Managing Behaviour

by Clare Kuschert

Poor Student Behaviour

Clare gives some insight into managing student behaviour from her own experiences in the classroom and leadership.

Welcome to 321 Teach’s first blog post! I’ve been thinking about writing this for sometime, without knowing where to start. So today is the day! Sometimes you just have to take the leap!

If you ask any teacher what their stresses or concerns are in the classroom, without doubt one of the most common answers you will hear is ‘behaviour management’. If this would be your answer, you are not alone. Whatever the reason, student behaviour seems to have become more of a concern over the past couple of decades in most classrooms. Like you I’m sure, I’ve seen so many theories being thrown around as to why. Some say it’s modern day parenting; children aren’t being brought up to respect adults and teachers like they used to be, others blame their diet; too many artificial colours and preservatives, while more still (and this is certainly evident in the media, and maybe even a parent email or two that you’ve received over your career) blame teachers.

Playing the blame game just doesn’t serve anyone, least of all our students. So here are some thoughts and perspectives that I’ve developed over my career.

I’ve been teaching for the better part of two decades and have been an Assistant Principal in Queensland primary schools for many years as well. I’ve worked in affluent areas with students coming from homes where you might expect that they’ve had every opportunity in their development as well as schools with students who come from extreme poverty and trauma. As a classroom teacher I was always that teacher who was given the ‘tricky’ students because I had firm boundaries and expectations in my classroom. I’ve learnt so much over the years about students and behaviour management, but what I’ve learnt can be brought down to three main ideas. Behaviour management relies on: Relationship/ Connection, Empathy and Consistency. In this instalment, let’s focus on relationship and connection.

When I started teaching the mantra for developing behaviour expectations was ‘Don’t smile until Easter’. Ever heard that one? I look back on those years of my teaching and it makes me sad to think how harsh I was with my students and how strict and unwavering I was with my expectations. That isn’t to say that I don’t still believe in consistency, I absolutely believe that that is key to effective behaviour management, but that model of ‘consistency’ lacked empathy and connection with my students. If you’re a primary school teacher, the children that you work with are still babies. They’re little, they want to be accepted and do the right thing and above all they want to be loved. No scratch that, they NEED to be loved. This is why I know that relationship and connection is the key to managing student behaviour. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Sometimes it’s REALLY hard to make a connection with certain children. Some children make it really hard to like them, it’s like it’s their life's mission to make our life hard. But it’s our job to find something to like about them. Every child has something to like, something unique and special- some are just really good at hiding it! While it might be hard work initially, developing a connection and relationship with your students, especially your tricky ones, will be worth it. Something that I’ve learnt in recent years through work in the trauma space that has resonated so loudly with me is ‘Connection Seeking’. How often do we talk about these tricky kids as being ‘Attention Seeking’? Calling out. Breaking things. Hurting others for no apparent reason. Doing anything BUT what they are supposed to be doing. Attention seeking. What if we flipped our mind set on their behaviour from ‘attention seeking’ to ‘connection seeking’? Does that change how you perceive their behaviour? It certainly has changed my mindset. If the function of the behaviours that your student is displaying is not just to get attention but to actually gain connection then there is a magnitude of things that we can do to give that to them (and why shouldn’t they have connection?) in a positive way. Here are some ideas for easy ways to start developing connection with these students:

  • Spend time with them. Some of the best teachers I’ve witnessed who worked hard to create connection would simply open their classrooms before school and allow these students to come in and spend time with them doing a whole range of things. Sometimes they would have games set up for the students to play, other times it was helping to get things ready for the day. These activities opened up opportunity for conversation in a setting that wasn’t about learning. It was just about connection and relationship. Finding out about them and what made them tick. How their morning was at home. If they’d had breakfast. Showing that child that they are valued and heard. You might also consider playing with them at lunch time sometime. Join their handball game, play a board game with them in the library. Show an interest in what they like.
  • Praise. I wonder if you stop and consider how you speak to those tricky students all day what you would find. Do you spend the whole day pulling them up on things that they’ve done wrong? Or maybe find yourself speaking to them with sarcasm or even contempt in your voice… even when they haven’t done something wrong right then? That might not be an easy thing to admit to yourself, but it is easy to fall into that trap when you feel like you do nothing but battle with that student. Make a concentrated effort to find things to praise the student for every day. You might have to be quick, and you might need to start with very minor things, but it should be genuine. Also consider how you give that praise. Not every student wants public recognition. In fact if you’re working with a child of trauma, giving public praise could completely backfire on you! Try talking to them quietly to the side and telling them how proud you were when you saw them doing x. By telling them that you’re proud of them your creating a new narrative for them about themselves. They’re capable of doing good things and they have value in your eyes.
  • Co-regulate with them. Often students who consistently have trouble meeting behaviour expectations become heightened or emotional (that could look like anger, sadness or even silliness). This is the perfect time to give them connection and to work on that trusting relationship. Become their safe space by co-regulating their behaviour. We can’t just expect children to change their behaviour or to calm down just because we’ve told them to. They need help, they need guidance and they need strategies. As an Assistant Principal, one of my key roles in the school was assisting teachers with behaviour management and helping students to regulate their behaviour and their emotions. I’ve worked with students with extremely complex needs and very confronting behaviour. The only reason I could get through to some of these students was because I worked hard to develop a safe and trusting relationship with them. I KNEW them and I understood their needs. I remember having a student in my office with me one day who was screaming and swearing, throwing things and just generally completely out of control of themselves. Do you know what they needed? Connection. I sat. I was quiet. I acknowledged what they were saying. And I held out my hand. That student took my hand and cried and cried and cried. That connection allowed us to work together to calm down and to eventually stop. She trusted me enough to let me help her when she couldn’t help herself. Because of our strong connection I could work with that student through the many challenges that she faced at school and even make progress in how she functioned in the classroom. I won’t pretend that there was a miraculous change, but certainly progress.

Behaviour management isn’t easy. But there are simple steps that we can take to support students in developing positive behaviours in the classroom and school environment and it all starts with relationship and connection. How do you develop relationship and connection with your students? Let us know on our socials and let’s start a conversation!

Keep an eye out for part two of our blog on Behaviour Management when we’ll talk about empathy and consistency.


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