Ah, the springtime. Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and oh, yes, the kids in school have become a pungent, noisy behavioral soup of chaos. That’s right, a hot, (sometimes smelly) hoard of bubbling goo, poor impulse control, and noise. 

Of course I love kids and I love teachers, but this time of year is unique to both. You see, the kids and the teachers have reached a sort of comfort level with one another. They know each other’s patterns, emotions, and (ahem) weaknesses. 

So, it is part of my job to share some antidotes to the situation. What are these antidotes? They are the four greatest tools for managing student behavior in the known universe aka “The B.I.R.D.” That’s right, I’m asking you to give your students “The B.I.R.D.” (Classroom management strategies incorporating, behavioral, intellectual, relational, and developmental theory.)

The first antidote is applying good old fashioned behavioral theory (you know, the theory that puts humans on the same motivating scale as dogs, pigeons, and mice). This theory is not always popular in our modern modicum of motivation strategies, but c’mon, it works pretty darn well. 
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Motivate your students to do their best by taking a reinforcement inventory. Basically, take the time to see what each student’s paycheck will be for their hard work. *Note, this is NOT bribery. You get a paycheck for your hard work—it’s called reinforcement.* I like to use the following categories of reinforcement to survey my students:

  1. Activities: iPad, Movies, Painting, etc.
  2. Food: Pizza, Donuts (This is behavioral—not medical). It can be veggie trays, too. Anything novel in this area will work. 
  3. Materials: Stickers, Legos, Get outta work free cards
  4. Social: Lunch with friends, time with friends, field trip, etc.

Cross reference what the students pick and identify the reinforcement category that has the most leverage for whole class buy-in. Once you have their “paychecks” in order, connect the “paycheck” to specific behaviors you want to see from your students. I like to use the following 5 anchors of classroom behavior:

  1. Nice Hands
  2. Nice Words
  3. Calm Body
  4. Follow Directions
  5. Finish Work

All you need to do is explain to your students that in order to receive their “paycheck” (aka reinforcement), you need to catch them engaging in (1,2,3,4 or all 5) of the 5 anchors of classroom behavior.

The second antidote involves you tapping into the cognitive approaches of classroom management. If we overuse the behavioral theory in classroom management, kids can start to feel like their value is only found in how they behave. We’d like to avoid that, so this approach let’s the kids in on the intellectual reasoning behind what we’re asking them to do. 

Motivate your students by using a classic object lesson about how every action we make has a consequence (good, bad, neutral). Something like this will do for most age groups starting around 3rd grade and up.

Materials Needed: 

  1. Tiny, travel-size tube of toothpaste
  2. Paper plates

You can get these materials for each student or in small groups. Draw a line or simple shape on the paper plate. Ask the student (or group) to trace the line with the toothpaste. Walk around the room and encourage good work following the lines. 

Once the toothpaste is out, ask the students to please put the toothpaste back into the tube. The students will undoubtedly laugh and attempt this impossible task. Then, explain to the group how our actions and our decisions are like the toothpaste. Explain how once we make a decision or act in any way, the consequences will come and it’s always messy to clean-up. 

The third antidote requires that we strengthen our relationships with our students so that we all are a little more motivated to co-exist with one another respectfully. Building relationships at any age/grade with these strategies are very potent methods to improve classroom management. Here are the steps to strengthening relationships:

  1. Share fondness and admiration daily. Create a time each day in your classroom where students are able to share something they like about their peers (and their teacher!) You go ahead and do the same. 

  2. Encourage conflict resolution where students discuss what’s bothering them instead of ignoring the problem or putting on the “silent treatment.” 
  3. Practice daily mantras of optimism and positivity. These practices done every once-in-a-while are not very effective. However, if done daily—they can literally change how the brain thinks. 
  4. Publicly post a “If I Had a Magic Wand” or “My Life’s Goal” list and have students voluntarily add to it. (Teachers should also model and add their info as well.)
  5. Constantly seek how what you’re teaching or the activity you are leading has meaning with the students. Find shared meaning in activities and watch behavior problems disappear! 

The final antidote is the application of developmental theory in your classroom management. Developmental theory understands that each of us are plotted on a spectrum of human development. 

If you work in Preschool or Kindergarten and you want to motivate kids, encourage tasks that allow the little ones to be as independent as possible. (Obviously we don’t want them crossing the street to get some donuts and coffee), but in the classroom setting, create stations that allow the children to explore, play, and communicate independently. 

If you work in the elementary grades, strive to help each student establish a sense of belonging with you or a peer group AND ensure each student experiences some level of success daily. This developmental stage (ages 6-12) turns out to be very critical to how well adolescence works out. 

If you work in the secondary grades, practice validating the emotions you see instead of logically describing them. I know this sounds kinda silly, but trust me, adolescence is best survived by being an emotional sounding board. We have to allow our students to emit emotion and we have to practice validating that emotion.

This time period is all about kids trying different “selves” and without a lot of feedback, they can feel lost or confused. Students in this stage still need to find a sense of belonging and experience daily success, too. 

I hope you enjoy giving your students the B.I.R.D. as much as I do. They deserve it—and so do you! Good luck out there, educators! Thanks for all you do in the life of kids! If you’d like a bunch more methods, tips, tools, and strategies in the B.I.R.D., enroll in our online Happy Class course today! Visit www.totempd.com for more resources in all things behavior, mental health, wellness, and special education!