February 8, 2023

teacher of teachers social activity, and while teacher training prepares teachers well around content expertise and delivery, very little is done to skill teachers in behaviour management. Behaviour management, in what is already a high-stress profession, remains one of the most significant stressors for teachers, yet little has been done systematically to solve the problem. Much of the literature addresses teacher stress from a stress management perspective (treat the symptom). In this article, I plan to explore the 10 most significant mistakes teachers can make in managing student behaviour.

1. NOT STAYING CALM UNDER PRESSURE – BEING IN YOUR OWN RED ZONE

Red Zones are very infectious mind states. The Red Zone competes with the Blue Zone for brain resources, reducing observation, situational awareness, goal setting, behavioural error-checking, empathy, confidence, creativity, complex problem-solving… Consider the cost of losing these rich behaviours! Students have over-developed Red Zones in comparison to their Blue Zones. Red Zones are more contagious, as are the emotional states from leaders (ie the teacher). The classroom is primed for the Red Zone, and teachers have the professional responsibility to be in the best mind state for learning: the Blue Zone.

The Red Zone is a state of vigilance; looking for things that are outside expectations, for threats, for challenges. The culture of education can cause teachers to become hyper-vigilant and over-sensitive to challenges to authority. The most outstanding teachers consistently see deviations to expected behaviour as just that, and respond with a calm, consistent, planned and fair approach to managing challenging behaviour. These teachers do not interpret such behaviour as a personal attack on them, the profession or their knowledge. They observe and manage from a calm ‘situationally aware’ space, from the Blue Zone.

If you walk into your classroom ‘in the red’, or even have a ‘mid-class meltdown’, you are making it so much harder to manage the behaviour of the whole class, while reducing the quality of the learning!

2. INVESTING YOUR EMOTIONAL BUDGET IN MISBEHAVIOUR

Take a moment to reflect on how we tend to respond to behaviour in general. As parents and as teachers, the generality is to respond to unwanted behaviour with significant emotional energy (for example, yelling, strong facial emotions and aggressive body language), and we are often less energetic with wanted behaviour.

We have this the wrong way around. The attention appetite of students and children is such that, if they cannot get positive attention from you, negative will do. The higher your emotional energy in response, the higher the attention reward to the student. Responding vigorously to unwanted behaviour is very inefficient, and just ends up putting everyone back in the Red Zone. Keep your emotional budget for wanted behaviour, and discourage unwanted behaviour from a neutral, even distant position.

This links strongly to the number 1 mistake (not staying calm under pressure), and learning to stay cool, calm and collected allows you to be much more strategic in how you ‘spend’ your emotions.

3. “I AM THE EXPERT… ” OR DEMANDING POSITIONAL RESPECT

In many ways, the era of the expert leader (or leader as expert) is over. There remains a strong role for experts in content and/or process, yet increasingly, leaders today are facilitators.

How many of you now consult a weather radar application or page on your smart phone or computer? How often do you or your friends ‘self-diagnose’ medical problems on the internet before seeing your doctor? Have you noticed that the dominance of the media in distributing news is waning and that social media is often first to report?

We are in a content rich world, and access to this content and knowledge is increasing exponentially each year. The time of the teacher (who is the leader in the classroom) as a content expert is over. Any teacher that attempts to demand respect because “I am the teacher, and I have the knowledge” will simply not engage students.

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