For positive connections to exist in our classrooms, we should assume the best if we want to foster long-term learning. Students often live up to our expectations as they can tell what we believe about them in how we treat them.
In my early years, I used to listen to reports of challenging behavior from student’s previous year teacher, and made unfair assumptions about them before they entered my room. I now realize that this is unfair. Children grow and change and often demonstrate different behavior when in a new environment. Our job as teachers is to accept them where they are and help them get to their next step academically and socially. This involves having a positive mindset about the child’s ability to perform and grow from their current level of functioning.
We will inevitably find ourselves in difficult situations when kids who live in tough conditions bring those elements into the classroom by either acting out or challenging your authority. When I assume the best rather than presume that the child does not want to be there, will refuse to participate, and won’t care to learn proper behavior, I limited my ability to educate the child while also losing the opportunity to build a positive parent-student connection.
The Invisible Contract
When I start the year assuming the best, I imagine that each child that enters my classroom holds an invisible contract.
Students come to the classroom with the following expectation:”Please teach me appropriate behavior in a safe and structured environment.” Teachers have their own side of the contract: “I will do my best to teach you appropriate behavior in a safe and structured environment.”
Some students have tried to test my limits by challenging my authority to see just how far they can go before I break. Despite what they already know to be appropriate behavior, they will act out to see if I will pass their test and teach them appropriate behavior while ensuring their safety and structure.
The reality is that while kids want to test us, they ultimately want us to pass. Kids who act out are demanding attention and don’t realize that they are actually seeking structure and someone to correct their misbehaviors.
Kids who are more prone to act out usually identify themselves from the moment they first enter the classroom. But rather than prepare for misbehavior by producing a list of the appropriate consequences, I assume the best and approach them while observing my tone of voice, voice volume, posture, and body language. I manage the student with strategies that aim to prevent the bad behavior before it happens.
Consider using the 2×10 Strategy
I had a particularly difficult student who loved to disrupt the class. He would talk out of turn, ask questions not related to the topic we were discussing, and complain loudly that the lesson or equations were too hard.
Every day for ten days in a row, I spoke with him for 2 minutes about anything he wanted. In the beginning, he didn’t take it seriously and would talk about utter nonsense. But a few days later, he started to open up, telling me a little more and more about home and even what he wanted to be when he grew up. By day 10, I hadn’t even realized that ten days had passed or at which point his behavior had improved. All I know is that there was now less disruptions and more eye contact during lessons. Sure there was still the occasional outburst in his attempt to make his classmates laugh, but it was always related to the subject matter and no longer what I would consider misbehaving.
When the child gets the opportunity to talk about their interests, they form a relationship with the teacher, and the student begins to see that they are sincerely cared for. Often, kids act out because they have no one to listen or pay genuine attention to them. After ten days, you’ll notice that the child’s classroom behavior has improved.
Strategies such as these have helped me realize that kids who misbehave do in fact want to be disciplined and that all their griping about homework or pop quizzes is their way of communicating that they want to be cared for. When I assumed the best, I removed all negative presumptions that would otherwise have hurt my ability to both educate and discipline the child in a safe and structured manner.