Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Those Bad Kids!

Managing student behavior can be tough. What is a librarian to do? 

This is how we handle behavioral issues in our high school learning commons.

We keep it simple. The rules are kept to a bare minimum, but flexible enough to cover a lot of ground.

Our rules:
4 to a table during lunch blocks.
Have work out in front of you.
Enjoy your food and drinks in the cafeteria.
Be nice.

We have no signs. We do a lot of walking around and talking with students to explain our expectations. Consistency is key. If a group of six is working diligently they still need to get their numbers down to four, because that rowdy group of five is watching and they don’t like what they view as favoritism. Four means four, for everybody.

Reward the Good
Positive reinforcement earns better behavior than rules and signs. Praising a students’ work ethic, behavior choices, praising just about anything, builds trust. This is money in the bank when a student is making bad choices and needs to be corrected.

When conflict arises I keep my emotions in check, and my voice low. When you yell you have lost the argument. If a situation is escalating I get very quiet and watch my body language. No hands on hips, no crossed arms. I stand at an angle to the student and validate his/her feelings of anger. “I can see you are upset with my decision. Let’s step outside so we can talk about it, because I want to settle this so we are both on the same page.”

Removing a student from the conflict helps decrease the chance of things turning into a spectacle. Head’s up, if you get into a power struggle with a student in in front of his/her friends, it will be a battle that you will lose. They will not lose face in front of their peers, and even if you do succeed in winning, you will lose that student forever. It is better to let it go and follow up later.

Occasionally I find myself saying “These kid…” and realize I am in a funk. It helps to remind myself that the overwhelming majority of our students are polite and incredibly hard working. It is a small minority who are consistently causing problems, and who require more drastic intervention. For these students our staff keeps a behavior log. We document when we have repeated problems with a student to see if there are patterns, and to make sure we are dealing with the issue. It also helps if we get questions from administration, faculty or parents.

Most importantly, I try to always remember that I have no idea what issues a student is carrying with him/herself when entering the learning commons. Stress at home, illness, anxiety over schoolwork, social problems, there are so many worries in a student’s life. Today as I write we have two teams about to compete in state championships. This is great, but it is also very stressful. Our staff understands that we could have some behavioral issues and this will impact how we deal with problems.

Lowering the Boom
When talking and reminding fails to bring about improved behavior we revoke privileges. Anywhere from a day to a week without access to the learning commons, the technology and resources and most important, their friends, usually brings them in line with our very basic expectations. We document whenever a student has privileges revoked.

The Goal
If a student is disciplined and never returns, I have failed. The goal is to have the student comfortable to return, and successfully meeting his/her goals in the learning commons. In dealing with some of my most challenging students I have been able to forge new respect and friendship. It is a great feeling.

Saving Grace
Laughter. Reminding myself that I have the best job in the world and that dealing with student behavior is part of that job, helps me maintain balance.

This 2.25 minute video on rules and business has a lot to offer school librarians. Work a look.

Don't punish everyone for one person's mistake from Derek Sivers on Vimeo.

Thanks to Free Technology for Teachers: Don't Punish Everyone: for the source of this video.

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