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What is reactive classroom management?

Responding to challenging student behavior remains a major issue for teachers. While young people have been misbehaving in class for generations, discipline is more difficult. That’s where reactive classroom management comes into play.

When it comes to addressing challenging behavior, it’s important to take action quickly before things get out of hand. Reactive classroom management is the answer. It helps teachers to guide their students into better patterns of behavior without losing control over difficult classroom situations.

Properly handling students’ behavior in the classroom is one of the earliest things that every teacher learns. While some techniques can be taught, it’s often only by trial and error that you learn the best ways to maintain discipline.

All teachers rely on both proactive and reactive management techniques to keep control of their students. A proactive classroom management approach involves preventing potential issues from arising in the first place. While this is always ideal, such a proactive approach is often impractical in a real classroom setting. When all else fails, teachers must rely on reactive techniques to correct the behavior and keep their class on track.

Let’s take a closer look at what reactive classroom management means in practice within your learning environment.

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What is reactive classroom management?

Essentially, reactive classroom management refers to the ways in which teachers respond to student misbehavior. Though it occurs after the fact, it still involves thinking carefully before taking action. Why is the student behaving in this inappropriate manner? Which response would be most appropriate in addressing that misbehavior? Often teachers may act before thinking, and lack of thought leads to an inappropriate or disproportionate response.

By redirecting behavior, you can address problems before they escalate. There are many useful techniques that you can use to achieve this:

  1. Making a clear statement about expected behaviors within your classroom.
  2. Using a sudden silence as a way to grab students’ attention.
  3. Praising students who are behaving well as a form of encouragement.

Consequences for misbehavior in the classroom

While these techniques are often helpful, they won’t work every time. In cases where they fail, you’ll need to make sure there are appropriate and reasonable consequences for misbehavior. Whenever possible, issue consequences in private to avoid embarrassing students in front of their peers.

Students must also have fair opportunities to reflect on their misbehavior and to explain why it was inappropriate. This enables them to gain a better understanding of why they’re faced with a certain consequence. In turn, this can allow them to appreciate the rules of “justice” in your classroom.

It’s also vital for consequences to be appropriate to the misdemeanor. They must never humiliate a student or escalate to any form of confrontation. Should the student be unable to explain the reason why their behavior was inappropriate, teachers must explain it to them clearly, firmly and, above all, calmly. After all, if a student genuinely doesn’t understand why they are being punished, inform them so they can correct their behavior in the future.

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4 reactive approaches to classroom management

1. The use of non-verbal cues

Every teacher knows the frustration of wasting valuable lesson time on redirecting a troublesome student’s behavior. Every minute lost to handling behavioral issues is a minute that could’ve been better spent on learning.

While issuing non-verbal cues for behavior may take some practice, time, and patience to perfect, your students will eventually adapt to your style of teaching. They will come to realize that those cues mean you’re serious about addressing behavioral problems, and they will start to respond.

Here are some useful non-verbal cues you can use in your own classroom:

  • Keeping your hand raised until every student copies your action. Once every student has raised their hand, you can then lower yours and talk. This is a particularly useful technique with young children.
  • Stay silent if your class is talking. Maintain clear eye contact, and don’t write on the board, shuffle papers, or look at their work. Once your students see you’re waiting for them to be silent, they’ll quiet down.
  • Setting a fixed timer for a discussion or task is an effective technique with older students, as it keeps them motivated and productive. Consider using a digital stopwatch that your class can see.

2. Adopting the Buddy Room system

Many teachers find it helpful to team up with a colleague to form a buddy-system strategy for handling disruptive students  With this system, teachers keep a free seat in their room for a misbehaving student. The seat has a paper asking the student to reflect on their behavior — why it was inappropriate, how it may have been affecting others and themselves, and how they can improve in the future. The length of time the pupil spends in the buddy room could range from 10 minutes up to the rest of the period.

3. Following through

One area that many teachers find challenging is following through with the consequences. It’s essential that students are aware of the possible consequences of poor behavior and to be absolutely certain that the teacher will follow through and use them. 

If you don’t follow through, you lose credibility, your students will push you to your limit, as they will see a weakness in your teaching style. If you hold your ground, your students will recognize that you are serious and that you won’t tolerate misbehavior in your class.

It’s important to also select the best consequences to suit your class. What motivates your students to behave well? Will they resent having to stay late at the end of the class? Lose their preferred seat? Miss their next recess? Sometimes, it’s a good idea to discuss possible consequences at the beginning of the school year with your class. When they have taken ownership of the process of selecting consequences, they will be more likely to adhere to the rules.

4. Quick fixes for individuals and whole classes

So, what does reactive classroom management look like in practice? How do you begin to introduce useful techniques into your learning environment? Here are a few quick activities for both individuals and whole classes to help you respond effectively to disruptive behavior.

Single-student activities:

  • Allow the student to take three minutes of time to refocus and decompress
  • Give the student a brief errand to perform, such as delivering a note to another member of staff
  • Send the student to the school counselor for a conversation if they are having a major issue

Whole-class activities:

  • Get the whole class to stand up and carry out a few stretches.
  • Watch an amusing video clip together.

These simple tips will help you to respond quickly to a problem without devoting excessive time to redirecting behavior.

Happy students in classroom
Photo credit: Jonny Mansfield / Unsplash

Promoting responsibility as well as obedience

While obedience is important in school, responsibility is equally vital. As a teacher, you’re tasked with preparing your students for a successful future. That means they need to develop the essential tools to enable them to control their behavior.

Students must learn that they have to take ownership of their education. They need to understand that they must focus in class, complete their homework on time, and study for exams. Teachers can promote this kind of responsibility in their classrooms by using positive language. 

Words always have a major impact on the way in which young people view themselves. Finding positives in every student, highlighting their progress, and using a warm tone of voice will ensure the best possible approach without negatively impacting a student’s self-esteem. By doing this, you can shape your students’ minds and empower them to develop the essential skills they need to succeed in life.

Photo: Aleksandr Skrypko/Reshot

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