Wendy Rush

Special Education Instructional Facilitator

Utah Virtual Academy

Orem, Utah

Wendy is a Utah Teacher Fellow with Hope Street Group. She’s had the opportunity to work with students and observe teachers in both brick and mortar schools and virtual instructional settings for many years. She’s been an elementary classroom teacher and a high school resource English teacher. Through all of her experiences with teaching, coaching, and mentoring, she’s helped teachers to adapt and utilize similar processes in behavior management that yield almost instant results across instructional settings and at different grade levels. Are you struggling with behaviors in your classroom? Read on to see how Wendy has coached others to make these same shifts in their practice!

Whatever you attend to, you will get more of

When I was in college, I had the fortune of being mentored by the most feared professor in the program. (Yes, I said fortune!) When I told my classmates who my mentor was, they all said, “Oh, I’m sorry!  She’s got a reputation as being the toughest mentor at the school.” Of course this frightened me at first, but as I began working with her, I soon realized why she had the reputation that she had. She had extremely high expectations for my performance, but when I met, or even approximated her expectations, she recognized and praised my efforts in a way that kept pushing me to achieve excellence. I genuinely felt that she cared about my success. One thing that she pounded into my head was this phrase, and I’ve never forgotten it: “Whatever you attend to, you will get more of.”  And THIS is what teachers must remember when they are creating a behavior management plan that builds relationships, that actually works! You must attend to the things you WANT to see, not the problem behaviors.

Observable Proof of Engagement

Look at your classroom rules. Do they look similar to this?

  • Be kind to others
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
  • Try your best
  • Come prepared to learn
  • Respect yourself and others

You might be thinking… these are great classroom rules! For example, there are no more than five, and each is concisely and positively stated in student language. So what is the problem? Many teachers make the mistake of creating classroom rules that address classroom social behaviors, as opposed to observable proof of engagement. The rules above are actually class norms, not class rules. Your classroom norms are also important, but they will do little to affect behavior while you are instructing when you need attention and engagement. Remember, whatever you attend to, you get more of, so create rules that are the actual behaviors that you want to see more of.  

In the virtual classroom, rules like, “Respond together the first time” and “Follow along with your pointer” can instantly tell the virtual teacher, who has their eyes on the screen, who is listening. The rules such as “keep the chat on topic” and “keep the whiteboard neat” help maintain order, efficiency, and keep the class running smoothly.

Your students do not OWE you their attention, you EARN it

It is important to remember that the best way to keep students engaged is to be ENGAGING!  Your students do not owe you their attention. You earn it by being the most interesting thing in the room! So smile, move around, dance, sing, and play games with your students!  

Supporting Engagement

Even if you are the most interesting thing in the room, it can be helpful to design and implement a virtual token economy system that uses both group contingency reinforcement and individual reinforcement given in the form of points awarded for appropriate behavioral responses. Back-up reinforcement such as extra credit or a class party can be “purchased” with points. Praise to your rules! Say, “Thank you for following directions the first time!” “I like the way you raised your hand!” It is vital to the success of any effective behavior management plan to notice, praise, and reinforce appropriate behavior at high rates each minute. I challenge teachers to post their rules where they are visible, and praise to them at least 4-6 times per minute.

How to Respond to a Challenging Behavior

Remember, whatever you attend to, you will get more of, so in order to maintain a caring classroom, you must have a corrective procedure in place that builds relationships with students when they display a behavior contrary to your instructions. Sometimes, we must attend to an undesired behavior. However, we need to do it in such a way that it is still an opportunity to attend to the behaviors we want to see more of, and build the relationship!  

Try starting by saying something positive to the student. Then, describe the problem behavior, followed by the desired behavior. Finally, finish with something positive again that reaffirms the relationship all while stating expectations clearly. It could sound something like this: ‘Sam, I really enjoy having you in class. Right now, you are scribbling on the whiteboard. I need you to follow our classroom rule to keep the whiteboard neat. I really like how excited you are to use the whiteboard tools! How about if I give you some time after class to draw on the whiteboard?’” (Note: It is important to remember, this procedure is MOST effective when you omit the word ‘but’ from between the first positive affirmation and the problem behavior. The word “but’ is a negator, and when it is used, it effectively cancels out the first positive affirmation to your student. For example don’t say, ‘Sam, I really enjoy having you in class…BUT… Right now, you are scribbling on the whiteboard.“)

Impact of Effective Behavior Management

Ultimately, as I have the opportunity to work with teachers to improve their behavior management, I continually see improvements in pacing, positivity, attendance rates, and praise and response data. In just two weeks, one teacher jumped from less than one praise and response per minute to almost four praises and responses per minute, and she had 80-100% engagement throughout her sessions! The entire culture of her class shifted. Her students felt successful and important. And above all, her job satisfaction increased. No more was she leaving class feeling defeated. She was leaving feeling accomplished and successful. Instead of begging for their attention when her students showed a lack of engagement, this is what I noticed her saying:

“Ok everyone! Put your pointers on the board and give me a green check! The first person to give me a green check gets a point by their name, and if everyone responds the first time, you all get a group point! Nice pointing! I like the way you all responded together the first time! Thanks for keeping the chat on topic today!”