Candles working with *that* kid

In every classroom in every school in every country, there will always be a kid who’s got spunk. The class clown, the kid with a reputation for being naughty or being a bully, the one who’s always getting into trouble.

Some teachers hate that kid. Hate that they disrupt the class dynamic, set off other students, make their teacher’s day exhausting and full of confrontation.

Well what if I told you that I think I know how you can domesticate that wild child?

It will take time, it will take patience. Some days you’ll get ahead, some days you’ll take a few steps back. But it’ll be worth it in the end.

Here’s some things that have worked for me:

Tell them and show them that you like them. Even if, in the beginning, you have to fake it ‘til you make it. Find out about them, listen to them, connect with them, praise them. Many a time, these kids have never felt truly valued and seen. They’re fighting loneliness and craving belonging. And it’s very hard not to respect someone that you like.

Co-write the class rules. If students have a voice and a sense of ownership over the accepted norms in the learning space, they’ll be much more likely to follow them. Having them on display and being able to refer to them means that misbehaviour is “breaching the contract”, not “being naughty” or “disappointing everyone”.

Ignore minor behaviours. Focus only on the big stuff. Have high expectations and be firm, but don’t pull them up on every little thing or they’ll never get a taste of success. Selectively ignore or they’ll give up and choose not to care and that can be a very tough nut to crack. Keep perspective; if they’re not hurting anyone or disrupting anyone else’s learning, do you really need to draw attention to it? Often a look or a gesture or choosing to place yourself physically closer to this boy or girl can be effective alternatives to raising your voice or having a confrontation. If not, then a simple “whoever is whistling/kicking their chair/taking too loud needs to stop that now, thanks” gives the kids a chance to save face because you haven’t singled them out.

Talk to them honestly. Use “I” statements. Communicate calmly and honestly. Tell them about how their behaviour is affecting you as well as the other members of the class. Give them a chance to explain what they’re thinking and feeling, and to help you to solve problems together.

Have all conversations in private. Never chastise, ridicule, berate or embarrass this child in front of their peers or they’ll lose all respect for you. If you need to redirect or send to time out or otherwise follow your school’s behaviour managing policy, do so, but do it calmly, absent of emotion or judgement. Make it about a natural consequence of their behaviour choice; don’t make it personal. What other people think of them matters more to this kid than anyone realises.

Catch them doing the right thing. Ensure that not all conversations you have with this child are admonishing ones. Balance the scales. Consider the Losada ratio and give them plenty of pats on the back. It could be just eye contact and a smile, a wink or a thumbs up, a high five as they walk out the door. Notice when they shine and they’ll want to shine more and more.

Promote friendships and teamwork. We don’t want these kids to feel isolated. To have a target on their back; a reputation that makes the other kids want to have nothing to do with them. We want the class to feel connected by a sense of ownership of not just their own learning behaviours, but also that of their classmates. Refer to them as a class. Say “Wow, this class has good manners. I love the way you all line up so quietly and move around the school so respectfully. I know that we’ll have a fantastic session at the computer lab today because this class is so good at helping one another to log on.” When the other kids feel partly responsible for that kid’s actions, it’s amazing how much they’ll be able to help you out with keeping them in line.


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