The simple switch for improving classroom behaviour

Uncategorized Jun 14, 2022

I started teaching more than 25 years ago – and despite nearly three decades worth of experience, the incredible power of positive feedback for correcting or redirecting a child’s behaviour still utterly amazes me. 

It's like a switch. Once you flip it, behaviour improves pretty much straight away. 

Here's a quick story about me 'flipping the switch' at home...

My daughter had her best friend around for tea recently. The two of them had been talking about it all week and were very excited. I knew it was always going to be utter mayhem, but my wife and I had prepared for this. We cleared away the breakables, warned the dog and had alternative activities on hand. Poppy and her friend are both a little ‘lively’. 

Things got out of hand a couple of times (they’re kids, they push boundaries) and for the sake of the lounge carpet (and the dog), they had to be reminded to settle down a bit.

I could have fallen into the trap of being a grumpy dad – telling the girls how they should behave; telling them what they were doing wrong and criticising them for it.

Instead, while still reinforcing the necessary boundaries and doing my best to protect the family pet, I flipped the switch... 

I focused on what they were doing right. 

I made sure to thank them whenever they did as they had been asked or behaved appropriately. Keen to please, their little faces lit up with every positive comment, and whenever one of them got a bit too silly, a bit of praise to the other quickly restored order.

It’s common sense, I know – and for most parents this will be their usual routine. But for a frazzled teacher facing 35+ children at a time, it’s easy to forget and easier still to do the complete opposite - focusing our attention on, and being on the lookout for, students behaving badly and doing things 'wrong'. 

'Don't do that', 'stop talking', 'haven't you finished yet?'. In some classrooms students only ever hear negative or corrective language; it's easy to see why they get fed up. 

The 'switch' method works because it taps into a fundamental human need: the need for approval and recognition. When children receive positive feedback for their actions, it reinforces their good behavior and motivates them to repeat it. It's a strategy that not only builds their self-esteem and helps improve their behaviour, it also promotes a more harmonious and respectful environment.

So... next time you want the behaviour of your students to improve in the fastest possible time, try making the switch. 

Try being more vigilant for things going right; acknowledging the behaviour you want to see rather than being on the lookout for the behaviours you don’t.  Try being more attentive to positive behaviours, efforts and achievements, however small they may seem. 

I know this is a big ask when you're facing the class from Hell but I promise it will be worth it - the changes in a student's attitude and behaviour are often immediate. Try it and see.  

This is an excerpt from my book Classroom Management Success in 7 Days or Less. To read the full chapter and discover other ways of preventing and managing inappropriate classroom behaviour, get a free copy here.

Want to know how to use positive reinforcement to prevent classroom behaviour problems? 

Click here for full details



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