From “Control” to Classy

Positive behavior management is the opposite of trying to keep your classroom “under control.” Attempting to rein in student misbehavior is more managerial than visionary. I think of the Stephen Covey’s story from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”: A manager is the person organizing groups of people cutting down trees in a forest. This person has flow charts and graphs. He has incentive programs and awards the hardest workers. The workers need people like this to motivate and corral effort so that things get done. But, there is one person who climbs the tallest tree before it is timbered. This person gets to the top and yells down to the managers and workers, alike, “Wrong forest!” This is the visionary, the true leader, the person who should be in charge.

I see positive behavior management as creating goals for performance that is lofty, idyllic, and visionary. This vision is extremely abstract for the third graders whom I teach. For that reason, I have adapted a word for it that is both elusive, but also seemingly tangible: “classy”. At the beginning of every year I discuss the school rules and classroom expectations with my students, just like every teacher. But then, I bring them from the typical everyday behavior that all students should practice into the clouds… “That normal niceness might ensure that you don’t get into trouble, but my students are much more than that: You are classy.” While a student may not be allowed to lay his head on his desk in another classroom, my classroom is filled with bodies that are sitting up straight, with shoulders back and heads up, because they are proud to be there, excited to learn, and


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 hard-working, listening students. That is classy. The best part about this philosophy is that it isn’t hard. Also, most teachers are and model classy behavior. Why not expect it from students? Why don’t teachers touch the walls, running their fingers along the tiles and lockers as they walk down the halls? Not because the principal told them not to; Not even because they don’t want to catch germs/sickness from collecting the dirt onto their fingertips (this is the general rationale); It is because it is “unclassy” to touch stuff that isn’t yours, period. I make nearly everything BIG PICTURE classy. I want my students to see the world from the tippedy top of the classiest tree. Don’t just identify the fact that we are cutting down the “wrong forest”; figure out which one is correct. Where are you heading? Perhaps getting to the top of the tallest tree shows you the ocean, beyond the woods. Maybe, you can finally view the moon and stars.

Covey, S. (2013). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (25th Anniversary Edition). Place of publication not identified: RosettaBooks.

Putting “Class” into Classrooms

It was my first real teaching assignment; I was long term subbing for a second grade teacher out on maternity leave. She had the typical “traffic light” behavior management system; When a child misbehaves/breaks the rules, he/she “moves his/her stick” from green to yellow, and then from yellow to red, with subsequent consequences. With this system nothing happens as long as the kid is NOT breaking the rules, but the moment he/she messes up, alarms go off.

While I wanted to keep things as similar to the way students had started the year as possible, I also needed to make my management work for me. With the traffic light system, student behavior is only addressed when something goes wrong. I wanted a more positive atmosphere. I wanted my students to be motivated to practice good behavior intrinsically, because they wanted to; not because they were afraid of “moving their stick”.

F07B29C9-9B46-4D31-902D-8E5713076EDF.jpgI introduced the word “classy”. It stuck, and all year we discussed the ways we could be classy. The kids loved it, and it has defined my methodology ever since. It was and is admittedly cheesy, but that is a big part of its appeal. And, since its conception, seven years ago, the idea of exhibiting class in teaching has come to mean more than just a behavior management system.

It seems education is being blamed for all kinds of ills. My aim, through teaching my group of students, and now with the creation of this blog, is to bring “Class” to the institution that lies at the foundation of our society: the classroom.