Tuesday, January 21, 2014

January, When Teachers Get Do-Overs in Classroom Discipline

Thank God for January!

If you realize that you did not hold a tight enough line for student behavior throughout your first semester, winter break gives you a chance to rest and reflect on your performance. It is time for firmly resolving your disciplinary weaknesses. When your students return to school after break, introduce them to your super-alter-ego, Mr. or Ms. Consistency. You might want to explain that you intend to enforce the rules and procedures more consistently, but no talk will mean a thing without action.

Look for the first opportunity in every class to address gateway behaviors. 

Gateway behaviors include whispering, sitting backward or sideways in a chair, taking a long time to take a seat upon entering or after throwing away trash/getting a tissue, wearing clothing backward, being slow to follow directions. Correct these behaviors kindly but firmly with a direct request:  “Can you sit squarely in your seat?” “I need you to stay in your seat for the rest of the period. Thank you.” “Can you put your jacket on the right way?” “Can you get your paper ready immediately, please?”

Every time you speak to a student about even the smallest behavior, mark a tally beside his or her name on your recording form. Students will not miss this action. They will know you are keeping track of how often you have to talk to them about behavior.

Remember to use only controlled, professional communication.

No sarcasm, no exasperation, no threats. Just kind but firm requests to comply with the rules and procedures you pointed to all of first semester, but failed to enforce with action. Show radar-like withitness (yes, that's a word, coined by the educational community). Plan to look for every small infraction and address it. You may even want to plan some activities your students can do without much instruction or assistance so that you can give all of your attention to monitoring behavior for a few days.

Once you have requested compliance, invoke your consequences for the next repeated offense. You will have one or more opportunities to do this in every one of your classes. Don't miss the opportunity to send the message that you have changed. Prepare yourself to issue consequences kindly but firmly.

Determine to follow through, calmly and consistently.

Do not apologize or hem and haw. Tell the student quietly, “Step two, John. Please do not blurt out again.” Mark another tally beside John’s name. Enforce your classroom consequence for step two. In our building-wide discipline system, step two is a phone call home to let the parent know the teacher had to talk to John twice today about blurting out comments: "Our rule is to raise your hand before speaking. I believe John is capable of doing that, and I want to address it now so he does not get into trouble."

Expect a power struggle. That’s right. When we fail to discipline effectively for the first half of the year, many students will resist the new order. Stand firm. Don’t lose your cool. Own that you helped create the environment that led to this issue. Own, also, that you are determined to correct it. This is another reason to prepare independent work at the first of the month, so that you can gather your emotions once you’ve been challenged. Reclaim your classroom. You can do it.

If I had to speak to John a third time in one class period, I would issue a 20-minute detention and call his parent to notify him or her of the requirement. A fourth time would earn John an office referral, all of which I keep track of on my recording sheet for that class, so that I can follow through with every consequence.

Don’t be surprised when, along about mid-February, your classes operate with fewer disruptions, interruptions, and eruptions. Don't be surprised when your students get more work done than ever before. And don’t be surprised when you find yourself thinking, “Just wait until August. I’m going to start out even more consistent with my discipline!”

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