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What building relationships with students really means

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January 10, 2016

What building relationships with students really means

Taking misbehaviour personally sends the message to our students that they can push the limits and disrupt our day if they choose. This shifts the class control to our students and weakens our ability to manage the classroom. When we react out of anger, we are inviting, even daring, disrespect. So when a student is blatantly disrespectful, especially in front of the rest of students, it is only natural to take it personally. This is how we are wired.

Disrespectful, unmotivated, disturbing students are always in class and create obstructive situations in the class. Is it really difficult to handle such students, or to leave them to their own devices? Causes and solutions are many but OCOS philosophy (one cause and one solution) is not the right approach. The goal is not to have short-term successes or mild improvement. It is to change behaviour, to turn them around so that they become well behaved, positive, contributing members of your classroom.

So what is the solution? Ignore the behaviour and hope it goes away? Tiptoe around the student(s) and hope they aren’t too disruptive? No, the solution is to treat them just like everyone else. Allow your most challenging students to feel what it is like to be a regular student.

Let us go through a few of the issues and perspectives which will help in smart class room management.

The biggest problem is, 90 percent of the time we take disrespectful behaviour personally, which upsets us; we become angry which results in mismanagement in class or encourages the child. When we take disrespectful behaviour personally, two things are likely to happen:

1. We convey that the student is the boss who can mould our behaviour.
2. We will be inclined to scold or react with sarcasm.

Taking misbehaviour personally sends the message to our students that they can push the limits and disrupt our day if they choose.

This shifts the class control to our students and weakens our ability to manage the classroom. When we react out of anger, we are inviting, even daring, disrespect. So when a student is blatantly disrespectful, especially in front of the rest of students, it is only natural to take it personally. This is how we are wired. But if we can take a step back and realise we are shooting ourselves in the foot every time we react on instinct, then we can gain immediate control of the situation without losing our authority. So should we react or respond? This can be a challenge at times because initially, as adrenaline surges through our body, it can make us feel that the student has won, that he or she got away without knowing how disrespectful behaviour made us feel. Anyhow never let them see you sweat.
Handling disrespectful students with calmness and dispassionately will decrease the likelihood of it happening again. But there are other things you can do to create an atmosphere of respect in your classroom. For example:

1. Students will emulate you and the way you treat others, particularly if they admire you. So it is important to set the tone of respect in your classroom by the way you speak to students.
2. You must be exceedingly respectful in all of your interactions. I know you have heard it before, but saying please and thank you works. For your students to get the message, you need to use exaggerated politeness in front of them.
3. Gain your students’ respect by doing exactly what you say you will do and having your words congruent with your actions. If you require your students to keep their desks clean and neatly organised, you should also do the same.
4. Stop telling your students how you expect them to behave and instead show them how.

Some of my classroom management solutions are

– Don’t speak too often to misbehaviour prone students.
– Don’t give them more attention than you would to any other student.
– Don’t waste too much time and energy on just a few students. It is not fair to the rest of the class. It fact, attending to some students more than others is likely to upset the balance of the class academically.
– Lectures, scolding, arguments, empty threats, warnings, behaviour contracts, counseling sessions, reminders, exhortations, pep-talks, hugs, and hi-fives—when done too often and with the same few students, these timeconsuming interactions cause more problems than they solve.
– When you attend to poorly behaved students more often, you’re communicating to them in a subtle but clear way that they are different, that they don’t have what it takes to control themselves like other students, so they need extra attention.

This causes them to lose belief in themselves. They think making trouble is all they can do. Many of these students have very low selfesteem. Year after year, they get the same near-constant attention from their teacher, and it doesn’t work—even for a few days. You must strictly follow your classroom management plan. Stick to it no matter what, and acknowledge these students when they do something well. Stop pulling them aside to explain this or that, stop lecturing or trying to get assurances from them, and stop telling them how wonderful they are because they sat quietly for fifteen minutes during a read aloud.

– Simply praise them for the same things you would praise other students.
– If they are angry or upset, don’t speak to them or let their anger bother you. They have every right to be angry.
– Smile and talk to them about the same things your other students like talking about—sports or movies or whatever feels right.

When you begin using this strategy, the first couple of weeks or so may be tough. One or more of your students may be in time-out a lot, they may act out more than usual and more dramatically, and you may have to spend recess with them more often than you would like. But a little work in the beginning pays dividends for the rest of the year.

Fists slam on desks. Papers are thrown. Tears are shed. Such behaviour is grossly immature; if handled poorly, you can make the situation worse or cause it to repeat itself over and over again.

Follow the steps below to take control of explosive situations and lessen the chances of them happening again.

– Your first responsibility is the safety of your students. So as soon as you notice a student losing control, shift your focus to the rest of your class.
– Resist the urge to rush in and try to calm the student. For at least the next several minutes, jumping in to try to fix things could put you and your class at risk and incite more aggressive behaviour.
– Don’t say anything to the student. Simply observe until the student calms down and returns to his (or her) seat. Then say – Sit down. We’ll talk about it later.
– It’s important to return your classroom to normalcy as soon as possible.
– For serious behaviour issues parents must be notified. Because an emotional outburst is difficult to communicate in the form of a letter, it’s best to call.

Prevailing wisdom says that a student who has a temper tantrum should talk things out with the teacher or other trusted adult— why he acted the way he did, what he could have done differently, etc. He throws temper tantrums because he knows they work. Teachers tend to be overly focused on their most difficult students.They stress-out about them. They strategise over them. They spend more time dealing with them than the rest of their class put together. They keep trying different approaches. They powwow again and again with colleagues and counselors, parents and psychologists.They experiment with behaviour contracts, incentive systems, and ever-stiffer consequences.They often fail, however, to apply the one thing that difficult students need the most –

That is, just good, solid classroom management

– You become sloppy and haphazard in addressing the relatively minor misbehaviours coming from the balance of your classroom.
– The problem with this tendency is that ignoring any misbehaviour – no matter how innocuous – acts as lighter fluid for your most difficult students.
– It encourages them, antagonises them, and even labels them. They take a look around and see that they are treated differently, and it reinforces their negative beliefs.
– It tells them that they are not like the others; that they have a behaviour problem and therefore such behaviour is expected.

But one of the secrets to handling difficult students is to focus on managing all students. When you have a classroom management approach that results in exceptionally good behaviour of the entire class, you effectively remove the fuel that ignites the bad behaviour of your most challenging students.You take away their oxygen. You empty the audience from the theater. You leave them alone on stage with no one to perform for.They take a look around and see everyone else behaving, and no one amused by their antics, and they do the same. They adapt to the culture of the classroom.They experience the dignity of being treated like everyone else and they start behaving like everyone else. Their sense of self-worth, too, changes. Pride in being just another valued member of the class takes root. They listen. They join in. They engage. They bloom and grow.

So throw out the contracts, the bribes, and the temporary, manipulative strategies that do more harm than good. Draw your gaze away from this one particular student and widen your perspective to include your entire class.

Become an expert in classroom management principles and strategies that really work and that you can feel good about using.

Smita Agrawal

Smita Agrawal

Smita Agrawal, MSc Zoology, M.A. Education, BSc, BEd, is at present teaching Biology in St Kabir’s School, Hissar. She has done her schooling from Mathura, UP. She has a passion for teaching and writing. She started writing when she was in Class XII. She likes to write on educational and adolescence issues. She has written a number articles for different magazines like TEACHER magazine published by ACER, Shiksha Sarthi published by the Directorate of Education Haryana Government, Vigyan Pragati and daily newspapers as well. Her project of Bicycle Plough was selected in top stories by Design for Change programme. She was awarded the best teacher and excellence award by Rah group and Silverzone.

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