Classroom control and struggles with behaviour managment are one of the most common problems teachers face in Early Childhood education. There was a rigid expectation that children must be obedient in the traditional school classroom, and anyone who did not follow the set rules was punished. Things are very different in today's classrooms. Nowadays, there is an increase of children with learning difficulties and more awareness around children's additional needs.
Positive Behavior Support (PBS) refers to planned approaches used in the classroom to manage challenging behaviours. Teachers are now aware that 'the one size fits' behaviour approach is not an inclusive practice and is ineffective. Therefore, behavior strategies are constantly refined and modified to suit the students in the learning environment.
What is Positive Behavior Support?
Positive Behavioral Support is a complex term. It encompasses a range of techniques that teachers can adapt to construct a safe learning environment for the children to improve their learning outcomes to succeed. PBS focuses on prevention rather than punishment.
PBS is underpinned by the belief that all challenging behaviour has a reason behind it. It was concluded from research with the input of over 1200 teachers that PBS aims to view children's behaviour as a form of communication. This means that all the behaviour seen in the classroom is a reflection of what the student needs. Some behaviours may be easier to understand, whilst others may take some time.
An important part of PBS is understanding that students display different attitudes based on a range of other factors influenced by their early childhood years. The environment and relationships around children and how teachers support them and provide guidance play a crucial role in developing positive ways to express themselves. For example, if a child is encouraged by parents and teachers, they will tend to build trustworthy and reliable relationships. This, in turn, reduces the likelihood of long-term behavioural disorders because they feel supported.
When implementing any kind of PBS outcomes, the set goals need to be practical and achievable. Taking small steps will be much more beneficial to children rather than having big expectations they won't be able to meet. Hence, PBS should be more of a holistic approach guided by meaningful interventions and understanding environmental triggers surrounding the child.
However, it is important that everyone involved in the child's life, from parents to teachers, to social workers, fully understand the strategy in order for it to be fully effective. Warm, responsive relationships build a foundation for positive relationships (Hemmeter, Ostrosky, & Corso 2012).
How is Positive Behaviour Support implemented in the classroom?
Research has demonstrated that using extrinsic motivation to manage children's challenging behaviour is not the most effective means for supporting and helping children take responsibility for their actions. Instead, PBS promotes intrinsic motivation within the child because it encourages them to be a better version of themselves through positive behavior for learning and management. There are many examples of positive behavior in the classroom butresearchby Monash University has simplified the process for teachers and suggests the following five steps to assist in implementing positive strategies for better classroom management.
1. Setting clear standards
Having clear standards and maintaining expectations is an important aspect of PBS. Children must clearly be taught what acceptable behaviour in the classroom is and what will not be accepted. This should preferably be done at the beginning of the year to ensure a smooth transition for students.
For younger children or students with additional needs having posters or lists around the classroom can be a great visual reminder for students. Have a discussion with children as to why each rule is essential, e.g. we should raise our hand when we want to say something so we are not talking on top of each other and each person gets an uninterrupted chance to share their thoughts.
Communicating with children can be difficult, but if teachers model the behaviours they expect from students, they will learn and implement them quickly. Children learn all the behaviours from people around them. For example, if you expect students not to raise their voice when angry you must follow the same too
3. Remaining consistent
If you do not remain coherent with your methods, the classroom will become quite chaotic and overwhelming. A consistent approach requires teachers to have a clear set of boundaries and expectations of how the students are to behave. The rules must remain the same and be explicitly taught, so there is no room for misunderstandings.
Without consistency in the routine and expectations, the child will feel confused about what they must do. Try to develop a routine and ensure students understand the essence of the lesson. You can try to structure lessons with an introduction and warm-up activity, the main body and a concluding activity to consolidate what the children have learnt and ensure they have a sound understanding of the topic.
4. Acknowledging children's efforts
Praise is one of the effective behavior strategies that can be used in the learning environment as it nurtures students' confidence and will encourage them to continue applying these good behaviours. Children are more likely to repeat behaviour that earns them praise.
Children crave attention; therefore, it is better to pay attention to their positive behaviors by commending them rather than attention to negative behaviours. A school-wide positive strategy that all teachers can try is to say something positive about each child every day to boost their morale and motivate them. If students are aware that they are being noticed, they are more likely to show better behaviour.
5. Evaluating and adapting your strategies
An essential part of the teacher's role is to adapt and change approaches based on how the students respond. Think about the modes of teaching you are using and whether or not they are suitable for the learning environment. Special education involves more simplified or challenging stimuli based on their learning needs.
Every few weeks, teachers should evaluate what is working in the classroom and what needs to be changed. It might be helpful even to take students' suggestions and give them choices in the classroom, so they have some input.
Other factors to keep in mind for PBS in the classroom
Finding which strategies for behavior problems in the classroom are effective can be overwhelming. Here are some suggested support teaching strategies to help out in the classroom.
- The layout of the classroom
Ensure the layout of the classroom sets students up for success. There should be enough room for children to move around without bumping into things. Try not to make it cluttered as you want to minimise the distractions whilst students are learning. It may be beneficial to have some quiet corners where students can practice mindfulness and have independent play to wind down, e.g. book corners or pretend play areas. Also, try to have a variety of different equipment available so students are spread out as this will help avoid conflicts.
Teachers can help reduce challenging behaviours by planning ahead of time and using efficient transition strategies. This involves alerting children in advance and giving them clear signals as to what will occur. For example, instead of suddenly announcing "It's lunchtime now", give students a warning such as "we have five minutes left before lunchtime, does anyone have any questions?". Students will get a clear signal of how much time they have left. You can even use different cues for younger children, such as playing specific music or calling everyone to sit on the rug for a cool-down session to discuss what students have learnt.
Transitions can also be used as an opportunity to talk about the following topic you will be doing, e.g. After we have lunch, we will be going out for outdoor play to play a sport". Students can then be mentally prepared for the routine.
- Be Respectful
If you shout or treat students disrespectfully, they are more likely to show challenging behaviours as they don't feel valued in the learning environment. Providing guidance to children is much more effective if you get down to the child's level and look at them in the eyes to form a connection. Try not just to lecture the children. Give students time to respond and allow them to share their perspectives so they feel appreciated. Also, avoid any empty threats and instead follow through with the promises you make. Children will feel let down and find it hard to trust you if you promise them a reward but don't follow through.
- Keep a record of challenging behaviours
This is quite tough as teachers are so busy that it's hard to take time out to maintain records of what happens daily. However, keeping a log or journal and collecting data can help understand valuable information about students. Teachers can use checklists to document what triggers students to misbehave or causes frustration. Identify what the child feels difficult and why they are feeling a certain way. This will make it easier to target the issue and make it easier to manage by providing behavioural support.
- Provide a variety of opportunities
As teachers, we must acknowledge that children all have different learning styles to cater to each child's individual needs. Some children need more hands-on activities, so they can learn by being involved. Project-based learning can be a great alternative as children will be involved in materials to find the answer. It fosters discussion between peers and requires students to be active participants in the learning environment. Incorporating creative arts in the program is also fundamental so children have different ways of expressing themselves and their ideas.
- Incorporate Visual cues or props
You can easily add the Teacher's Pet Creature to your classroom if you need some more support to make rules and guidelines clear! This plush toy watches over all the students looking for positive behaviors. Asking the pet to demonstrate positive behavior support examples to the children can be a great way to informally introduce class rules. A cute, cuddly friend will constantly remind children of simple support strategies such as turn-taking, sharing and sitting quietly in a fun way! A great tool to use so students can remain conscious of the class expectations.
How does PBS benefit students?
PBS is successful because it is adapted for each student and tailored to their needs to provide the support they need. It recognises the strength and weaknesses of each individual child and is underpinned by the belief that each child can gradually achieve their goals. By changing the environment and adapting teaching techniques, students will be calmer and more focused. By removing punishments and restrictiveness, children can enjoy a more positive classroom.
Positive behavioural support is a collaborative approach and goes beyond the child. The main aim is not only to improve the quality of life for the specific child but also to assist parents and families with managing any difficult behaviours. Everyone in the child's social network needs to collaborate with each other to build skills and enhance all aspects of the child's lifestyle. Students will feel more supported if everyone around them is using the same approach. The emphasis remains on lifelong development, which can be taught at any age.
To sum up, effective positive behavior support is an extensive term that aims to reduce challenging behaviour and build skills to improve the child's quality of life. PBS does not try to "fix" children but instead focuses on changing the environment to support the child and promote success. Although it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how to promote positive behaviour in the classroom; a range of strategies can be introduced to monitor students' progress and help them achieve their goals. Through active supervision, mentoring, and collaboration with families, teachers can help students thrive in the environment and push them to achieve the best they can.