Author and behaviour management specialist Marie Amaro joins me on today’s episode to talk about creating an effective behaviour management strategy in your classroom.
- Best practise for behaviour management
- Setting achievable expectations
- Revisiting expectations after a period of student absence
- Voice and choice in the classroom
- Teacher wellbeing in relation to student behaviour
- Pedagogical approach vs punitive approach to behaviour management
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Behaviour Management Best Practise Full Episode Transcript
Bron: I just want to say thank you so much for joining me on the podcast, Marie.
Marie: Very welcome.
Bron: So your special area in education is behaviour management and that is an area that a lot of teachers, struggle with in their careers. Especially I think it’s something that early career teachers report as being one of their biggest challenges when in particular environments, you know, some of us are lucky enough to go into a school that has exceptional behaviour or an area that doesn’t have other challenges going on in it. And the children are settled in well behaved and ready to learn. And that’s fantastic as a teacher to have, a bit of a headstart like that because when you don’t have that as a consideration, it’s, it comes all down to curriculum and pedagogy. But for those who end up in a school with, there are some behavioural challenges and children who have special needs in this area, it can be really, really challenging.
Do you think that uni courses now at the moment in Australia equip beginning teachers in behaviour management adequately?
Marie: That’s a great question, Bron, when the difficulty I think is that there’s not enough behaviour management covered in university courses, but also it’s the fact that good behaviour management often only can come with experience. And so new teachers often feel really ill-equipped to deal with the behaviours that they see. And it can be really overwhelming. You know, it’s, it’s a hard gig when you’re in the classroom by yourself and the student behaviour is much more challenging than what you thought. So while university courses don’t necessarily address it enough. And, and a lot of teachers in our workshops will say that, I think sometimes there’s, there’s, there’s kind of a balance got to come between your experience and then your theory around it, because you can learn all the theory. And particularly if that happens to you, like if you go into a good into a school where the student behaviour is really good and easy to manage, then you probably forget about any of the strategies that you might’ve learned when you were at uni, anyway.
So, and there’s so many when,when a new teacher, um, begins their career, there’s so many things that they have to be all across. I mean, you mentioned curriculum and pedagogy, which are huge in themselves, and then add behaviour management to that, and building relationships with the students, with their colleagues, with parents and being part of the community. There’s just so much to do.
And I, and sometimes I think behaviour management comes at the end and people forget about it. And when in fact you need to do that right at the start, otherwise, you know, you’re playing catch up all the time anyway. So I think, I think it’s sort of a multifaceted kind of area where you can be prepared to a degree, but I think nothing, nothing is like experience in the classroom.
Bron: Yeah, that’s right.
Marie: And those first few is in the classroom are just a massive learning curve in so many ways.
Bron: Yeah, absolutely. And we’ve got all these teachers preparing and planning their lessons and kind of thinking about the learning. I really liked how you mentioned building relationships, because I think a large part of behaviour management and effective behaviour management is to do with those bonds and relationships you make with your children. So I’m just gonna throw a curve ball at you. This one’s not in the question sheet.
What should teachers be doing at the moment around setting behaviour expectations and setting up their children for success together?
What are the key things at the beginning to do, to, to make that foundation?
Marie: Yeah, that’s a really great question, but my too, and it’s really important at the beginning of a term to be really clear about the behaviour you want. So first of all, teachers have to decide the kind of behaviour that they want to see and be prepared that there are going to be times when kids are off task.
If you accept that fact and then work from that premise, you’re in a much better state to actually manage what happens in the classroom. So except that students are going to be off task at times, because nobody’s on task a hundred percent, because even we aren’t, you know, that’s right. Okay. So, I mean, building relationships is the first thing. So first of all, they need to start off doing some things that actually they get to know their students and the students get to know them.
And the first few weeks of school really should be about setting those expectations. And then first of all, deciding what you want to see then collaborating with your students around what kind of behaviour is acceptable in the classroom. What good learning behaviour looks like, because really it’s all about the learning in the end. It’s, that’s, that’s what we’re there for.
And good behaviour will lead to good learning outcomes. So then, you know, explicitly teaching the students, giving them opportunities to practice the kind of behaviour that you want to see developing some kind of positive reinforcement strategy in your classroom, whatever that is.
It doesn’t necessarily mean tangibles because some people don’t and some schools don’t like to use that, but it’s around how you reinforce the behaviour. So giving kids specific feedback about what they do, and then revisiting all the expectations that you have when times, because there’s times in the year, when, when you’re really busy, when routines will go out the window. And so, then you need to revisit what your expectations are and bring the kids all back together. And let’s talk about it again, but, you know, setting up things like class meetings are really good in the classroom to giving the kids a voice that’s really important.
Bron: Yeah, definitely. That’s a great idea. And I guess like, it is a really hectic, busy time and we’re all keen to jump straight into the learning and find out, you know, do the pre-assessments and the pretests and find out what our kids remember, because it’s been a bit of a while since they were at school.
But, um, I think, yes, that’s such a great idea to just set those ground rules and then always be able to revisit those as a basis for what you have as expectations, and then also as processes and reward systems and things in your classrooms. So the kids know this is what’s happening because I think sometimes it’s a bit of a disconnect between what the adult expects and what the students expect as well. The expectations don’t match.
Do you find that teachers sometimes struggle when they go from say an upper years class to middle or lower years class and they have to adjust their expectations of the students as well.
Yeah. That can really, really challenge teachers. And, you know, I’ve had a lot of teachers say to me, you know, they’ve gone from exactly what you just said, gone from, um, the older kids to younger kids and the expectations do have to change. And then that’s another big learning curve for teachers, because either way it’s different, you know, the kinds of, um, the way you build relationships, it’s different too. You might do the same kinds of things, but your language will be different. Y
our expectations of their behaviour is different and you have to change the way. And I always recommend to teachers it’s around, you always incorporate things like curriculum and pedagogy as well, because adjusting that and differentiating for students is what you have to do, um, normally in your classroom teaching. But you specifically have to do it when you change from your levels to your levels. And I know lots of teachers who’ve gone from even from primary school to high school or the other way, and they have to do the same thing.
Bron: Yeah. That would be a big jump. Yeah. And in Queensland we recently had, or a few years ago we had grade seven moved from being a primary school grade to a high school grade. So the department actually ran this whole kind of recruitment drive to get upper years teachers or any, any primary teachers up to grade seven. And I can only imagine what those teachers kind of had to do with that shifted mindset from a primary school to secondary school expectations. Cause they’re at the beginning of that journey, then not closing up the end of their primary journey. So definitely something to think about for our secondary teachers that listen as well.
You say in your book that behaviour management is a component of a professional’s teaching practice. Why is it such a fundamental part of our teaching practice?
Marie: Yeah, I, the approach that I take is really it sets the foundation for what happens in your classroom. And that’s why it’s so important. Um, I don’t know if you know Robert Marzano, but his works it’s. A lot of his research has shown that, um, student behaviour is closely thing to student engagement and student outcomes. So, and it makes sense that it would, you know, appropriate behaviour is going to get better outcomes for kids.
So what we do in the classroom as teachers is we’re actually helping kids learn how to learn. So that’s what behaviour does. It’s about what’s appropriate in the classroom because people will often say our kids, you know, come from home, they should already know how to behave, but the classroom is a different situation. You don’t act in the classroom like you act at home, you don’t act in the classroom, how you act in the playground.
So kids have to learn how to do that and that some kids need more just like some kids need extra maths, or they need extra literacy or they need, um, extra work on their, um, reading. There’s some kids need extra help with their behaviour.
So that’s why teaching behaviour is so important. Like some kids will be fine, but other kids will actually need, and they’ll pick it up easily. Whereas some kids will actually struggle with that and not be able to do it. So to have a safe learning environment for all our students, we need to teach what we want the kids to do. Um, I’ve heard lots of stories from people in post school teachers who will say, “Oh, the kids come and they don’t know what to do”.
But sometimes what happens in high school is teachers won’t tell the kids, they actually keep it quite vague and they just let kids do whatever they want to do. And then there it’s exactly what you said before. Their expectations are different from what the kids expect. So we all need to be told how to behave in certain situations and kids are no different. So,
Bron: Yeah. And like you said, likening it to other areas of the curriculum. We provide students with learning outcomes and, um, criteria sheets and things so that they can hit those goals and know that they’re hitting the goals. But sometimes we forget to do that with social skills and the soft skills of things like, um, emotional regulation or behaviour management or appropriate ways to react to situations. And, um, yeah, it’s hard because they don’t know where the goalposts are. So yeah, definitely something for us to keep in mind as teachers to make it explicit and to also to tell them how to work through, um, what they’re experiencing themselves.
Because I’m sure that, like you said, every student’s different. We need to differentiate our behaviour strategies for each child, really in our classroom, in your book, you talk about self regulation.
Is there a fine balance between teaching compliance to student and self-regulation?
Bron: Because we teach our students to be critical thinkers and active participants in their own learning, but how does that affect our approach to behaviour management?
Now, when we’re asking them to, um, have a growth mindset and think outside the box and be strategic with things and then be creative as well. And there’s all these different things that we’re teaching them to do, but then we’re expecting them to fall into line in certain areas of behaviour. So how does that all connect?
Marie: Yeah, that’s, that’s great. You’re right. And people can kind of get a bit confused about what self-regulation means because self-regulation when we teach kids self regulation skills, we’re not just teaching them so that they’ll be compliant. We’re teaching them self regulation so they can learn because when, when anyone and particularly kids don’t have self regulation skills, they become extremely stressed because they can’t manage the big emotions that they’re having. So that means that their concentration and memory is affected.
And then also that means that they can’t process new information and they can’t learn because when you’re highly stressed, you can’t learn anything new. And so teaching can self regulation skills is really about teaching them how to be critical thinkers, like how to manage the kind of feelings that they might have in a social situation, which school is an extremely social situation for kids to learn.
Well, they need to develop relationships with teachers, develop relationships with their peers and also kind of mediate that relationship with their parents as well, because that’s what helps their learning. So the self regulation is not so much about compliance as helping them to be the best learners that they can be so that they get the best outcomes in the classroom. It does, you know, while teachers do want compliance in some areas, which is makes a safe environment, it’s not just about, they do everything you tell them to do without critically thinking about it.
And if you develop self regulation skills with your students and teach social emotional skills, it’ll be about giving them voice and choice in the classroom because then they can manage those kinds of things. Cause, um, kids who can’t, self-regulate find it very difficult to make decisions as well, and then giving them a choice, um, is something they actually don’t know how to do.
Bron: Yeah, yeah. When we’re talking about, um, problem solving and exploring different options and things like that, that’s kind of very central to self-regulation because looking at things through different lenses and different views and trying to have, you know, not just a singular kind of go to response to something is, is really what it’s all about. And, and it offers them lots of different options for how they do react to things.
So that’s something that’s really important for us to remember. We are not teaching little robots in rows. They’re all different. They come with their own prior knowledge and experience and yeah, it’s, um, we don’t want robots. We want kids that are, um, socially and emotionally aware and, and have those skills as they grow.
So in your book you say that, um, I’m just going to quote you here: Poor behaviour is a symptom of a lack of appropriate social and emotional skills.
So what factors might contribute to a student or even a person of any age missing these skills and how can we as teachers mitigate this right down at the very beginning in primary school?
Where teachers, I guess, are catching them in primary school. So from prep to grade six.
Marie: Yeah. Yeah. Um, kids can, the kind of factors that influence a student who then may not have social emotional skills are things like neglect, abuse, violence in the home, or they’ve, or they’ve experienced violent situations. Um, it can be drug and alcohol misuse. It might be mental health issues or learning difficulties. And we are more aware these days about kids with trauma. And we actually have more kids with trauma because of situations that are going on in the world. And because we have refugee populations in our schools now that have experienced severe trauma, but they’re not the only ones it’s, you know, across the board.
So for, for teachers to be able to manage that, it’s really about your best practice. So thinking about things like, you know, even the things of setting a really clear expectations in the classroom now that is something that we propose for everybody, but that’s a really strong indicator for kids with trauma because they need a safe environment.
So if they know if the environment is predictable and reliable, and they have a good relationship with the teacher, that’s going to support them to teachers also need to understand that and think, can you think about the kids in a way that is like the student is doing the best they can do at this moment, even if they’re having a tantrum, even if something is going wrong, this is the best they can do right now. And so doing that can really help you because as a teacher, you need to look up to your own wellbeing in this too. And that’s, that’s part of it is the mindset that the teachers have will really affect, will impact on their own wellbeing, but also impact on their relationships with the students, particularly students with challenging behaviour. So then also adopting a pedagogical approach rather than a punitive approach.
So, as we talked about before, you know, teaching social, emotional skills and, and coming from the fact that they actually need an extra support to do this because of their background, and then not taking the behaviour personally, because that, that impacts on how you react as well. But it’s also about your wellbeing too, because if you take all the behind me personally, you shouldn’t, that’s going to impact on teacher wellbeing. And that’s really hard, particularly when teachers first start, um, and then, you know, um, having individual plans for students, so working with students around what they need, and it might include things like having breaks, going for a walk, getting, um, more support from parents and from executive staff, but building into the day what kids need.
Because, um, as you just mentioned before, you know, every different and particularly kids from, um, trauma backgrounds, they really need extra support in these kinds of ways, and that can make life better in the classroom for everybody. And anything that we do it’s, um, anything that we do for kids with learning difficulties or kids from trauma benefits, everyone in the class. So it’s not like they’re taking away from everybody else. Having that really safe environment, that’s really clear for everybody is much better for all students. So it actually benefits everyone in the classroom and benefits the teacher. Cause then they can feel more confident and more empowered to manage what’s happening in their classroom too.
Bron: Yeah. I love that.
Marie, thank you so much for joining me on for the love of teaching. I really appreciate all of your insights into behaviour management, and I think that’s going to be so helpful for our teachers.
Marie: Been such a pleasure, Bron, great to talk with you.
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