Dialogue-ing Your Way To Better Classroom Management

For my latest blog entry, I decided to explore different blog posts that discussed classroom management. Now, classroom management is a very broad topic, so it took some time to sift through the hundreds of posts until I found one that resonated with me: a blog by Dr. Lori Desautels on Edutopia entitled “Whatever! You Think I Care?” The blog focuses on classroom management strategies to use when students use harsh language, or display angry or aggressive emotions, when confronted by a teacher. According to Desautels, such angry student reactions have nothing to do with the teacher, rather they come from underlying, unresolved personal issues that result in a “self-protective and self-destructive cycle”. To address these behaviours, Desautels believes that teacher-student dialogue is crucial because conversations create much needed neutrality in heated situations. Desautels’ post resonated with me because I agree with her in many ways, but also because she challenged me to reconsider many established norms in classroom management that are used in schools today.

I believe that Desautels’ blog post reinforces the importance of building strong, genuine relationships with the students in our classes. I have always believed that one of the most fundamental responsibilities of teachers is to build positive relationships with students such that they can tailor their teaching appropriately and meet the learning needs of all students; however, after reading this post, I now see how crucial positive teacher-student relationships are to classroom management as well. In her post, Desautels asks, “If we could decode and understand what is possibly being stated beneath a lexicon that feels inappropriate, disrespectful and hurtful, would we choose different responses and communication strategies?” The answer is yes! This is why getting to know our students is crucial. If we have strong, positive relationships with our students, we will be aware of the barriers that our students face at school, at home, in their personal lives, etc., and any angry or aggressive behaviour can act as a clue––warning us that something is bothering the student, and from there, we can begin to interpret the underlying causes of such behaviour. By understanding who our students are, we will also be able to identify if such behaviour is out of character for the student, which could imply that they student is struggling with some personal issue. However, if educators do not have genuine relationships with their students, angry behaviour could be brushed off as the student simply acting out, which could lead to the student being unfairly punished.

In her post, Desautels also stresses the importance of teacher-student dialogue for classroom management in moments of tension. When a student begins to fling harsh, inappropriate language at the teacher, the educator often feels as though they have to immediately dish out a consequence, not only to punish the behaviour, but also to reinforce their position of power and to maintain control of the classroom. However, enforcing a quick consequence often only fuels the argument more, and pushes the teacher-student relationship further apart. Instead, following a negative student reaction, a period of dialogue can be beneficial by bringing some much needed neutrality to the situation. The dialogue should remain focused on the outbreak of behaviour, and should be meaningful. In her post, Desautels lists examples of conversation starters to use with an angry student; it can be as simple as asking the student if he or she would like to talk privately with the teacher, a guidance counsellor, or another student, or even offering the student another means of expressing themselves, such as through art, music, journaling, etc. Now, I am not saying that this kind of aggressive behaviour should go unpunished––I believe in maintaining a safe and respectful classroom for students and teachers alike. However, I believe that this type of teacher-student dialogue is beneficial in several ways. First, it changes the direction of the conversation. In the middle of a heated situation, by initiating dialogue with the angry student, the conversation is shifted away from the argument, and instead provides an opportunity for the student to reflect on his/her own behaviours and feelings. Second, dialogue changes the tone of the conversation by allowing the student time to calm down. Ultimately, this type of teacher-student dialogue can help to diffuse a tense situation by bringing some much needed neutrality to the situation. Once there is more neutrality between the teacher and the student, a follow-up conversation with the student can be held, discussing the outbreak and any appropriate consequences. However, in my opinion, the most important reason to use dialogue in a tense situation would be to help preserve the teacher-student relationship. By remaining calm and engaging in a dialogue with the upset student, you are showing the student that you care about them and that you want to help, but you are also taking control of the situation.

Reading Desautels’ blog post made me think about established norms in classroom management and caused me to reconsider them.  Yelling and giving consequences are two common classroom management strategies that are often used in schools today; however, as I mentioned earlier in my post, handing out a quick punishment in a heated situation often drives the teacher-student relationship apart. In addition, I believe that yelling at students who exhibit negative behaviours is an oppressive tactic, as there is often some sort of underlying issue behind the behaviour that teachers can’t see. In this sense, I like Desautels’ dialogue strategy because it is anti-oppressive––it forces teachers to discover the root cause of the angry or aggressive behaviour and to work with the student towards managing the behaviour. In her post, Desautels briefly mentions functional behavioural assessments, which is a tool used to research how underlying personal issues are linked to student behaviour. I would like to do more research on functional behavioural assessments, as it is something that I would consider using in my future classroom.

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