A Behavior Analyst Looks at Classroom Management
Benjamin N. Witts
Full disclosure: I'm not an educator. I am a behavior analyst who works with middle grades students who have emotional and behavioral issues. I see myself as a support person; my primary focus is on classroom management strategies to help teachers do what they do best—teach.
I have been called in to assist in classrooms with anywhere from 1 to 30 students who are "misbehaving"—talking out of turn, being out of their seats when it is inappropriate, or being generally unruly. By the time I get to them, many teachers are at their wits' end. On more than one occasion, I've had to console a teacher who is ready to leave the profession.
Luckily, there is often an easy solution to these classroom woes.
One common tendency among the teachers I consult with is to attend to what students are doing wrong. And why not? After all, the students who are behaving are not the ones who most need the teacher's attention.
But this is actually the wrong thing to do. Whether they admit it or not, most students love getting the teacher's attention. Data collected from innumerable interactions at the Washoe County School District in Nevada have demonstrated that student behavior matches up with teacher attention. When a teacher attends to the good behaviors, good behaviors increase. When the teacher attends to inappropriate behaviors, believe it or not, inappropriate behaviors increase.
There is a flipside to this scenario that is often overlooked. When a teacher ignores any type of behavior, on average, that behavior tends to decrease. This means the teacher who is attending to the inappropriate behavior is, by default, ignoring the good behavior.
The great thing about this problem is that you do not need any consultant to come into your classroom and record data, design an intervention, monitor its success, and meet with you intermittently to deliver the feedback.
Instead, create a group of three to five teachers (or more) who will rotate in and out of each other's classrooms about once a month, perhaps during their prep periods. For 15-20 minutes, the teachers should count how many appropriate and inappropriate behaviors the classroom teacher attends to.
Then, each teacher who has been observed tries to raise the number of appropriate behaviors they attend to and lower the number of inappropriate behaviors they attend to. With time, the results should be self-evident. Good luck!
Benjamin N. Witts is a behavioral consultant to Washoe County School District in Nevada. E-mail: Benjamin.firstname.lastname@example.org
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