We teach students how to add and subtract, how to read fluently and the proper way to write a five paragraph essay. We don’t expect them to know how to do these things the correct way until they have been explicitly taught with lots of support and guidance. In our classrooms today, positive behavior expectations are no different. Positive behavior needs to be taught to each and every student and it needs to start in the first hour of the first day of school. Students need the emotional tools to deal with problem situations when they arise, and we teachers cannot wait until something happens.
One super simple, yet powerful way to begin is a piece of advice I read in Harry Wong’s The First Days of School- if a student enters your classroom on the first hour of the first day in an incorrect way (running, pushing, etc), kindly ask them to re-enter your classroom the correct way. By doing this, you immediately begins to set the groundwork for how students are expected to behave in your classroom. Focusing on teaching positive behavior in a structured, consistent way forever changed my teaching and classroom culture for the better. I am going to use my Being Respectful lesson as a sample lesson and outline for you how to teach your students what is expected of them in any classroom. Each lesson takes between 10 and 20 minutes. Everything you see below is available as a FREEBIE!
- Explain the WHY
Students may wonder what the point of the lesson is. Every year they learn the “rules of the school”, but may not yet have learned the “WHY”. Why should they stay in their seats? Why should they be nice to their classmates? Why should they raise their hand? Just like when we write the standards on the board as to what they are going to be doing with addition or subtraction, we also need to set up why positive behavior is important. For example, students need to be told and understand that being respectful and feeling respected is the key to making friends, building trust and creating a positive atmosphere at home or at school. This can be relayed by a simple statement read by the teacher at the beginning of the lesson.
2. SHOW It
Next, students need a visual example. They need to SEE it in action. They need to ACT it out. Go ahead and use situations that you have seen in your own classroom (changing names, of course!) where a student may have struggled to demonstrate the positive behavior. In the first example below, a student is bored with his work and/or needs some extra help. In the second scenario, a high reader is paired with a struggling reader and is feeling frustrated. In these examples, choosing not to be respectful can easily lead to misbehavior or hurt feelings.
Call up students to act out the situation. Brainstorm what each character in the scenario should do. Have them think about how their actions might affect others and maybe what they did in the same situation. How might the other person (teacher, struggling reader) be feeling? We want our students to understand that their actions, however small, affect those around them. We want them to learn how to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
This part of the lesson lasts for 5-10 minutes.
3. Follow Up
The lesson doesn’t end there! Follow up later in the day or the next day with your students. There are so many ways to follow up! For example, if the lesson was on “Being Respectful”, you can do a quick write about a time when students felt respected. Have younger students draw a picture of a time when they showed respect to someone else, even when it was hard or, before they leave for the day, have a few students share about how they saw others showing respect. The important thing here is that you do the follow up. It is also powerful if you participate with the class.
3. Reinforce, Reinforce, Reinforce!
You have done the lesson on positive behavior, you have done the follow up, you’re done, right?! NO! Reinforcement of the positive behavior is a crucial step that can often get swallowed up in all of the other things that we do during the day, but it is super, super important! In the first weeks or two of school, every student in your class should get at least ONE reinforcement EVERY DAY. Picked up a pencil for someone? REINFORCEMENT Stood in line correctly? REINFORCEMENT Raised your hand to answer a question? REINFORCEMENT. It will feel like you are handing out a bajillion reinforcement tickets/coupons/fuzzies at first, but trust me, this will make the rest of your year a heck of a lot easier!
Reinforcements can be anything from a classroom “Warm Fuzzy” bucket to a quick phone call home to praise the student’s behavior. I prefer rewards that don’t cost any money and are so simple to use. I came up with no-cost reward coupons after spending too much money on trinkets at the dollar store. You can grab the FREEBIE here! The students LOVE the extra computer time, lunch with a friend, or caring for the class pet (there are 11 coupons in all). I keep a few of the coupons tucked in my lanyard at all times along with a pen so that I can hand them out whenever I see the target behavior.
The behavior lessons also comes with a poster. A visual reminder of the lesson and how students can carry out the target positive behavior. These are perfect for your wall, or if your walls are already full, then you can print the posters out and place them in sleeves in a 3-ring binder. Put the binder in your classroom library and let students page through it during independent reading time. These posters are also great review for small groups.
Teaching, following up and reinforcing positive behaviors proactively will make your school year SO much better! In my experience, all of these elements are so important. Teach the WHY, SHOW them, FOLLOW UP and REINFORCE, REINFORCE, REINFORCE!