A positive classroom climate is essential for any learning environment. Students need to feel safe, connected, and respected in order to succeed academically and socially. Teacher to student and student to student relationships are essential. Predictable routines, clear expectations, student engagement, and high interest lessons are also fundamental to an effective learning space. What, however, is a teacher to do when a students’ behavior interferes with teaching and learning?
One of the most underutilized and effective strategies to use when students interfere with teaching and learning, in my opinion, is a Behavior Reflection. Reflections ultimately support a dialogue between the teacher and the student that can lead to previously unknown challenges or new ways of thinking about how a student might manage their emotions. Behavior Reflections can help us develop strategies for dealing with challenging classwork or difficult student relationships.*
Many educators have expressed to me that they have used Behavior Reflections but that they don’t work and are a waste of time. If you fall into this camp, here are some mistakes that you might be making:
- You think they are a waste of time (see above).*
- You get off script: The elements of a Behavior Reflection require a student to examine 1) how they are feeling (mad, anxious, frustrated, etc.), 2) what they did (what was the behavior that interfered with teaching and learning, 3) how does this behavior interfere with their learning and the learning of others, and 4) what will they do differently next time (the students written and verbal commitment to change), 5) to whom they need to apologize. When your conversation expresses disdain and/or anger instead of a problem solving stance, the student is likely to be defensive, rather than open to exploring the question prompts. Stay on script.
- You don’t stay focused on the students’ growth and how a strong community, free from disruption, ultimately helps them. When we (students and teachers) have easy access to student data/work and growth it is easier to make the connection between a strong community of support and respect and student learning. When focused on the prompt How does this behavior interfere with their learning and the learning of others? – it is a perfect time to ask students to discuss academic goals they have established in your classroom.
- You don’t refer students back to your If I Have A Conflict and If You Finish choices when you debrief. The question What will you differently next time? is the opportunity for the student to make their commitment to change. Once we are aware of what students will do differently, we can remind and encourage them what their commitment was the next time they have difficulty with the issue.
- You are angry and take students’ behavior personally. Yes, managing student behavior can be incredibly taxing but filling out a Behavior Reflection is not a punishment. It is simply a consequence for interrupting teaching and learning. Remember that the goal is to help students take responsibility for their behavior. If we need more time because we are upset or frustrated then take more time before you debrief with students.
- You are not seeing a future engineer, entrepreneur, playwright, teacher, attorney, doctor, nurse, architect, photographer, college professor, researcher, inventor, etc. in front of you. Consider how, on the behavior reflection form, each section creates a heightened level of self awareness… How do you feel? What did you do? How does your behavior interfere with your learning and the learning of others? What will you do differently next time? Any successful present and future person must be able to reflect and problem solve.
- You accept statements on the reflection that are poorly written and/or unclear. We can demonstrate our support of students’ academics, even in this moment, when we see their misspellings and grammatical needs as an opportunity to show them that we will help them, even when they have interrupted learning.
- You haven’t made a positive phone call home in a while. It’s nice to hear when others recognize our contributions. It’s the same with our students. Families also appreciate being reminded of the positive things their children do too.
- If you send students to another class to complete the reflection, you are not sending class work. Sometimes a student’s motivation is to get out of doing the work. If we are sending them without work they learn that completing classwork is not a priority. Side note: If students are not doing or completing classwork, it is imperative to learn why and develop a plan to support the student.
- You send students to the principal to fill out and discuss the behavior reflection. This practice ultimately undermines your authority and you are implicitly communicating that someone else, not you, is in charge of your classroom.
Additionally, there are a few considerations for you and your school site:
- What do we do when a child is asked to fill out a Behavior Reflection 3, 4, 5 times? How do we respond or intervene?
- Are the coaching/reflecting conversations that we have with students effective? Why or Why not? What will we continue to do? What will we change?
- What strengths are we uncovering about students and how often do students get to develop and utilize those strengths?
Ultimately, the Behavior Reflection is a means to begin a dialogue about what the student might need, strengthen your relationship with your students, maintain your authority, re-establish the sanctity of your learning space, and continue to fulfil the promise innate in all young people.