Ask a struggling teacher how their class is going and they’ll inevitably bring up one or two students who take up much of their time.
They’ll lament the disruptions and the battles.
They’ll tell horror stories of incidents past.
They’ll share how they’ve tried everything under the sun and yet nothing works.
Undoubtedly, if you were to see their class in action, you would see what they see.
You would see the arguing and disrespect. You would see the temper tantrums and silliness.
You would see the source of their furrowed brow, their tired eyes, their weary acceptance.
But there is something else at work here, something deeper and hidden from view, a surprising truth behind the veil.
And this is where it gets interesting.
You see, if during your observation you were to turn your attention away from the one or two most challenging students, and allow your clinical eye to fall upon the rest . . .
A second group of students would emerge from the mist. This group, numbering between six and eight, but occasionally more, are the real source of the problem.
They are the antagonizers. They are the catalysts and tone-setters who engage in small “quality of life” misbehaviors like calling out, leaving their seat, side-talking, inattentiveness, and the like.
They don’t purposely try to rile anyone up, mind you. Rather, it is their shoddy example and transgression of class rules that provoke difficult students into extreme misbehavior.
And it is this group you must focus on.
They are the oxygen that fuels the incitement of the few. They are the poor role models, the laughers of jokes, and the creators of tension. They are most responsible for filling the classroom with stress and disorder.
The truth is, your difficult students don’t need any extra time or attention from you.
They don’t need your reminders and exhortations. They don’t need your pep-talks and behavior contracts. They don’t need your lectures, your over-the-top praise, or your logical arguments.
What they need is for you to get a handle on this second group of students.
They need peers to look up to, models to show them how, and classmates to emulate. They need student leaders who by their mere presence engender hope and confidence, whose example inspires better behavior.
They need positive influences surrounding them from opening bell to dismissal.
This idea that one or two students are creating most, or all, of the trouble and misbehavior in your classroom is a fallacy.
It is the second group that is your chief problem. And unless you get them working for you instead of against you, then your most challenging students will never improve.
Your classroom will always be chaotic and low-performing and brimming with excitability.
From the first day of school onward you must teach, model, and require exceptional behavior from all students. You must lock it down and button it up.
You must peel them away from their old habits and behaviors and bring them into the loving fold of your leadership one by one.
As your happy crew gets larger and larger, and the feeling of being part of something special grows stronger and stronger, no one will be able to resist its gravitational pull.
It’s a strategy that works from the inside out, that alights a burning glow of intrinsic motivation within each student, that turns your classroom into the coolest, most exclusive club in the world.
It’s the simple way.
The powerful way.
The Smart Classroom Management way.
PS – If you’re a principal and would like to improve recess behavior, click here.
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