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An Approach to Promoting Productive

Behaviours in the Classroom: Valuing the


Dignity of the Student
Hannah Martin
Key words: behaviour management, equity, relationships, self-regulation,
engagement, power-share/with, care, engaging pedagogy, structure, expectations,
low-level intervention, conflict resolution, restorative, communication, assertive,
communities, environment, peer learning, needs.

Introduction
An effective approach to classroom management not only serves to enhance
productive student behaviours and engagement (Angus et al., 2009; Brock et
al., 2006; Richardson & Fallona, 2001), but also strengthens pre-service teacher
confidence and self-efficacy (Reupert & Woodcock, 2010; Williams, 2013).
Underpinning these approaches is a body of research which suggests that
around 20% of students are disengaged at school (Angus et al., 2009; Sullivan
2016) at any one time in a school year. For educators, this means that students
demonstrate disengaged behaviours on almost a daily/daily basis (Sullivan,
Johnson, Owens & Conway, 2014). As an effective educator, there is a clear need
for a successful approach to classroom management with a focus on
engagement, in order to reach all students effectively (Sullivan at al., 2014;
Woolfolk Hoy & Weinstein, 2006). This paper will establish a broad approach to
managing learning environments within this context. Firstly, this paper will
examine preventative methods in order to promote productive behaviours in the
classroom through three key areas - structure, positive relationships and
engaging curricula. Structure will be used as an overarching term to describe
the establishment of expected behaviours and routines as well as the physical
setup of the classroom (Simonsen, Fairbanks, Briesch, Myers & Sugai, 2008).
Secondly, this paper will investigate the use of intervention methods when
responding to unproductive student behaviour through three key areas - lowlevel teacher intervention, conflict resolution with a particular emphasis on

restoring relationships (Sullivan, 2016 - workshop 7) and the importance of


appropriate communication.

Guiding Principles & Rationale


Against the background of media-driven and government endorsed negative
assumptions and management process in dealing with student behaviour in
schools, it is important to evaluate how current school behavioural management
practices may not be respectful, equitable or appropriate to the student and
their individual needs (Kohn, 2006; Sullivan, 2016; Sullivan et al. 2014). It is
clear that there is a need to manage classrooms well in order to optimise
student engagement, teaching/learning time, academic achievement and prosocial skills (Simonsen et al. 2008). This paper will endeavour to put forward an
approach to managing learning environments which centres on maintaining the
rights of students as active and valued learning participants (Sullivan, 2016).
The Managing Learning Environments (MLE) course (University of South
Australia), offers a comprehensive set of guiding principles which are helpful in
informing equitable and effective classroom management practices. These
guidelines can be vaguely split into four main areas of concern - 1. dignity and
high expectations of being able to behave appropriately, 2. the importance of
human relationships, power-sharing and pro-social skills in the classroom, 3.
appropriate and guiding communication and 4. educational approaches which
promote engaging curriculum programs. This paper will reflect all the above
considerations of a well managed classroom.
Prevention: Promoting Productive Behaviours
Structure
Classrooms that use a high level of structure and organisation have been shown
to support pro-social behaviours and encourage positive academic outcomes for
students (Simonsen et al., 2008). As found by Cothran et al, students prefer and
respect educators that establish expectations and rules early on and enforce
them consistently (2003). This structured approach also extends to the physical
classroom environment. The way the seating or desks (or lack of desks) are

arranged in order to avoid crowding, having varied learning spaces, accessibility


to resources, visibility, lighting and other ecological factors significantly impacts
on students engagement levels and their ability or readiness to learn (Dekal,
2002, Simonsen et al., 2008; Williams, 2013). Within structured classrooms
however, there needs to be a degree of flexibility. Students should be involved in
the way their classrooms are structured both physically and systematically (eg.
routines, expectations). Jones agrees that active student participation in
determining the arrangement and scope of these classroom management
considerations helps students to support rules, procedures and processes on a
more personal level (2011). If students are confident of the reasons behind
stated expectations or arrangements, they are more likely to follow them
(McDonald 2013). It can be seen that structure in this context does not reflect
the traditional ideas of rigidity and uniformity, but rather encourages students to
behave in ways which are expected and valued in the classroom.
Positive Relationships
It is undeniable that effective classroom managers foster and invest in positive
relationships with their students (Cothran, 2003; Hart, 2010; Lyons, Ford & Slee,
2014). Jennings and Greenberg stress the significance of the educators role in
establishing the tone of a pro-social classroom through modelling caring
behaviour, encouraging positive peer interactions and having high expectations
of students (2009). These relational aspects of classroom management reflect
students expectations of good teachers where equity is strived for (Lyons et
al., 2014) and students respond by engaging in the classroom (Cothran et al.,
2003). Where care is shown, it is generally reciprocated. Further, establishing
positive relationships means considering, knowing and responding to the
individual needs of students. This specific attention is dependant on educators
views of the nature of children. If students are viewed optimistically (Kohn,
2006) and behaviour problems are not located within the student themselves
but are rather recognised as a symptom of a variety of factors (Sullivan et al.,
2014; Williams, 2013), educators are more able to guide students and help
promote self-regulation (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009). Ultimately, positive

relationships should underpin all actions that educators take in the classroom in
order to foster a community of learners where students are nurtured, safe and
feel hopeful for their future (Sapon-Shevin, 2010).
Engaging Curricula
The prevalence of disengaged behaviours within school settings (Angus et al.,
2009; Sullivan & Johnson 2016) highlights the need for a commitment to
engaging curricula where students are active participants in their own learning
(Watkins, 2005) This type of learning requires educators to employ a learnercentered pedagogical approach which has been shown to improve educational,
behavioural and social outcomes for students (Hart, 2010). In order to
effectively manage classrooms, educators need to create environments in which
students can feel connected to their learning and be motivated to learn and
respond (Brock et al., 2008). Importantly, students also need to be supported in
recognising that they are part of a learning community and therefore their
learning is done collaboratively with their peers (Watkins, 2005). Successful
educators contribute to the learning community' by demonstrating enthusiasm
and passion for the curricula (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009) and are able to inject
fun into their pedagogical approach (Cothran et al. 2003). Appropriate and
thorough planning of learning experiences is essential here in order to maintain
a community of engaged learners (Williams, 2013). Johnson and Tonkin found
that children appear to like diverse experiences rather than a limited range of
activities (p. 17, 2007) and therefore implementing flexible, deliberate,
engaging and variable curricula which considers relevance, motivation,
feedback, and quantity (Williams, 2013) is likely to aid a well managed
classroom.
Intervention: Managing Unproductive Behaviours
Low-level Teacher Intervention
Underpinning a commitment to low-level teacher intervention is the idea of
respecting students dignity (Sullivan, 2016; Charles, 1999) within the
classroom. This approach to teaching manifests itself in proactive educator

responses as opposed to reactive responses (Jones & Jones, 2010; McDonald ,


2013) whereby students are given the best opportunity to engage with and
maintain their learning. Jones describes the intervention hierarchy which
stresses the importance of using methods of managing unproductive behaviour
which are least disruptive for the student (cited in Williams, 2013; Sullivan,
2016). These types of educator responses mainly make use of non-verbal cues
to remind students of what type of behaviour is appropriate (Jones & Jones,
2010; Lyons et al., 2014; Williams, 2013). Reupert and Woodcock found that
educators were more likely to use strategies such as moving closer to the
student or making eye contact as they were more successful than punitive
measures (2010). Indeed, it seems that there is little evidence [that] supports
punitive and exclusionary approaches (Osher, et al. 2010, p. 48 cited in
Sullivan, 2016) to classroom management and that these strategies serve to
alienate already at risk students (Charles, 1999). It is important to note that lowlevel intervention should aim to maintain a positive classroom environment
where students feel comfortable to ask for assistance without the fear of being
criticised for their behaviour (Jones & Jones, 2010).
Conflict Resolution
Modelling power-sharing type relationships through successful and intentional
interactions with peers is an essential classroom management tool (Sullivan,
2009). The social component of schooling means that conflict is inevitable,
however, students should feel able and be encouraged to resolve their problems
together (Larrivee, 2009; Sullivan, 2009). This is part of an ongoing process of
developing socially and culturally responsive students who are able to take
responsibility for their various interaction with peers (Larrivee, 2009). The
educators role in managing conflict in the classroom should be reflective of an
unbiased mediator (Larrivee, 2009) who employs active listening strategies and
appropriate paraphrasing/feedback in order to expose students to the impact of
their behaviour on other students (Jones & Jones, 2010). Ultimately, the goal of
these conflict management interactions should be that students are able to
employ modelled strategies of conflict resolution independently of the educator.

The overriding focus here is shifted from blaming others to restoring


relationships. Although this method for managing unproductive behaviour does
take time and needs to be deliberately taught and modelled, it has been shown
that classrooms which demonstrate pro-social behaviours and skills provide
students with the best environment to achieve positive academic outcomes,
promote authentic engagement and aid future success (eg. knowing what it
means to be a responsive citizen as part of a socially/culturally diverse world)
(Jennings & Greenberg, 2009).
Appropriate Communication
Careful consideration of appropriate communication affords educators with the
opportunity to avoid miscommunications and misunderstandings with students
(Lyons et al., 2014). Subtly implied in this statement is the fact that educators
need to be clear and direct with their communication when managing
unproductive behaviours. Larrivee posits that educators should be able to be
assertive in classroom settings in order to maintain the learning environment in
ways which still reflect power-sharing/with practices (2009). In order to do this
successfully, judgments about the significance of the behaviour that is being
displayed (Williams, 2013) need to be made. Jones and Jones advocate for
communication that is clear, calm and appropriately responsive to the displayed
behaviour so that students in turn will be able to choose to respond positively
(2010). Further, taking time to select the most appropriate response to
behaviour is essential in maintaining a calm and respectful classroom
environment (Williams, 2013). It may well be that ignoring the behaviour seems
more appropriate at the time, humour may help to defuse the situation and
maintain a good learning environment or non-verbal communication may be
enough to remind students to act appropriately (Jones & Jones, 2010; Williams,
2013). All of these approaches require educators to be highly aware of the
impact of their communication styles and be deliberate in upholding the rights
of the listeners (Lyons et al., 2009) when responding to unproductive behaviour
in the classroom.
Conclusion

Effective classroom management demonstrates the ability to see students as


valued members of a learning community committed to taking responsibility for
their own learning and engagement. It is not a set of strategies put in place to
maintain control and order.
It can be seen that proactive educator responses encourage and foster an
environment which is predictable, safe and collaborative through various
expressions of structure in the classroom. Productive student behaviours are
encouraged through a focus on positive relationships between educators,
students and peers. This means that problem behaviours are seen as a
symptom of a wide range of factors rather than being located personally within
the student (Sullivan et al., 2014; Williams, 2012). Further, educators who are
good classroom managers will realise that in order to engage students in their
learning, curricula needs to be relevant, engaging, varied and flexible to meet
students needs.
It is clear that there will be times when educators need to intervene in response
to unproductive student behaviours in the classroom. These interventions
however, need to be carefully considered and should aim to encourage students
to take responsibility for their behaviour. Educators should consider what it
means to respect the dignity of students by using low-level intervention
methods (eg. non-verbal cues, proximity), foster restorative practices focussed
around relationship building and be aware of communication styles so that
students respond positively to assertiveness.
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