Level 2: Eliminating Disruptions
Communicate through your actions that students can rely on you to maintain a safe and orderly environment. Even if you are totally committed to having a democratic classroom where students are responsible for their own behavior, this is necessary in order to garner the respect and significance you will need to create any classroom climate you care about.
Establishing Authority and Safety Has Three Major Subtasks
p Subtask 1: Establish expectations for behavior with confidence and clarity and build a crystal-clear understanding of the rules and the social contract that will be the reference point for behavior. Involve the students to the de- gree possible in creating a social contract, and act out the boundaries of the rules so there is no ambiguity of what they mean. Later in this chapter, we describe strategies for involving students in developing these rules.
p Subtask 2: Set limits by reacting with speed and decisiveness when behav- ior is inappropriate or disruptive. One does this by noticing when student behavior needs a response and responding quickly with the body language of meaning business (Jones, 2013) and any other steps that are necessary to preserve order and safety, both physical and psychological. Linda Lan- tieri (2001) describes the relationship of classroom order and psychological safety as follows:
“Children do not always know what is safe for them or for others,” said Dorothy. “Discipline and limits are a way we create a circle of safety for those not yet ready to do this for themselves. Picture these limits as a big hug—our strong arms encircling the child with comfort and safety.”
Once we see discipline as an act of love and containment, we can be creative and responsive to the style and degree of discipline needed with a particular child or group. . . .When we distinguish respect from fear and provide limits to prevent children from harming each other, we are not defending our power as teachers; we are helping group members create the safety to be vulnerable and authentic with one another. (p. 121)
p Subtask 3: The final subtask is responding to student behavior when nec- essary with consequences that are clear, swift, fair, and certain. This means having an escalating scale of consequences in mind and the backup systems in place.
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Establishing Expectations at the Beginning of the Year
The opening weeks of a term or year are the prime time to ensure solid under- standing of expectations, establish routines, and begin to build class cohesion. It is useful to think of this period as one of teaching or training for the students. Training requires practice; thus, if students are noisy and disruptive in the hall- way, the teacher can say, “I can see we need more practice in hall walking from the way we just came back from gym,” and take the class out for some practice right then. This is not punitive; it is logical as a consequence.
Example: Nick Aversa, an eighth-grade teacher we worked with, spent the first part of every period in the first weeks of school rehearsing his students in how to enter class and get right to work. The routine in- cluded crossing the threshold to class and stopping all talking, finding a seat, getting out their notebook, and working on the opening activity for class. Initially, he taught them why this is important and then walked them through a series of practices from hall to classroom. From then on, anytime someone forgot the procedure, the consequence was to go back out into the hall and reenter correctly. Nick would signal this by simply establishing eye contact with the offending student and then looking at the door. The student would know what he had to do.
We have seen classes where the teacher’s expectations for student behavior are lowered by the students; their behavior is so poor that the teacher concludes they can’t behave any better. Watch out, though; the minute a person starts jus- tifying behavior (or academic achievement for that matter) by saying, “What can you expect, given their environment,” the students are in trouble. We are convinced that what you expect is what you get—not right away, of course, but eventually. The students may have to be taught how to meet higher behavioral standards, but they are not constitutionally, genetically, or environmentally un- able to.
There are examples all over the country that demonstrate that children from the most chaotic and disadvantaged families and neighborhoods can behave perfectly well in school if the adults demand it, teach them how to do it, and believe in them. This last factor, “believe in them,” is the subject of Part Three on “Motivation” (Chapters 14, 15, and 16). Students who don’t believe school has any value for their future, especially in secondary grades, are much more likely to be discipline problems; they feel they have little to lose. Maybe they are frustrated and angry. So building their motivation to succeed in school has a strong bearing on their willingness to respond to the environment of respon- sibility and self-discipline that this chapter is about. Our point here is simply to alert readers to our responsibility, both in our individual classes and collec-
The opening weeks of a term or year are the prime time to ensure solid understanding of expectations, establish routines, and begin to build class cohesion.
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tively for the school, to maintain the highest standard for civil and respectful behavior for our students.
In Chapter 14, “Expectations,” we describe four areas of classroom life where teachers set standards of performance: (1) the quantity and quality of work, (2) work habits and procedures, (3) business and housekeeping routines, and (4) interpersonal behavior. When it comes to discipline, we are primarily focusing on setting and communicating expectations in the last three areas.
Clarity and Conviction About Expected Behavior The starting point here is the teacher. Do we (teachers) have clarity about what we want from our students? Do we have conviction about what we can reason- ably expect from our students? The distinction here is an important one. Clarity about what we want a student to do or measure up to sets standards of behavior; what we think a student will do—or is capable of doing—is about our beliefs and expectations. Each plays a critical role in the results we get from students. If we aren’t clear about standards of performance, students won’t know what we are asking of them. If we don’t have conviction that students are capable of achieving a standard of performance, we aren’t likely to inspire them to do so.
Is it reasonable to expect first graders to sit and listen at a classroom meeting for more than 10 minutes? Are they capable of doing so? If you believe that your first graders will never be able to sit for more than 10 minutes, they won’t. Are your inner-city high school students too conditioned by street culture to give respectful silence to peers doing a mock debate? If we believe that, then disre- spect is what we will observe.
Every year, we work with at least one or two excellent teachers who are tal- ented and caring people but whose effectiveness is reduced by their ambiva- lence about expectations. They are unsure how reasonable it is for them to ex- pect and to push students toward more responsible and attentive behavior in class. They see the irresponsible behavior of students who appear out of control but have family and other problems and feel they must make allowances. Thus they undersell the students and undershoot with their goals for student be- havior. Who says first graders can’t sit still in a circle and listen to each other for a 15-minute meeting? Who says ninth graders can’t learn to function in self-organized task groups to plan and organize a project?
Again and again, we have seen it demonstrated that teachers can get what be- havior they want if they work hard enough at it, are tenacious and determined enough, are committed to the idea that it is right and attainable behavior for their students, and are willing to teach the skills their students may need to function at that level. This is true even for some disturbed students, though they
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are more taxing, the setting may need adjustment, and this work will take con- siderably longer. Expecting anything less is ultimately a disservice to students. What you decide to “want,” of course, can be unreasonable and age inappropri- ate, in which case what you get is what you deserve.
If you have a clear notion of what you want, and you keep expecting, expect- ing, expecting, and say so out loud to students, with consequences when they don’t measure up, with explanations of “why” over and over again, and with as much kindness and rationality as you can muster, you will get there. But first you must make some decisions about what is acceptable and unacceptable be- havior and decide in order of priority what you want and that you will commit to getting it.