members that they’ve encountered during the school day.

But each of those negative interactions bothers me more now than ever because I KNOW that these same students CAN respond in a positive way to correction and to guidance from adults.  That correction and guidance just has to come from adults that they trust — and trust starts when adults concentrate on having positive touches with the most difficult kids in their buildings.

So here’s a simple question I want you to consider:  Is your school a “rules first” or a “relationships first” community?

You are a “rules first” community if you spend more time in staff meetings or leadership meetings or school improvement meetings talking about consequences for kids than you do talking about the best ways to build trust with the kids who need you the most.

You are a “rules first” community if you have an incredibly long list of misbehaviors and their corresponding punishments posted all over your school’s website, but you can’t make a similar list of the deliberate steps that YOU are taking to make sure that every kid — including those that are always in trouble — has positive interactions with adults in your building each day.

You are a “rules first” community if your school is full of teachers who are constantly grumbling about the lack of “enforcement” or “discipline” in your building but those same staff members aren’t willing to roll their sleeves up and create experiences intentionally designed to strengthen relationships with students who are struggling to behave.

You are a “rules first” community if teachers in your building can list all of the things that a difficult student has done WRONG but struggle to come up with anything that those exact same students have done RIGHT.

You are a “rules first” community if you are more than ready to call home to notify parents of all of the ways that their kids have broken the rules, but you never take the time to call home and notify parents of all of the ways that their kids inspire you and make you proud.

And you are a “rules first” community if there are a group of kids that you never seem to be able to reach with consequences.  They’ve tuned you out.  They’ve given up on you.  They don’t trust you — and because they don’t trust you, they will never respond to you in the way that you hope that they will.

If that sounds anything like you, maybe it’s time to start thinking about relationships.

They matter.



Related Radical Reads:

Is Your Team Failing Unsuccessful Practices Together?

Three Promises I’m Making to the Parents of Quirky Kids.

When Was the Last Time You Wrote a Positive Note Home to Parents?