Thursday, 16 July 2009

Class room discipline 101

Roaming the world of edublogs I stumbled upon Craig Seganti's blog on class room discipline. It is a hoard of most interesting ideas about how to keep your class at work instead of horsing around.

Free instructions!

I immediately subscribed to
"Free Report! Five Classroom Discipline Mistakes You Can Stop Right Now!"
I've been a teacher for over thirty years now, and during the last twenty years I never met a problem in the class room I could not cope with, but one is never too old to learn. I might find something new. Moreover, I coach young colleagues some of which are not very capable with respect to keeping order in the classroom and possibly Seganti's advices could be passed to them.

So every day instructions roll into my mailbox. Reading them made me feel itchy though, it took me some time to understand why. Something definitely was wrong with these techniques but what? After some days I discovered an underlying pattern. It made me realise that Seganti capitalizes on the fear of young teachers. Too many of the techniques he advises are defensive. For example:

  1. Stand in your doorway. Stop EVERY student briefly before they enter. Tell them the following: "I want you to go directly to your seat without talking and in an orderly manner. You are to sit down and immediately start the assignment on the board. Without talking. Do you understand?" (Make sure you have an assignment on the board). My preferred 1st day method is to hand them a copy of my rules on the way in to copy onto a clean sheet when they sit down.

  2. You are going to repeat this to each student before they enter.

Self fulfilling messages

Any teacher who demonstrates such silly behaviour should be advised to change his career. Certainly there is no gainsaying that standing in the doorway to receive your students is an excellent idea. But the message Seganti wants to be delivered to the students is utterly wrong. The message assumes that students do not want to learn in the classroom and that they must be told that they are supposed to work. That's nonsense. Students know that they are at school to behave disciplined in order to learn something. There is no need to tell them.

Seganti fails to understand that any message conveyed to the students will be heard and understood, students will react to it with behaviour. This message tells students straight away at the entrance that the teacher considers education to be a struggle. It is an invitation to start fighting.

My advice to young teachers is quite opposite: Stand in the doorway. Show and tell the students that they are most welcome. Make nice remarks. Compliment as many students as possible personally with new spectacles, their hairdo (only when changed conspicuously), nice clothing, congratulate them with their birthday. This must be natural behaviour, there is no need to say something to each student. You can allow yourself a scathing remark to someone to remind him of poor behaviour last lesson: "I'm happy that today you at least managed to be here in time," but only if delivered smilingly. These messages tell students that you are self-confident and enjoy your work, that you like your students and want to meet them on a personal level. Such a reception is an invitation to co-operate during the lesson to come.

Unnecessary rules

Craig expects students to go to their seats in silence. That is extremely unnatural behaviour. Adults would not do that when gathering for a meeting. I'm always astonished that teachers dare ask students to show behaviour they themselves would consider to be unnecessary, ridiculous or even demeaning. Demanding unnatural behaviour is asking for problems.

Then Craig tells us he gives students on the first school day a list of rules to copy. My young Initial Teacher Training colleagues often ask me for such a list: "Which rules must I give them?" My answer is "None." Which is exactly the answer my coach, a very wise man, gave me thirty-two years ago. Students know the rules. Any conversation about rules is a waste of time. You cannot afford to waste time in a lesson, can you?

The teacher is the alpha-person

Of course in the first lesson within five minutes after the bell rings some student will show poor behaviour, sitting backwards while you are talking or a girl will be polishing her nails. That's natural behaviour! The girl or boy wants to climb in the pecking order of the peer group by testing the mettle of this new teacher.
This is the very moment in which you repeat a basic rule: pay attention when the teacher is talking. The first student who loses attention must be addressed immediately, firmly but never frantically. To my experience this is best done, not by referring to a general rule, but by showing or telling that you are personally offended because the student is wasting precious time. This is the decisive moment: the teacher communicates that his lesson is too worthwhile to be disrupted. Students love that. They hate fools who waste their time.

Another very interesting thing happens when you react instantaneously. You show the group that you are the leader, you are the one who calls the shots. This is basic evolutionary psychology: you are the alpha-person, whether male or female. Show off your power by reacting proportionally. When a glaring look is enough you must not overdo by adding words at all. Punishment, especially punishment that is not experienced at the very moment of the offence, is mostly ineffective. It creates resentment and negative behaviour.

Punishment

Punishment is the sword brandished to no avail by a swashbuckling anxious teacher. A pun that corrects poor behaviour is the best. A teacher does not need punishment. He is the alpha-person, and the group of students knows he is in charge. He can afford to give latitude, to enjoy himself while addressing the group, he knows his students. Above all he knows that he is too great not to praise his tribe when they paid attention. "This was extremely difficult to understand, and you really did effort to grasp it!" That's the way.

What's this all about, after all?

Somehow Craig Seganti misses the quintessence of education. Ultimately we don't want the discipline that is created by rules and punishment. Students should behave disciplined because they want to learn, because they understand and experience that they cannot allow themselves to run amok. We fail as educators when we do not show them this rationale with our own behaviour.

20 comments:

Magical Mystical Teacher said...

A most excellent post! I have never stood at my door delivering stern warnings to each student who enters. It's counterproductive!

Joep said...

Thank you for appraisal. It’s hard to believe indeed that frequently especially un-experienced young teachers out of fear prefer methods that cause the problems they fear.
Joep de Graaff

Seganti said...

Obviously you've never experienced any seriously disruptive students--the la la land you speak of with ready-made nearly self-actualized students who just require a little Zen push from their Alpha Mistress the first day is not to be found in many schools these days.

Fortunately many teachers who've suffered from teaching students who hardly respond to the anemic advice you give, or have students who may respond by saying 'Go F-- Yourself', have found my book and not suffered the pain of thinking something is wrong with them because their students don't respond in such fairy-tale fashion the way their professors imagine, and face much more severe troubles than a little nail polish out on the first day.

There are plenty of students out there who just need a little push in the right direction, as you say-but you miss the quintessence of reality when you think your particular reality applies everywhere. Not to mention naive. What bothers me is that teachers in very difficult situations have been advised in this way and feel its their fault when an abusive child isn't responsive to their 'positive' vibrations. Please.

In this light your review and the self-congratulatory comments following appear a bit ridiculous-my system is neither counterproductive nor causes the theoretical self-fulfillment of bad behavior so popular with arm chair theorists and university professors, but a productive environment which maximizes learning.

Joep said...

Dear Craig,
thank you for your comment.
My reaction is not accepted by this system, too many words for a comment, so I put it in a new post
Kind regards,
Joep

K said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
K said...

I imagine the book is for discipline in the "combat zone" or da hood - not for regular schools. In those schools the students respect authority and someone who is not trying to be their friends. If you start off complimenting kids who you dont even know they think you are being a suck up or trying too hard to make them like you and you will look weak. The mentality of economically deprived kids who are reading 4 grade levels below the grade they are in is totally different from normal schools. School is a getaway from the prostitutes in the streets, the drug dealing next door and the gun shots at night. I had a parent tell me that it was the safest place for her child to be and the only place he could play. I thought he was kidding when he said he was absent for the week because his grandpa died, his aunt died and his cousin died. Mom said that all happened and grandpa died in the bed with him because he was grandpa's caregiver. That happened 9 years ago and I still remember her voice on the phone. These kids have more problems than most adults I know. If they dont think they are going to live to graduate high school or even pass the grade they are in then they dont bother trying to do work and the only comfort is being the hard case at school since nothing can really scare them. You have to win their trust by knowing each and every single child by talking to each and every single one everyday. That works. They often dont get that attention.

Anonymous said...

I work in a very poor, rural high school. I have tried being nice, friendly, and complimenting students. I gave them the benefit of a doubt and did not tell them the obvious rules of school. It has taken me two years with these kids and I am just now getting a little respect. They mistake kindness for weakness. I started with a new class - I have had them four months and I am afraid I won't have two years. I need my class to be disciplined - I don't have time to win their trust - I must teach them. You are at one end of a spectrum and Seganti at the other. I need practical advice for the real world. Where is it?

huggi said...

I'm a teacher with 30 years experience too. I've struggled in a fairly middle-class suburban high school for years. When I came across Craig Seganti's "Classroom Discipline 101" it immediately struck chords with me as to where I'd been going wrong. My classrooms are now so much more focussed and productive since I started to put his ideas into practice. Sure, some defiant hard-nut barrack-room lawyers (and their parents) tried to complain about me but I toughed it out and now most of the kids are beginning to compliment me about how much better it is in my class than in xyz's class because the atmosphere is quieter- they can concentrate better.
The self-congratulatory ideas Joep has put forward are an accurate reflection of the ineffective advice that teachers in this country are brow-beaten with. I don't know what schools Joep has taught in but I still hear experienced colleagues on a daily basis struggling away using his sort of ideas. I've recently been commended by senior staff about how well ordered my classes are- they weren't before I came across Mr Seganti's stuff!
Thanks Mr Seganti for setting me free from the shackles of this ineffective nonsense. I look forward to each day now like I'm some bright-eyed, bushy-tailed kid fresh out of college. My colleagues are astounded at my enthusiasm and energy.

Frik Harmse said...

Frik Harmse South Africa says:
I have been teaching for almost 30 years. I have taught in more than 11 normal schools for primary and secondary students. Without exeption, in every school and every class I found kids exactly the way mr Seganti describes them: Totally unrespectful and uncontrollable. My daughter bought mr Seganti's book and her whole career as a young teacher was totallt transformed. She told me about it and I also read the book. One day I was despairing and wanting to quit the very next day my classes were so quiet that it was literally FUN to teach them. It is only getting better day by day. Now I want to carry on teaching until I am 90 years old. Mr Seganti developed discipline not only in a finely tuned art form but more.....in a very exact science. It is akin to baking a highly delicate cake. If you do not follow the recipe in it's finest details you simply won't get the desired results. I want to pay mr Seganti the highest honour possible....he' methods saved my life and brought back a long forgotten enthusiasm for my job.

Anonymous said...

Craig - read class room discipline, I think most teachers will agree that behaviour management of your kind does work - no question! I work in one of the largest and toughest special schools in the UK for young boys with behavioural difficulties and we have used similar techniques to engage boys and delighted to say very few have passed through our school without significant achievement and leave with jobs, training or further education.

However behaviour management of this kind has NOT been the critical factor! The critical factor is working as a team to create the most compelling lessons possible and inspiring each other to obtain the highest levels of personal effectiveness. I suggest your solutions have their place but its best to focus on the needs of the children and meet these needs through incredible lessons and inspiring delivery – the behaviour just doesn’t happen; these guys really helped us and hundreds of other schools to; www.educationdevelopmentnetwork.co.uk

Ross said...

Craig presents his ideas in a humble way, which indicates to me that he really is a classroom teacher.
At no time in his book does he appear hostile about being in the classroom. In addition, Craig never exhibits arrogance.
On the other hand, Joep comes off as a confrontational and conceited male director who's experience in the classroom is minimal.
I would much rather spend a day in Craig's classroom.
-Ross McIntosh

Ross said...

Craig presents his ideas in a humble way, which indicates to me that he really is a classroom teacher.
At no time in his book does he appear hostile about being in the classroom. In addition, Craig never exhibits arrogance.
On the other hand, Joep comes off as a confrontational and conceited male director who's experience in the classroom is minimal.
I would much rather spend a day in Craig's classroom.
-Ross McIntosh

Anonymous said...

makes me wonder why you even bothered to read Seganti -IF you never had any problems in your own classroom - maybe (being the expert you are) your time could be more wisely spent teaching us all your wonderful discipline techniques - rather than wasting your time criticizing Seganti,whose techniques DO work - which is why he`s the Master, and you are well - just a dancing crocodile...

Nadine said...

I have to agree with Craig's theory on this one. I am a teacher in a school in The Netherlands. I teacher both regulary mainstream English and in the Bilingual stream. My first day of teaching my students, started a riot by banging their desks and throwing paper at me while I was writing on the board (as for polishing nails this would have been a luxory compared to what these students did, I felt like Whoppi Goldburg in Sister Act on her first day, I was waiting for the students to glue me to the chair next).

I tried being nice and complimenting them, all of the suggestions mentioned on this blog....This approach did NOT work and will not work with these students. I then tried Craig's approach, finally something that works(!), I have taken his advice mixed it with a bit of my own style of teaching (so no I didn't stand at the door, but yes there was detention after school). But only 5 days and WHAT A DIFFERENCE!Respect, I can finally teach (as Craig promises)!

Jim said...

I'm an English Language Teacher and haven't started implementing Craig's techniques yet but I am certainly looking forward to trying.

I have to comment at this point that I went to a very middle class all boys grammar school in South East England - it was widely reputed to be one of the most respectable schools in the country.

I clearly remember at several points new teachers coming in and being basically taken to pieces. If the teachers couldn't exercise their authority they very quickly lost respect and the classroom would descend into chaos with just about everybody treating the lesson and the teacher as a massive joke.

What I disagree with in these discussions is the assumption that because students come from a certain socio-economic background they are more or less likely to engage in certain types of classroom behaviour. I would argue that simply because somebody comes from a poor background it does not mean that they are less likely to behave themselves in a classroom.

In fact, it's quite well known in TEFL circles that some of the most rewarding work to do is in prisons and voluntary work for the unemployed and economically disadvantaged. If anything, these people are grateful for the opportunity.

I think what does happen is that students from poor backgrounds are more likely to go to schools with less resources, poorer quality infrastructures, and encounter less experienced teachers on lower pay who have less of an ability to control their classes. Under these conditions it is little wonder that these classes run amok.

Anonymous said...

I've been a teacher for 10 years and Seganti's book is the best thing I've come across. His methods have completely transformed my classroom for the better. My students are learning more than they ever have, and are happy to come into my class. The beauty of his system is that it is not punitive, because done correctly, behaviour problems virtually disappear, eliminating the need for any punishment and you can focus on teaching. Pleasant comments and calmly showing that you are the 'alpha' might work in some rare circumstances, but not in any of the schools that I have ever worked in.

oliveseeker said...

I was a teacher at School District of Philly and had to leave b/c of classroom management. I wasn't able to implement Craig's system b/c of rules of school (detention rules). But I met a teacher at another school at Philly who said his whole classroom turned around b/c he implemented Seganti's system. Anyone who dismisses Seganti's system has never worked at a school with a significant number of students with emotional, motivational, and academic issues.

oliveseeker said...

I was a teacher at School District of Philly and had to leave b/c of classroom management. I wasn't able to implement Craig's system b/c of rules of school (detention rules). But I met a teacher at another school at Philly who said his whole classroom turned around b/c he implemented Seganti's system. Anyone who dismisses Seganti's system has never worked at a school with a significant number of students with emotional, motivational, and academic issues.

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