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5 Ways I Manage Behavior by Focusing on the Positive

November 21, 2013

lha-slide1When I found out that I would be helping third graders catch up to grade level in math, I felt up to the task. I knew I would be teaching students who struggle to grasp basic number concepts. In my first week of service, while I was trying to help a girl round to the nearest ten, I realized I needed to backtrack a lot when I saw her write “one hundred fifty-four” as 10054. Still, I expected this kind of challenge. What I did not anticipate, however, was that my number-one challenge at Langston Hughes Academy would be managing behavior. Kids frequently ignore directions, call out, yell at their classmates and teachers, make disruptive noises, stand up and wander the room, put their heads down, throw things at each other. Without skillful behavior management, no teaching can happen at all.

Many of the kids—or “scholars,” as we call them at Langston Hughes—are behaviorally troubled because they have troubled home lives. For some, school is their only place of safety and stability. One of our behavioral specialists explained to me that kids with unsafe and unpredictable homes have chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, so they often react explosively at school to small triggers, such as a correction from an adult or a minor provocation from a peer. Their misbehavior also stems from fear of failure. For the kid who knows the lesson will go right over his head, it’s a lot easier to flick erasers at the kid next to him than to listen. Trying is scary, so students give up quickly and disengage.

Over the past few months of service, I have learned that focusing on the good is my most powerful tool for managing behavior. Here are some techniques I have learned:

Langston Hughes Academy CLASSE Values

Langston Hughes Academy CLASS-E Values

 1. Positive Narration: This is a technique that seemed unnatural when I first learned it, but now I use it all the time. After giving crystal-clear directions,

I immediately narrate several students who are following my directions. For example, “Jamal is silently putting his book away in his desk.” This is a great way to praise compliant students while simultaneously repeating the directions for kids who didn’t follow them the first time.

2. Praising the Good: During whole-class instruction, one of my jobs is to float around the room correcting children who are off-task. Whenever a typically disruptive child is having a good class (or a good three minutes), I make it a point to privately compliment him or her, which often has a positive momentum effect. I want the kids who get mostly negative attention to see how much better positive attention feels.

3.  CLASS-E points: Our school encourages good behavior by using positive points, which are linked to rewards. When a child demonstrates one of our elementary school values (Community, Leadership, Affection, Sacrifice, Success, or Enthusiasm), we award them the corresponding positive point. I still get a kick out of being able to tell a group of kids how “class-e” they look!


4. Five Minutes of Sacrifice: While its name may sound comically morbid to anyone outside of Langston Hughes, this is a tool that my lead teacher and I developed to encourage students to try math problems on their own first before asking for help. After guided practice, any student who works independently for the first five whole minutes without giving up or begging for help will get a positive point for the value of Sacrifice. We want to combat the common attitude of helplessness in our students by empowering them to feel comfortable struggling through something that’s hard for them.

5. Teacher v. Scholars Game: During the reading intervention that I lead every day with a group of six kids, I make a tally chart on the whiteboard with two columns, labeled “T” for Teacher and “S” for Scholars. Good behavior earns them a point; bad behavior earns me a point. If they win, I award them with a small treat. They love the competition, and it makes them feel accountable to each other.

Note from a third grade scholar.

Note from a third grade scholar.

***BONUS!!!***6. Building relationships: When I make the time in my whirlwind days to ask the kids about who they are, what they love, and what makes them tick, they see how much I care about them. These personal connections have the power to slowly transform attitudes and behavior, and reaching these kids is the most rewarding challenge of my service.

Written by Caitlin Kohl

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