Teaching is a complex social activity and while teacher training prepares teachers well for the subject knowledge and content delivery, very little is done to qualify teachers in behavioral management. In an already stressful profession, behavior management is still one of the most important stressors for teachers, but little systematically has been done to solve the problem. Much of the literature treats teacher stress from a stress management (treating the symptom) perspective. In this article, I want to examine the top 10 mistakes teachers can make when dealing with student behavior.
- DO NOT STAY CALM UNDER PRESSURE – BE IN YOUR OWN RED ZONE
Red zones are very contagious states of mind. The Red Zone competes with the Blue Zone for brain resources, reducing observation, situational awareness, goal setting, behavioral error checking, empathy, self-confidence, creativity, complex problem solving … Consider the cost of losing these rich behaviors! Students have overdeveloped red zones compared to their blue zones. Red zones are more contagious, as are the emotional states of executives (e.g. the teacher). The classroom is prepared for the red zone, and teachers have a professional responsibility to be in the best state of mind to study: the blue zone.
The red zone is a state of vigilance; looking for things that are beyond expectations, for threats, for challenges. The educational culture can lead teachers to become overly cautious and overly sensitive to challenges from authorities. The most outstanding teachers consistently see deviations from expected behavior as precisely that and respond with a calm, consistent, planned and fair approach to challenging behavior. These teachers do not interpret such behavior as a personal attack on them, the profession, or their knowledge. You observe and manage from a quiet, “situational” space, from the blue zone.
When you are in the red in your classroom, or even have a “middle class breakdown”, you make it so much harder to control the behavior of the entire class while reducing the quality of the learning!
- INVEST YOUR EMOTIONAL BUDGET IN DEFECTIVE
Take a moment to think about how we generally respond to behavior. As parents and teachers, we generally respond to undesirable behavior with significant emotional energy (for example, yelling, strong facial emotions, and aggressive body language), and we are often less energetic about desirable behavior.
We got this the wrong way round. Schoolchildren and children are so hungry for attention that negative ones are enough if they don’t get positive attention from you. The higher your emotional energy in response, the higher the attention reward for the student. Reacting vigorously to undesirable behavior is very inefficient and in the end only leads to everyone getting back into the red zone. Maintain your emotional budget for desirable behavior and discourage undesirable behavior from a neutral, even aloof, position.
This is closely related to mistake number 1 (not staying calm under pressure), and learning to stay cool, calm, and collected will allow you to “spend” your emotions much more strategically.
- “I AM THE EXPERT …” OR REQUIRE POSITIONAL RESPECT
In many ways, the era of the knowledgeable guide (or the guide as an expert) is over. Content and / or process experts still play an important role, but leaders are increasingly becoming moderators.
How many of you are now consulting a weather radar application or page on your smartphone or computer? How often do you or your friends self-diagnose medical problems online before seeing your doctor? Have you noticed that media dominance in news dissemination is waning and social media is often reporting first?
We are in a world rich in content, and access to that content and knowledge is increasing exponentially each year. The time of the teacher (who is the leader in the classroom) as the content expert is over. Any teacher who tries to demand respect because “I am the teacher and I have the knowledge” is simply not going to excite students.
Such teachers (and indeed leaders and parents) listen less to others: they have the content and they need to be heard. However, students would say, “Why should I listen to you if you don’t listen to me …”.