Why I Believe in Positive Classroom Management

Hello, teachers! I’m Jeanne Sovet, and this is my first blog post ever! I’m new to social media but not new to teaching, having taught elementary school for the past 19 years. What I really want to share with my colleagues is how much I believe in, support, and want to spread the word about positive classroom management. The program we use in my school is called Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, or PBIS for short.

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A Little Story

One day, I went out hiking with my daughter and two of her friends. Since they were in their twenties and I was in my late fifties, I was concerned that I would not be able to keep up with them and that I would be a drag. At one point, we were negotiating a rough, rocky part of the trail. The young man behind me suddenly said, “Wow, you’re really good at hiking on rocks.”

Do you know that, since then, every single time I hike on rocks, I hear those words? Do you know that I feel like I am good at hiking, and I now balance a great deal better on rocky terrain than I ever had before? That is the power of compliments.

My Classroom Before PBIS

In my early years of teaching, it was a struggle to keep students under control and especially to stop them from talking when they should be listening or working.

One year, a new principal worked with us on a school-wide discipline measure that involved putting a student’s name on the board whenever he or she talked out of turn or did any action that broke a classroom rule.

It went like this: When the offending behavior occurred, the teacher silently put the name on the board without a word, without bringing any attention to the student, without engaging with the student if he or she protested, and then just kept on teaching. If the behavior occurred again within that class period, the teacher would again, silently, put a checkmark next to the student’s name. A second checkmark (third strike) would mean five minutes of recess spent in the office. There were no consequences for the first two offenses, and the board would be completely erased at the end of each class period. The idea was to give silent warnings to help students with their self-control and a clean slate after every subject.

The principal supported this by keeping track of the number of times the same student needed to spend some or part of recess in the office. After three or five incidences, the principal would remove a privilege from the student, such as attending a special assembly or participating in a school event.

I thought this was pretty good, and I used it successfully for a while, but…

My Classroom After PBIS

The students file in and I greet each one by name at the door. As they are putting away their coats and backpacks and settling down from their morning outdoor time, I compliment and thank the students who are doing so quietly. I give reward tickets to the first five or so students who have their morning routine done and who are sitting at their desks reading or doing morning work. I make it a point to give reward tickets to those who often have difficulty settling in quietly. Sometimes the whole class sits down at their work so quickly and quietly that I give reward tickets, accompanied by compliments, to every student.

The first fifteen minutes of class are spent in morning meeting. I won’t get into it here because it’s a well-known program with plenty of information on the internet. I’ll just say that I enjoy the greetings, the sharing, and spending a few minutes playing with my kids.

As the day progresses, my eyes constantly scan the room for what is going right. Without embarrassing any of the kids, I go out of my way to quietly describe focused attention, valiant effort, kindnesses, good work, positive attitudes, cheerfulness, self-control, and anything I see that contributes to our learning environment in a helpful way. Frequently, I remind them of how important our work is. I say that I believe their education is so very valuable, that I care about it deeply, and that I’m proud to see their brains growing stronger and smarter.

The students never know when I will surprise them with a reward ticket. (More about these coming up.)

If someone is off-task, many times simply complimenting someone nearby and giving that person a reward ticket causes the off-task student to get to work. Then, I compliment that student, as well. This is one of many positive ways of dealing with off-task or disruptive behavior, and these effective ways do not involve scolding or consequences.

Most (not all, I know) students thrive on compliments and strive to get them. Compliments and good feelings help students learn (Eric Jensen, Brain-Based Learning).

How PBIS Works

The other part to PBIS is school-wide implementation. This helps a great deal. The school has a PBIS team that meets monthly. There are posters in the halls, classrooms, cafeteria, and gymnasium that show the behavioral expectations for each location. There are hand signals for voice levels that are used throughout the school, by all the staff. Any staff can give out reward tickets at any time. There’s a place to turn in reward tickets for a chance to win special privileges previously set up by the school PBIS committee. At our school, we have a special dining area set apart, with a tablecloth and nice chairs where winning students, one from each class, eat lunch. Each “special lunch” winner may choose a friend to invite to the table. New winners are chosen by drawing every week. The more reward tickets a student earns, the greater their chances of being drawn. There are also competitions among grade levels for which one has the most reward tickets overall. Each grade has a thermometer in the cafeteria tracking how many tickets are being earned. We set the goal at 500 tickets for a grade level, and when that goal is reached, the entire grade level has a celebratory reward, such as an extra recess. All classes can win when they reach the predetermined goal.

Any discipline system works best when it is used school-wide and consistently followed by all staff. However, it isn’t absolutely necessary. Teachers can successfully manage their own class programs in the absence of a school-wide system. Here are free reward tickets you can use in your classroom. This is a free product because I truly believe in doing this.

This is a screenshot of a free resource for PBIS reward tickets.

In a future post, I’d like to explain more about empathetic responses to misbehavior. I am a fan of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of the book How to Talk So Kids Can Learn. This book has helped me a great deal in knowing what to actually say to students. It is the perfect complement to a positive behavior program such as PBIS.

Final Thoughts

It’s not perfect, and here are dissensions. There has been passionate insistence on giving “consequences” by many educators. “Students don’t behave because we don’t have any consequences!” many say.

However, in your classroom, would you rather point out the good or look for the bad? Would you rather dole out consequences or dole out compliments? Would you rather pay attention to the positives or focus on the negatives? Those are the decisions we make every minute of every school day.

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A headshot of Teacher-Author Jeanne SovetJeanne Sovet has taught in the elementary classroom for nineteen years. Besides believing in and using positive classroom management, she creates reading and writing lessons and task cards that make learning expectations very clear to her students. Another part of preventing misbehavior is providing scaffolds that make high standards easier to achieve. Click here to see the many helpful reading and writing lessons in her Teachers Pay Teachers store.

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