Hi! My name is Cindy Lee of Ainslee Labs, and, like the Tiger Mom, I come from an Asian family and find myself influenced by the more disciplined culture of Korea, even though I grew up in the United States. A co-worker recently commented, “Mrs. Lee is old school, but it works.” A bit about my background: I’m currently on my 9th year of teaching special education in an urban school district. I’ve taught kindergarten to 8th grade, mostly learning disabilities and emotional/behavior disorders. I’d like to share tips for anyone struggling with behavior and classroom management. While my style might not be for everyone, I have found success with it at all grade levels.
Tip #1: Be the most stubborn person in the room.
Consistency is of utmost importance when managing behavior. You can spend time and money making posters for routines and buying rewards, but if you aren’t consistent, your plans will likely fail. Students pick up on your lack of commitment to a behavior plan, and they don’t commit to it in turn. I am always repeating my expectations so that they are drilled into my students’ heads. By the end of September, my students would actually parrot my sayings. Here are some things I’ve heard them repeat:
- “You only get rewards if you work hard.”
- “You’d better get your work done. If you don’t, Mrs. Lee will make you stay here. She doesn’t have anywhere to be!” (This little guy repeated my words to his peer verbatim.)
- “Mrs. Lee doesn’t like messy work.”
- “I have to keep trying. Practice makes me smarter. I can do it.”
- “You have to work hard to earn your banana.” (Bananas are part of my reward system.)
While you have to be stubborn to remain consistent, keep in mind that you must be reasonable and allow for flexibility during certain circumstances. Use your good judgment. Don’t be the “nice” teacher or the “mean” teacher. Be the reasonable teacher.
Tip #2: Do not give rewards unless they are actually earned.
Look for opportunities to work on behavior or other skills. I made these zombie reading pointers for my kids, and someone asked for another one. I reminded him that I don’t just give things away; he must earn it. Since this particular child had a very difficult time saying anything positive, I told him that once he said five positive things, he could have another zombie pointer. It took him a week, but he did it. Any time a student asks for something, they have to do something in return. This might be an academic or behavior task, depending on what needs improvement. This might seem a bit harsh, but think about the world in which we live. Kids can feel entitled because they assume everything will be provided. Once they are adults, no one just hands over what you want, when you want it. By making them earn rewards, they are developing an important life skill. Sometimes a kid will say, “But I WAS being good!” I’ll respond with, “That might be good by your standards but not by mine. Since I am the one giving the reward, you have to think about what would make me happy.”
Tip #3: Hold your students to high (and realistic) expectations.
I feel that sometimes, adults let things slide for kids who are in special education. Maybe they do it to be nice or because they feel pity. Struggling kids already feel bad, so why add on to it? This mentality, while well-meaning, does the children a huge disservice. The children start believing they can’t do things because the adults around them don’t expect them to. I have a 3rd grader who was reading at kindergarten level. He couldn’t decode CVC words, and he knew 2 sight words. When faced with a difficult task, he cried to escape. You could see him putting in effort to squeeze those tears out! It worked for him quite well over the years. Whenever he forced out tears, people let him have whatever he wanted. When he started working with me back in September, he started up the water works and kept saying, “I can’t read.” I told him that he wasn’t allowed to say that. Instead, he can say, “I’m learning to read better.” Then I made him continue, tears and all. He started crying less frequently once he saw that it wasn’t getting him anywhere. By the end October, the crying stopped completely. In three months time, he learned how to decode CVC words and increased sight words to 18. Now he takes pride in his reading. People who worked with him last year are shocked at how much he’s progressed in a short time. I think he always had it in him, but no one ever pushed him enough to bring it out. I pushed, and I pushed HARD. The boy who wanted an extra zombie pointer recently told his aide, “I like going to Mrs. Lee’s class because she gives me hard work, and she makes me do it.” Holding them to high standards and correcting them when they don’t meet those standards can actually boost their self-esteem, if you do it right.
Tip #4: Don’t just give praise for the purpose of giving praise.
This tip might be a bit controversial for some people. It’s generally considered good practice to give a ratio of 5:1 for positive vs. critical feedback. This can be tricky because you might find yourself giving generic praise rather than something genuine and specific. Now, I just call it as I see it, without giving too much thought to the ratio. While this might not work for everyone, I have found that the students try harder to get praise from me because it’s more meaningful. They are aware that I don’t give praise lightly. Verbal praise becomes something valuable because you don’t get it 20 times during the hour. At the same time, be specific when you give feedback. Verbally praise any small thing that is a step in the right direction. What seems like a small step to you might be a huge step for them!
Here are some examples:
- For the 3rd grader mentioned above: As soon as I saw him try, I said, “I see your mouth sounding out the beginning sound. I love how you’re trying, even when it’s hard and you don’t know right away.”
- For a frustrated student: “I can see from your face that you’re frustrated because it’s difficult. I like how you told me that it doesn’t make sense so I can try to help you. Next time, tell me quietly instead of yelling, and we’ll work on it together.”
- When other students are modeling good behavior: “I think Alyssa deserves a sticker. I love how she started on math quietly, and when she wasn’t sure what to do, she asked for help.”
Tip #5: Create an organized, clear behavior management system that rewards students who follow your rules and routines.
I use this freebie from Creative Clips: Banana Behavior System. At the end of reading and math period, students can earn a banana. At the end of the week, we have Fun Fridays when I use the last 15 minutes to give them their bananas reward. They talk about it all week. I posted a list of rewards with various costs for redemption, and students redeem the rewards with their bananas. By varying the cost of the rewards, you ensure that every student gets something while also giving the high value rewards to students who are consistently good. This is very important! If those students who have bigger behavior problems don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, they might act up even more because the week is lost. Giving high value rewards a higher cost also gives students a goal to strive for. Once they finally get the reward they’ve been gunning for, they get extra excited. The reward is even sweeter because they worked so hard to get it. The photo below shows the set up. My students love earning their bananas! Just keep in mind that you should be specific when giving a student feedback about their behavior.
For students with behavior plans in their IEPs, you will require more intensive behavior supports that give frequent feedback. I created this behavior dial for my students. While more work is involved, if you are able to give the attention it needs, this is very effective.
I hope you found these tips helpful! While I am a strict teacher, I think the kids recognize that my discipline comes from caring. My students frequently tell me they love coming to my classes. They get a sense of security and safety because they know exactly what to expect from me.
Keep in touch! Email me [email protected] or find me on Facebook, Pinterest, Ainslee Labs Blog, or my TpT store.
As a first year special education teacher, I can't tell you how reaffirming and helpful this post was. I'm constantly trying to be firm but nurturing with my students while still engaging them and pushing them to be and achieve their best. Thanks for the great behavior management tips!
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