If you have been teaching the same age group in Bible classes for several years now, you may have noticed a change in behaviors and attitudes. Secular school teachers are constantly frustrated with students who are less likely than ever to exhibit self control, impulse control or self regulation. There are a lot of reasons for this rash of seemingly out of control classroom behaviors, but for the Bible class teacher, the immediate need is to understand how to manage classroom behavior so your students can learn what they need to know.
It’s important to understand that one of the underlying problems is a lack of resilience. When something happened a child did not like in the past, his or her parents had instilled some resilience in the child – both from an engaged, supportive relationship between parent and child and by teaching them some resilience basics. Without that help, children will seem to over react to the slightest problem – sometimes in disruptive, destructive or even violent ways. It will take a lot of work to increase the resilience of your students, so what can you do in the mean time to help your students be in a mental place where they can learn?
The most important thing to remember is that your students need to be calmed before correction. You can begin this calming as they enter your classroom. Make your room as warm and cozy as possible. Use lamps and light from windows rather than over head lighting. Play soft worship music in the background as students enter. If you want more tips on creating that type of environment, read anything you can find on the Danish concept of hygge and creating a hygge classroom, as the core of that philosophy is creating a cozy world.
As they enter the room, greet them with a joyful, but calm spirit… preferably calling each one by name and asking an open ended question about something they had shared with you the previous class… whether it’s about their new dog at home or the science test they were worried about. Make sure your eyes light up as each student enters the room to show each one your love. Encourage positive interactions between other students by suggesting conversation topics they can chat about while waiting for everyone to arrive… “Tommy, I enjoyed your band concert last night. Did you know Brian’s band played some of the same songs in their concert last week? Do you have the same director?” Connection and belonging help make young people feel safe in an environment, which also helps keep them calmer.
Make sure you have a posted schedule, give students warnings five minutes before switching activities and have a few simple rules that are consistently enforced. As strange as it may sound, having schedules and rules make children feel safer. Giving them a warning a few minutes before a change – especially if it is something unusual – also let’s them know an adult is in control of keeping them safe and knows what is going to happen.
When something does happen that upsets a student, react quickly, but calmly. Don’t match your mood to theirs, but encourage them to adopt your mood by how you respond to what happened. Keep your voice calm and relatively low – both in volume and tone. Get down on the child’s level and reassure him or her. Do not attempt to correct the child until he or she has calmed down. If you do it any earlier, what you say won’t be heard, processed or heeded. If the student is too disruptive, have a predetermined, safe way to have the child go to an area where another adult will continue to work with the child to regain composure.
After the child has calmed down, discuss what triggered the reaction and more appropriate reactions and responses the child should have chosen. Allow the child to pick an appropriate strategy to try if something similar should happen again. If this is a child who regularly struggles, consider asking the child to give you a hand signal to use to subtly remind him or her to use the agreed upon new strategy. (Tip: Using the hand signal before the meltdown works much better than attempting it during the meltdown.)
Finally, chances are the parents of students who are struggling are seeing the same behaviors at home. Calmly share with them the triggers you noticed, how you calmed the child and the strategies the child has decided to try and use instead in the future. Try to avoid acting as if you believe they are “bad” parents and present yourself as a team mate on their side to help their child. In the future, you may also want to share with all of the parents ways to help their children become more resilient and improve self control, impulse control and self regulation.