Everyone likes to feel that they are in control, and your students are certainly no different. I’m sure you’d all agree that a lot of classroom confrontation stems from this need.
You, the teacher, need to have control of the class. The student tries to wrest that control from you in some unagreeable way. Sometimes overtly, sometimes unintentionally.
You try to assert your control over the ensuing situation, and said student can often escalate their undesirable behaviour in response.
So how can we try to avoid this situation. And how can we resolve it while allowing both parties to feel like they have a bit of control? How can we be smart about our classroom behaviour management – both preventative and restorative?
Through a technique I learned from my mother-in-law, who has many years of early childhood education under her belt, and it involves just a slight touch of manipulation.
Basically (and this might be a bit anti-climatic to some) you want to offer your students two choices at all times. This works great for toddlers, and just as great all the way up to teenagers. Even if they can see through your little manipulation, they often can’t help but follow along.
This might take some careful planning, but with every big action/task/activity/behaviour response you want your students to do, plan two choices for them. Plan it so that each option gives the outcome that *you* want to see, but enough autonomy and variety that the students feel like there is a genuine choice involved that is their responsibility to make. You are putting them in control of the *how*, while getting your *what*.
And by this, I don’t at all mean “you do this thing I’m telling you to do, or you’ll face negative consequences”. That isn’t a choice, that’s a threat. And no one likes being threatened.
For example, if a student is talking and you want them to move desks, give them the option of two desks to move to.
If a student has acted in a way that they are now getting a detention, give them the option of recess or lunch.
If you want students to show their understanding of a basic concept, give them the option of writing it down, drawing it, or saying it out loud.
If you want your toddler to brush their teeth, give them the option of the blue toothbrush or the green toothbrush.
Let them choose which one, and thank them for choosing. They get to do something in the way that they are choosing, and by doing so gaining some control over their day, but within your boundaries and to your desired outcome. If they refuse to choose, remind them that those are the only two options, and inform them of the consequences for actively choosing to not make a choice.
If you can build this way of control-giving into the every-day activities of your lesson, you are showing your students that you trust them to make good choices for themselves. You are giving them power, control, and autonomy. It also normalises differences – it’s perfectly ok to choose option A or option B, everyone in the class is making their own choice and we are supportive of that.
When it comes time to use choices for behaviour management it will feel a lot more natural for you and for the students. They know the drill, and they know that they are getting a bit of control over their redirection and behaviour correction. You are showing them that even in their least-desirable moments, you trust them to ultimately make good choices and do the right thing.
I encourage you to try this simple behaviour management technique in a lesson tomorrow, and report back to me how it goes!