The novelty of coming back to school has worn off. As the freshness of school fades, students start to act differently. Maybe you’ve noticed that they aren’t as excited to come to school anymore. They groan when you give them an assignment or even ask them to write their name. Their attitude just isn’t what it used to be. Thus, you get frustrated and confused about how to proceed through the year. I promise you are not alone.
Bad attitudes can become a slippery slope. It can affect behaviors, class engagement, end of year testing scores, and more. The goal is for the students to continue acting like they were during the first few days of school. We want the student to come excited for class and remain engaged all year long. This may seem like an impossible task, especially if you teach in a secondary school, but it is entirely possible! This article is the first of three explaining how to get that first day of school attitude back.
We could start playing the blame game on the students, parents, time, or even COVID-19 for the attitude changes. They all play a factor, but the only thing we should focus on ourselves as a teacher. We could be the only ones that can change the students’ attitude towards school and learning. We cannot force children to change their behaviors, so we will have to change our teaching and procedures instead. A teacher can do a few simple things to reverse the feelings about school back to where they were at the beginning of the year. Our first focus, which is the main point of this article, is to recognize positive behaviors in your class and your school.
If you are looking for negatives behaviors in your classroom, you will find them. But if you are searching for positives, you will find them too. Recognizing the students who are doing positive things can make an enormous impact in your classroom. This helps students strive for positive recognition and allows teachers to see the positive in their students. When you start looking for and noticing the good behaviors in your classroom, you might realize that your class isn’t that bad.
The recognition isn’t something that has to be super flashy or involve the whole class. It could be just a little positive note about the behavior you saw. It could be a ticket for a reward. (I will discuss rewards in my next article.) It could be a sticker on a positive behavior chart. Whatever you choose, you need to explain your system to the whole class before starting it, but then stick with it. I personally like it when positive recognition is a little more discrete. This means I don’t announce it to the entire class. The student and maybe their neighbor knows I am proud of them and why. That way, I can really vary what I recognize in each student.
The idea is to set a numerical goal of positive behaviors you recognize every day. I suggest starting with at least three times every day. Setting that number makes you look hard in your classroom. Try not just to recognize the high achievers or the students who aced your test. Really look into their behaviors and what they are doing in your classroom. A student may be failing your class, but they are trying desperately to engage in your class discussion. That student may be overlooked often, and you might not account for their hard work in your class when you rack your brain for good students, yet they probably deserve some recognition. Giving positive credit can also help you bond with the students that might not get noticed as often. These are the students who might not be the students who excel at the material you are teaching, and are not behavior problems either. I attempt to find a reason to celebrate every single child at least once within a time frame. An elementary school teacher may get through all of their students in less than a week. It will take longer for secondary teachers understandably, so try aiming for two to three months.
But what about that student? You know who I’m talking about. The student(s) who is usually an absolute terror in your room. How do you recognize the student who has the worst behavior? This is the student that needs positive recognition the most. Many of those students crave any attention they can get, and negative attention is usually the fastest and easiest. Showing these students that they can get positive recognition will (eventually) change their behavior. Find something, anything, to recognize them for. It might be something small, but it will get the ball rolling. You could recognize them for working well with a partner, turning their assignment in, coming prepared with their supplies, changing their behavior, etc. It’ll become easier the more you look and do it.
The positive recognition you give your students can be for academics, behavior, or anything else you can imagine. You can reward students for going the extra mile by helping another student understand the material or staying after to help tidy up. Also, don’t be afraid to find these rewards for students you see in the halls (even if you do not have them in your classroom.) After doing this for a while, you might notice that the student behavior shifts because they want positive recognition, instead of the negative. That’s the first step towards the goal.
Changing the attitude of your class is not going to happen overnight. It probably took several weeks for this attitude trend to occur, so it may take a while to shift. However, with persistence, this can have a meaningful change to your classroom that will have a lasting impact on your school year. You may find that you will want to implement this strategy at the beginning of the next school year too. The next article will talk about how motivation and rewards can impact your class’ behavior.