I Said What I Said: 3 Simple Statements to add to your Behavior Management Plan to Redirect Students
Ever had a student throw you off your teaching game with their actions or attitude? If so, then this post on behavior management is for you.
In my last post in the back to school series I talked about the basis of classroom management and introduced The Great 88: Rules, Routines, and Expectations to Go Over and Over. It’s your free checklist of all the things you need to teach your students in upper elementary -all the behaviors that is - to have a smoothly running classroom. We’re going to switch gears slightly today and directly address student behaviors. You can still grab your free copy here or below.
Want to listen to this message instead of read? You can hear the audio version in my podcast or click the Mp3 below.
I cringe even bringing this up right now on summer break, because you may still be recoiling from last year and that one kid - or, keeping it real, more than one kid - that was difficult to deal with and caused disruptions to your classroom. If student behaviors have become the number one stressor for you and have made you even consider quitting teaching, you are not alone. Even the teachers that act like they don’t have behaviors issues with their students, they’re bluffing. That doesn't mean there aren't things you can do to keep from turning in your keys and giving up on your teaching career.
Students are people - younger people, less experienced people, but nonetheless, people. They have feelings and developing brains, and they aren’t going to think or process life like an adult (and to be honest there are a lot of adults that don’t process life like adults).
In the aftermath of the pandemic, you might be noticing even less self regulation from students, more impulsive tendencies, and even more immaturity. They don’t appear to be where they should be academically or behaviorally, and it’s disheartening and frustrating. It becomes hard not to take it personally and feel like you aren’t effective as a teacher.
While I can’t address every nuance and unique situation in your room, after two decades in upper elementary I have found some things that work when managing student behaviors and redirecting behavior specifically to minimize disruptions, time off task - and as a way to preserve my energy and sanity. I am not perfect - I don’t always say the right thing, and I get tired of having to repeat myself. And after fifteen years in 5th grade, boy was I sick of the drama.
But as I talked about in my last post about the three things you have to have for effective classroom management - having a strong presence - asserting yourself, having confidence, teaching all the things, practicing and reteaching until they are ingrained - all help build the classroom environment that you want and need for learning to take place and for the kids to not hang from the ceiling.
But what do you say when it’s time to redirect behaviors? When they test you, push the envelope, or just plain forget, get caught up in their feelings? I’m going to give you three things you can add to your behavior management plan now and start to practice saying when you need to redirect student behaviors to get them back on track, help them self regulate, and teach the behavior that you want to see from them. This is also going to be how to model the language and actions you want to see from your students. You want have to raise you voice, get your blood pressure up - add these phrases to your "teacher speak" so you can quickly get back to teaching.
The first statement to add to your behavior management plan to redirect student behaviors is “We don’t do that here.”
Let’s say there’s a student in your room who wants to hold something, is getting tired of waiting their turn, and they try to grab it from someone’s hand. You say, “We don’t do that here.” Maybe at home, that’s acceptable, that’s how they deal with things because they aren’t taught differently. But they are in your room, so it’s your rules.
Now, you say, “We don’t do that here,” but don’t leave them hanging. You’ve got to tell them what you do instead. So, you would say “We wait our turn or ask if we can touch/hold etc.” You may even want to model how to ask with the student who was having things grabbed from them. You’re addressing the behavior as unacceptable, even if that’s how they are allowed to interact elsewhere. You can’t control elsewhere. And you’re demonstrating what you do do in that situation.
The second phrase to add to your behavior management playlist is “Make another choice.”
For this example, let’s say you have a student who doesn’t like that they have to redo a math paper. This student stomps their feet back to their desk and proceeds to try to pull everything out of their desk. You can front load this with “We don’t do that here,” but you can also go right into “I see that you are upset but this isn’t okay. Make another choice.” You’re allowing the student to feel, because no one likes to redo a paper, but you aren’t allowing them to tear up their desk and make a scene because they’re big mad. “Make another choice.” They get to choose - emphasis, they get to choose, you’re giving them the power with this statement to self regulate - another way to express their feelings.
You might have to provide them with some choices. What do you do when you’re upset - but can’t rip up your desk or stomp your feet? Maybe they can take deep breaths, go to a corner of the room to cool down, count to ten, ask to get a drink of water. Give choices. They can choose. But they can’t choose to act out and disrupt the class. They have to “Make another choice.”
And one more statement to redirect student behavior is “I don’t like that. Please stop.”
And as an aside, you can tell them what behavior they need to be doing. For this example, let’s say a student keeps bouncing their pencil eraser over and over, boing-boing, on their desk while you're teaching. Yes, you can stare them down, or shake your head - you don’t have to say anything. But sometimes kids don’t get the hint. So, walk near them, and say assertively “I don’t like that. Please stop.”
You’re telling them how it makes you feel. You’re telling them you don’t want them to continue the behavior. In less than three seconds, you’ve addressed what needs to happen.
Yes, you can tell them what behavior they should be doing, but this works well for just when you need to nip something in the bud, fast. But what you’re also doing with this statement is modeling for this student and others how to deal with things that are bothering them. When someone is doing something you don’t like, that bothers or distracts you, just say, “I don’t like that. Please stop.” No yelling, touching, tattling. It’s a statement and a directive. It also shows kids that you’re a person too, and we all have things that are quirks or peeves that we don’t like. I personally hate repetitive noises. But I model for them with that phrase how I deal with something that’s bothering me in a respectful manner.
To review, here are the three phrases to make a part of managing student behaviors in your classroom:
As a disclaimer, I know these three phrases won’t fix every behavior issue, and students who don’t allow you to teach or keep their peers from learning need to be addressed accordingly. There are absolutely instances when students who make the learning environment a difficult place to learn or who threaten the safety of others (not just physically) need to be removed. But your words and demeanor, your presence are the anchor of the ship. Your students are looking to you for guidance even when you don’t realize it, or think they are paying attention. You teach them more about how to interact than you realize, and it often starts with how you address conflict.
We’ll continue more with our classroom management and back to school series next time - make sure you download The Great 88. It’s a checklist of Rules Routines, and Expectations to Go Over and Over at the start of the school year so you are prepared to set the foundation for a successful school year. Get your free copy below!