Tuesday, August 9, 2016

An Once of Prevention: Preventing Discipline Problems Before They Occur

An Ounce of Prevention

by Jill Jenkins

As teachers prepare their classrooms for the upcoming school year: cleaning and arranging desks, putting up bulletin boards and writing creative lesson plans, they need to plan to prevent discipline problems.  In Benjamin Franklins' words, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."  A few simple steps can prevent hours of meetings with angry parents and students and save the administration a multitude of migraines.   

#1 Proximity is Power

Although many classrooms are packed with forty plus students, there are still classroom arrangements that will allow the teacher an opportunity to interact personally with each student.  Being physically close to students can quell many potential discipline problems.  A would be class clown can often be brought to submission by the teacher standing next to his desk or placing a hand on his shoulder.  Interacting one-to-one with students bonds them.  Students who feel bonded to a teacher are less likely to be disruptive because the relationship with their teacher is important to them.  It is disarming to a student to talk to a teacher on his own level.  Kneeling next to a student's desk so that the teacher's face and the student's face are close and speaking in a soft voice allows students to receive instruction without losing face. Students are often embarrassed by their learning shortcomings. Some classrooms are small and filled with too many students.  Faced by this dilemma, I moved all of the desks to the side of the room into groups of three.  The school banned backpacks in the classroom, providing me with even more room.   I was able to make personal contact with each student every day.  Teachers must be on their feet moving between desks to help each student stay on task and redirect any inappropriate behavior.

#2 Consistent Procedures

Before students arrive decide upon classroom procedures and stick to them.  Students thrive when they don't have to worry about what is going to happen every day.  Students with even slight disabilities become confused when the daily pattern changes, so be consistent.  Post classroom rules and consequences on the board and consistently follow through.  Provide a daily agenda on the whiteboard so students who easily become distracted can be more easily pulled back.  The strongest tool a teacher has is consistent procedures.  These should include what you do in the classroom, how the teacher expects the students to behave and how the  teacher responds when they don't meet expectations.  Some procedures should be fun and silly.  For example, each day I used "Daily Oral Language" where students were given two sentences and ask to correct any and all grammar and punctuation errors.  Playing on the students' love of Star Wars, when I gave a student the transparency pen and asked them to come to the overhead to make a correction and explain their amendment, I would say, "May the Force be with you."  The student who had "the power of the pen" bequeathed his power on any student he chose when he presented the pen to another student and said,"May the Force be with you."  To help the students who lacked some of the skills of his/her classmates, students could call upon the "Circle of Help."  Then students raised their hands.  The student selected a student who offered advice.  Students referred to this as a "Call Out" from a popular television show Cash Cab.  Using popular culture can help students relate to classroom activities, so like the world of advertisement, the teacher is hooking the students in.  Another teacher had students clap their hands twice together and once on their desks when they changed from one activity to another.  Transitions are often difficult for students.  Using a timer to keep students in line helps.  I used to give students ten minutes of silent sustained reading.  When they entered my room they got their books out and began without me saying a word.  When they heard the cooking timing ring, they put their books away and got out their Daily Oral Language paper.  Since this happened everyday, I could help individuals, take roll and pass papers back without the interrupting learning activities.

#3 Give Clear, Concise Directions

Many students get confused when a teacher gives directions and turn to their neighbor for clarification.  This chicken clucking can be confused with disrespectful behavior, but it really isn't.  Present directions in a clear, concise manner and call on several students (usually the most distracted) to repeat them.  Do not precede until each of the students understands the directions.  If they continue to cluck, the teacher should raise her hand and say calmly, "If you are listening, raise your hand."  Soon all students will be quiet and the teacher will be able to clarify.  Model the behavior.  If the teacher wants students to line up at the door and walk out into the hall,  she should do it.  If the teacher wants them to get their pencils out and put their books away,  she should do it.  If the teacher wants them to tighten a bolt,  she should do it.  Modeling helps to make it real for the visual learner.  Whatever the teacher does,  he/she should not run out of the room crying as one of my former student teacher did.  Repeat the directions in language they can understand, model it and have the students repeat it back. 

#4 Less is More

 Often frustrated teachers lose half of their teaching time disciplining disruptive students by haranguing the delighted students.  When a teacher has to discipline, less is more.  Too much makes the teacher appear weak and the students feel they are able to push his/her buttons for their own entertainment.  Work on the "teacher glare" and " disappointed face" but use these sparingly to reel in any disruptive students.  Using them too much is ineffective.  Work on vocal quality.  Lowering the voice and giving short commands also works on dogs and children.  A commanding voice needs to used at the appropriate time or it loses its power.  Often teachers feel they must present two faces to students: sweet teacher or strict teachers.  When the students are behaving, the sweet teacher appears; when they are not the strict teacher appears.  However, if the teacher is consistent with his/her rules and present him/herself as a confident leader, this psychos may be unnecessary.  Body language, eye contact and vocal intonation are essential to present a self-confident leader.  Reacting in a small way when a student becomes distracted can prevent larger more difficult discipline issues. Try moving close to the student first. Next, the teacher should hand on the student's desk or shoulder. Third, kneel next to his desk for a quiet but short redirection.  Fourth, taking a child into a hall way and having a heart to heart talk in often more effective to lure them into more appropriate behavior.  Fifth, move the child's desk next to the teacher.  Invite him in a positive way, "I think you need a little positive Mrs. Jenkins' time." There is a good chance he just wants attention.  Finally, sometimes it is necessary to have the child telephone his/her parent and discuss his/her behavior with his parents with the teacher present.  Word will be out to the other students once the teacher uses this method and few will wish to repeat it.  Whatever methods used, decide before the school year begin.  Have a discipline plan in line and share it with the administrators, so they know what methods have been used before the child was sent for administrative assistance.

While planning the next academic adventure, think about discipline.  Design a floor plan that facilitates proximity, because proximity is powers.  Create a consistent learning and behavior procedure before students enter the classroom and stick to it religiously.  Give clear and concise directions, model them and ask students to repeat them to ensure their understanding.  Finally, develop a discipline plan that reacts to the smallest redirection with the least punitive methodology.  Remember less is more.