There is a lot of bad classroom management information out there.
Now more than ever.
Not a month goes by that we don’t hear of another irresponsible method being promoted.
We hope to list our top ten worst strategies in a future article, but today we’d like to cover one in particular that is gaining considerable traction.
It’s a strategy that both surprises us here at SCM and leaves us dismayed anyone would think it’s a good idea.
Yet, it’s actually being encouraged in many school districts.
It’s a close cousin of the “caught being good” strategy, which we also don’t recommend, but is far more damaging to the targeted student.
The way it works, in a nutshell, is that when you notice a student misbehaving, you would first approach them so they’re aware of your presence. Then, instead of confronting them directly, you would . . .
Praise the students around them.
That’s right. You wouldn’t say a word to the offending student, but instead gushingly tell the students near them how well they’re doing.
“Wow, I love how you’re working, Ana!”
“You too, Javier. Way to go!”
“Emily is also working beautifully.”
You would give the students within proximity of the misbehaving student an enthusiastic pat on the back for not misbehaving.
The idea, in theory, is that the targeted student would see their tablemates receiving praise, and thus they too would begin behaving properly.
They too would desire your praise. They too would seek to be recognized for doing what they’re supposed to do.
Setting aside the troubling and bar-lowering message you’re sending to the entire class by offering false praise—which you can read about in Dream Class—the strategy attempts to manipulate or fool the offending student into better behavior.
It’s the classroom management version of a magician’s sleight of hand. But it’s cruel and dishonest and doesn’t help the student actually change their behavior.
It offers no helpful feedback, no meaningful lesson, and no opportunity to reflect on their misbehavior.
Although it may work in the moment—which is why proponents of the strategy are quick to cite its “research based” credentials—it will quickly weaken over time and train every student in the class to become extrinsically motivated.
It will make difficult students less inclined to get back on track in the future and turn your classroom into a petri dish of neediness, dependency, and underachievement.
So what should you do instead?
Well, first imagine yourself on the receiving end of such a strategy. How would it make you feel? How would you feel about a teacher effusively praising everyone around you while you’re being ignored?
Is this someone you would trust or admire? Of course not.
Like your students, you too appreciate a straight shooter. You too appreciate a teacher who tells the truth rather than tries to manipulate you, toy with your emotions, or underhandedly bend you to their will.
Being a leader students look up to and want to behave for isn’t so difficult. Have a classroom management plan that clearly lays out the rules and consequences of the class.
Hold all students equally accountable by letting them know exactly how they’re misbehaving (feedback) and what the consequence is.
Follow through. Be a person of your word. Do what you say you will.
Sadly, most difficult students have been on the receiving end of an endless procession of strategies that attempt to appease, manipulate, and deceive them into better behavior—which only makes them worse.
What they really need is your honesty. They need your truth and forgiveness. They need your accountability, your leadership, and your consistency.
They need your praise based on genuine achievement. The kind of praise that is real and heartfelt. The kind of praise that uplifts and informs.
That stirs internal motivational engines.
That matters now and forever.
PS – If you’re a principal and would like to improve recess behavior, click here.
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