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Behaviour Management

Click HERE for a PDF version of this blog post, beautifully published as a Quick Guide, to keep for handy reference.

Mindset and Strategies

In the music classroom, very little meaningful work can be done when behaviour is not well managed. The music room represents a different environment, a different teacher, different expectations, a different subject and different resources. All of these things create the potential for great excitement and energy. Of course, we hope the students do have this wonderful anticipation, excitement and energy when they arrive for their music lesson. You WANT the children to be filled with wonder and energy, enthusiasm and curiosity as they enter your room. So, the question is: How do we harness all that amazing spirit and creativity and use it for ‘good’ not ‘evil’. 😊 The key to this lies in behaviour management.

It is all about ‘The Carrot’ and ‘The Stick’ right?

Wrong!

All my teaching career I have been mostly unsuccessful when trying to implement systems of rewards (carrots) for my students. As for punishments/consequences (sticks), I have certainly become better at using them, but I have always aimed to use them as little as possible.  To define my system of behaviour management has been difficult, but thanks to the research done on human motivation summarized in Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, I now have a much clearer picture of what I do, and more importantly WHY I do it. Pink concludes that there is a deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world. This third drive, or motivation, is much more powerful and meaningful than working to earn rewards or working to avoid punishment. In retrospect, I believe this is what I have been striving to achieve in my classroom. My aim is for my students to want to learn, to desire to contribute to the group, to actively support others and to have a genuine interest in learning more about music. For most of the time, in my classroom, my intention is for my students to self-manage their behavior because they want to learn. I believe the most power behaviour management strategies are grounded in accessing this third motivation.  

I love that I have greater clarity around my objectives in the classroom, however, I am a realist. I am firmly grounded and therefore see the need for mastering skills in behaviour management as well as holding these admirable goals. I am hoping that this short discussion may be of use to those of you who, like me, work in the music classroom. I think that all things behavior management fall nicely under two main headings: Mindset and Strategies.

Mindset

Without the right mindset, I hate to say it, but I think it is true, you haven’t really got much of a chance of steering your students in the right direction. Consider these:

  1. Relationship. Your students are people first. Find ways to listen to and connect with them. 
  2. Be Calm. Remind yourself you are the adult. Students acting out in your room is very rarely personal. Remain ‘detached’ when behaviour seems to be directed at you.
  3. Be the Example. Your behaviour affects the behaviour of your students. It is vital you are courteous, respectful, passionate, kind, curious and attentive. You will see these attributes reflected to you.
  4. Consistency is the key. No matter what, be consistent. If there is a behaviour management sequence of consequences (warning, time out, buddy class etc), make them clear and make them apply to everyone.
  5. Set High Expectations. You get what YOU EXPECT. Simple as that!
  6. Allow Failure.  It must be safe to not succeed in your room. Mistakes are learning opportunities.
  7. Open Mind. Essential! Keep your mind open to new pedagogical ideas, different perspectives on life and always be a learner.

Strategies

This is meant to serve as a ‘Bag of Tricks’. A list of ideas that you can try in your classroom.

  1. Proximity. Move closer to the student/s who are off-task or being disruptive. This shows the class that you are aware of what is happening, but you are choosing to ignore, providing they come back to the task. A little warning, don’t forget to move away again, otherwise it may become a game of ‘chicken’ or a ‘Mexican standoff’ and that is not what you want.
  2. Silence. Just wait it out. Stand where you are and simply remain silent until the students focus. For added impact, you can walk to your desk, or chair and sit and wait. This will not always work, but boy is it effective if it does!
  3. Lower your tone. This can include a quieter volume and/or a lower pitch in your speaking or singing voice.
  4. Non-Verbals. These are GOLD. The main value to using non-verbals is that you do not need to interrupt the lesson in any way. You can keep talking, singing or playing and correct behavior with an action. Some of these include (stare, raise your eyebrows, shake finger, ‘sour lemon face’, cross fingers…)
  5. Praise.  Comment on the students doing the right thing. Make a point of saying something to those usually off task when you catch them doing the right thing. Praise effort and improvement, not just excellence.
  6. Environment. Set up your room to create smooth transitions and easy access to equipment. Set up systems within a lesson that generate the tone/environment you want.
  7. Routine. All students appreciate familiarity. Whatever your routines, students find comfort in a certain amount of predictability. Off task behaviour is limited by well-established routines. Some special needs students thrive on a known routine.
  8. Time out. This is often very effective in music lessons as the students do not want to miss out on the game or song or activity. Ensure you have a finite end and can get them back into the lesson easily. Sometimes setting a timer can help.
  9. Rules. Keep them aligned with the school rules and keep them simple and child friendly. Allow the students to have input and ownership.
  10. Rewards or incentives. Reward systems can work well in some situations. There are many cute, free templates and ideas on the internet. Generally, I prefer unplanned and unexpected rewards. You want to nurture students doing the right thing for its own reward, not an extrinsic reward. Sticker and peg charts can work well for some students. It can also be very useful to work in with the Classroom Teachers reward system if they have one, reporting to them ahe end of the music lesson.
  11. Favourite Game. One the rewards I use most in my music room is for the whole class to play a favourite singing game or do an activity they love at the end of a productive lesson. This is a reward for all and shows the community caring and valuing of all within the class.
  12. The school’s behaviour management policy. You must know this well and incorporate it into your music room.  
  13. Call for help. Know when you need it and when you don’t. Be careful, you don’t want to be the boy who cried wolf, only ask for help when you need it. On the other hand, you must utilise the support available when you need it.
  14. Levels of response. There are varied levels of response to undesirable situations in your classroom. As far as possible, keep to the lowest, calmest level of response to the situation. This will help deescalate the situation.
  15. Record behaviours. It is essential to record certain incidents in your classroom. You need to comply with the school’s policy. It is also important to build up a picture of on-going problems and have evidence of such if needed. Don’t make this a huge burden, adding to your already large workload. One suggestion is to create a little tick and flick list of common issues that you can have by your side when needed.
  16. Identify ‘Danger’ times. In every lesson there are times that are more likely to induce off-task behaviour. Identify these ahead of time and proactively prevent potential issues. For example, when students are getting the ukuleles, position yourself at the ‘bottle neck’.
  17. Tell the parents. A quick email, a note, a phone call home can be incredibly powerful. Make as many of these positive! Set up a few templates you can use for these types of communications.
  18. Listen to the students. Be attentive enough to the disruptive student so that they feel ‘validated’. This can give them a reason to de-escalate.
  19. Attention Getters. In music we have a whole armory of these at hand. To list just a few: Clap a rhythm to be repeated, sing a short melody to echo, play an instrument (bell, claves…anything at hand), create a body percussion sequence for students to copy, chant the first part of a phrase, students complete – “One, two three” “Eyes on me” “Hocus Pocus.” “Everybody Focus”.
  20. Colleagues. They are your lifeline. In our job they may not be next door, so you will have to keep in touch via email, phone or message, but it is worth it. Include the classroom teachers in this group as well, not just music teachers. Through them you will be able to debrief, discuss and learn from incidents and experiences, yours and those of others.
  21. Consequences. AKA Punishment. Use these as little as possible. It is imperative that consequences are known ahead of time, and most importantly, when given, are followed through. Don’t threaten things you are unable to ‘deliver’.

I hope this list has helped in the reflection of your classroom practice.

I’ll leave you with one of my personal mantras:

“Once I have stopped learning, it is time to stop teaching!”

Click HERE for a PDF version of this blog post, beautifully published as a Quick Guide, to keep for handy reference.

I would love to hear your behaviour management strategies.

Please comment below.

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