“Please help!!!! I’m feeling so low at the minute. My class are getting really fussy to the point where I am spending most the afternoon not working but stopping to tell them off. They don’t listen and are all getting really disruptive. I’m at a loss as to how to control them!! I’ve tried keeping them in at playtime, speaking to the head and speaking to parents but this hasn’t helped. Please help! Any ideas???”
– Facebook Post
I’m sure that we’ve all had days/weeks/terms where we’ve felt like this. I remember a class of Year 3s whose behaviour made me so stressed I was almost ill.
And when things get tough, I know that it’s really tempting to try a behaviour management strategy that appeals to the children and makes them eager to please.
In fact, the majority of the replies to this Facebook post were:
- Table with the most points gets a small prize at the end of the week
- Raffle tickets for a draw at the end of the week
- Behaviour charts for the main offenders
- Give stickers to the children who are doing the right thing
- “Reward, reward, reward!”
But if you stop and think about it, behaviour management strategies that rely on points, prizes or treats are a really terrible way to try to control behaviour.
Because they’re a quick fix.
Yes, you may be able to achieve an afternoon of peace and quiet by promising a raffle ticket to the children who work hard and don’t disrupt the class.
Yes, you may be able to increase the amount of reading the children do at home by saying that those who read 4 times a week get to go to the park at the end of the term.
And yes, you may be able to get children to remember to use the correct punctuation by giving them a sticker for it.
But do we want our children to learn that the only reason to do the right thing is for reward?
If we set the expectation that good behaviour will get a reward, a great piece of work will get a reward, helping someone else will get a reward… What happens when the rewards stop?
What if their teacher the following year doesn’t use a rewards-based system?
What if they move up to Secondary school and there are no longer weekly prize draws?
It’s tempting so say that these children who relied on points and prizes – and there will be a few who RELIED on them – will have learned how to behave.
But they haven’t.
They’ve learned how to play the system.
And while most of children may cope well with the transition from reward-based to non-reward-based learning, some won’t.
So, what’s the alternative?
Well… As is so often the case with our job, there is no quick and easy fix.
Teachers have to play the long game.
We have to stop worrying that we won’t meet out Performance Management targets for this year because one child just can’t calm down enough to learn.
We have to start thinking about this child’s well-being as a long-term project for the whole school – for the whole education system.
To crack behaviour in the long term, there’s only one thing we need to do:
Treat every child with respect at all times.
Sounds easy, right?
When Sam is shouting, “I hate you! You’re a rubbish teacher!” right in your face or when he’s pushed a bookcase over on top of another child, the easiest thing to do is to treat him disrespectfully.
It’s quick and easy to match his level of anger, to shout back at him, to humiliate him by telling him off in front of his peers.
But what did you achieve?
All you did was to teach him that it’s OK to lose your temper and shout at people.
All you did was to reinforce his experience that adults don’t like him and are always looking for ways to get rid of him.
When Sarah shouts out during a lesson and you give a point to Red Table because they’re all sitting and listening, you haven’t solved the problem of why Sarah felt the need to shout out.
She’ll do it again and again.
And Red Table will continue to get points.
And the anxiety that lead to Sarah shouting out goes unaddressed because it’s quicker and easier to bribe children to do the right thing than it is to talk to them and find out what the problem is.
By continuing to use points, prizes and treats as a way to control children, we do them a massive disservice.
We teach them that they need extrinsic rewards to do the right thing.
They should be learning that they should be doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.
They should be learning that the reward for doing the right thing is the knowledge that they did the right thing.
But that takes time.
Time to talk to children.
Time to listen.
Time to bond with a difficult child.
Time to allow the angry to cool off.
Time to meet with parents.
Time to discuss strategies.
Time to listen. Yep, I know I already said this – but it’s so important…
Time to learn more about why children behave the way they do.
And time is the one thing teachers don’t have.
Which is a shame.
Because the reason that some children act up in class. The reason that they shout out. The reason that they hurt others…
Is because nobody ever has time for them.
So be the person who has the time for them.
Give them space to calm down safely.
Make time to talk to them about what triggered the meltdown.
Talk to them about their feelings.
Listen to what they say.
Take them seriously.
Find some time each day to work with them one-on-one.
Praise their efforts.
Help them build their self-esteem.
Help them see themselves as human.
I won’t lie, it’s a hell of a commitment.
It will take time and it will take patience.
It will mean that some lessons go out of the window and are abandoned.
You will go home in tears more than once.
But if you can be the person that shows a child that people can be trusted; that they can be nice; that they can be reliable…
You will change that child’s world.
Not just for the year that they are in your class. But potentially for the rest of their life.