Constructive Behavior Management: Connecting teaching practice experience with educational theory

Introduction

This chapter arose from an in-class activity requiring third year Bachelor of Education students to respond to some open-ended statements. They were asked for specific examples from their teaching practicum experience of contextual factors and teacher actions that resulted in optimal on-task behavior of pupils. The resulting lists were then examined and categorized to deductively construct a theory of behavior management which could be used explicitly to provide guidance for beginning teachers. This theory was then validated with reference to established and accepted theory after some research by the student teachers. This chapter is my subsequent attempt to record and elaborate on the results of this collaborative intellectual activity which focused on using practical experience to inform theory which, in turn, can be used to inform further practice.

“They won’t listen, I have to shout!” “They are so naughty, they won’t do what I tell them!” “Help! What else can I do to get them to concentrate on their work?”

These comments are not unusual for teachers at any stage of their career, but student teachers in particular often request assistance in dealing with the off-task and intrusive behaviors of individuals or larger groups. For beginning and pre-service teachers, student misbehavior is typically the most threatening aspect of their new profession (Powell, McLaughlin, Savage & Zehm, 2001) causing many to question their developing skills as learning becomes of secondary consideration to simple control.

To investigate whether there are effective measures that can be taken to stop disruptive behavior and ensure the full attention of every student in a classroom, a cohort of third year education students were asked to respond to the question ‘When do students behave well?’ The responses, summarized in Appendix A, clearly highlight a single, significant attribute of effective behavior management – positivity. Teacher encouragement, praise, consistency, kindness, respect, delegation, and varied use of methodologies are just some of the examples of positivity given by the students. Appendix B contains more specific examples of techniques, all positive, that worked in classrooms – stickers, videos, body language, whispering rather than shouting, well-rehearsed routines, oral feedback, and explicit discussions about behavioral expectations were all referred to several times.

Further examination reveals three essential strands of this positivity: positive beliefs and attitudes, a positive approach to lesson planning and delivery, and positive reinforcement. Exploring each of these in detail, it becomes apparent that an answer to managing disruptive behavior is neither easy nor simple, but certainly does exist.

Positivity is such a powerful attribute in teaching that the very first tip in a book designed to provide new teachers and their mentors with “‘101 Answers for new teachers and their mentors’ is actually called ‘Off to a positive start’” (Breaux, 2003, p. 3) – a strong reflection in the literature of a principle implicitly understood by the student teachers involved in the survey.

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