I’ve been learning a lot this year, and one fundamental difference in what I’ve come to understand is that there is a difference between classroom management and behavior management.
The journey to understanding this fundamental truth about teaching at risk learners in a high poverty school has been powerful.
What is classroom management?
Classroom management is nuts and bolts of teaching. It is the way you run your room. How you rotate centers and organize your files. Are you able to stay on schedule during the day? Are you delivering standards based instruction? This is the heart of classroom management.
You can be a great classroom manager, and lose the classroom because you don’t know how to wrangle with the behavior. No matter how much you love the kids or the craft, you won’t make it. So, let’s discuss what TRUE behavior management is.
When students don’t have the coping skills to deal with the stressors in the classroom, it is up to their teacher to support them. We can do this by building a community that accepts all learners no matter where they are. We can also do this by being consistent and loving in our discipline.
The struggle for balance with behavior management
As teachers, we can adversely become a stressor to our students if we are not aware of our biases. We can’t believe that they can’t or won’t learn. The majority of students come to school wanting to be successful. Many of them don’t exactly know how, and they need to be taught how to behave. We don’t get mad when they can’t read, but we get mad when they can’t behave. We should approach academics and behavior similarly. Both need to be taught.
Students who struggle to manage their own behavior continue their academic journey confirming that they only know how to disrupt and dismantle a classroom. They don’t know how to ‘be good’. All they know is that they are bad. When there are only a handful of students like that on a grade level, or in a school…it doesn’t disrupt the school culture, but when the whole school is full of kids who seemingly can not follow the most basic directions? Now even the faculty and staff start to see the students generally as a disruption, a problem. The academics in these schools go down, and so does morale. The behavior becomes the soul crushing focus of each day, and the tsunami of stress puts teachers out of classrooms year after year. In schools where the students MOST need consistency, teacher burn out keeps the turn over rates high.
When teachers are giving part of themselves emotionally to students who may not be able to reciprocate that, it is draining on a completely different level. Self care is a MUST and quite frankly, teachers are the best at putting EVERYONE above themselves. Although there are many similarities in teaching across the country, when it comes to behavior management, teachers who are working with students in crisis have no parallel. They have no equal. They are definitely doing the harder job, and I have no shame in putting that right out there.
So how do you conquer the challenges of behavior management?
Distinguishing between the two types of management.
Keep in mind that although classroom management can be easily picked up and replicated, behavior management must be experienced, experimented with, recalibrated, and retried. This is what makes behavior management the more difficult and elusive skill to attain. Behavior management success is like a scar that shows you survived. Classroom management is like the beautiful tattoo you chose to wear yourself.
Classroom management is all about what YOU do.
How YOU handle the challenges presented to you in the classroom.
Behavior management is all about how STUDENTS respond to the stressors of the classroom, and what you are doing to support them in moving towards healthy ways to process frustration at school.
You can not MAKE students behave. There is not a program out there that can make that happen. What you CAN do, is get students to invest in the idea that there is someone who does care if they are doing their best. There is nothing more powerful for students in crisis than a teacher who won’t take no for an answer when it comes to them learning and being their best. It takes a while sometimes to get them to see that, but once you are THERE? For that student, there is usually no one they trust more with their hopes for the future.
Keep up the good fight teacher, it IS worth it.