Classroom Positive Behaviors: A Vital Ingredient for Effective Learning

At the end of the first semester of the school year, every class of my tenth grade students – by turns – gets together for an overnight reflective weekend gathering at a nearby locale. The purpose is – by having them reflect on their learning experiences and interactions with their classmates and teachers – to build a stronger sense of community, which hopefully will lead to better learning and achievement.

In one of the sessions the students discuss with their home-room teacher some behavioral issues that may potentially hinder their learning. They might have differing opinions and ideas regarding the issues, but at the end of the session, they usually arrive at some agreed-upon classroom rules that bind the whole class.

Although ideally classroom rules should be set as soon as the school year commences – the reason being that preventive actions against misbehaviors are better than reactive ones – the illustration provides a good example of how a class works their way toward a more supportive learning environment.

A classroom environment conducive to learning, of course, does not come by chance. If teachers want their students to perform desirable behaviors that will contribute to learning, these behaviors should be taught, modeled, and practiced. Agreed-upon classroom rules are the first step to a positive atmosphere of mutual respect and better learning.

Classroom rules play a vital role in shaping and maintaining students’ positive behaviors. Research indicates that 3-5 clearly defined rules help reduce misbehavior problems by up to 80%.

As depicted in the illustration, it is not the teacher who invents the rules. Rather, it is the whole class. Having all students involved in the process will enhance students’ ownership of the rules, and thus, will increase the chance of adherence.

In addition, students’ participation in the rule formulation allows them to share a common understanding of the desirable behaviors. A shared understanding is critical because it is helpful for effective enforcement of the rules.

To fully ensure the desirable behaviors are unambiguously understood, Bluestein (2004) suggests stating classroom rules positively. Positive statement – the one that emphasizes the dos instead of the don’ts – will not allow room for multiple interpretations both on the parts of students and teachers.
However, classroom rules alone are not sufficient for creating a positive learning environment if they are not enforced consistently. At this point, the implementation of logical consequences when a rule is violated is a valid necessity.

The term logical consequence is used here instead of punishment in order to avoid looking at the teacher as a classroom dominator who determines everything for his or her students. In addition, this term is more powerful in helping students to build a stronger sense of responsibility for their own wrong-doings.
These logical consequences, along with the classroom rules, should also be understood by students as early as possible. Clearly defined logical consequences will certainly contribute to the effectiveness of the rules, and at the same time serve as a constant reminder for students.

Students’ ability to demonstrate positive behaviors in the classroom is not the only essential component of a positive learning environment. If fairness is a value that a school believes in, teachers are also required to possess the qualities of positive behaviors. It is simply unfair if only students are demanded to perform such behaviors without the teacher teaching and modeling them.

If one of the rules, for instance, says, ‘Listen while others speak,’ the teacher should also teach and model this desirable behavior by showing his or her quality as a good listener. Listening to students means understanding their difficulties, accepting and valuing their ideas and opinions, and recognizing their very existence as individuals. Ability to listen to others is an explicit expression of respect for others.

Teacher positive behaviors, in fact, are another vital ingredient for creating such an environment since the teacher is also a member of the class community. The 1984 research by Brophy & Good suggests that there is a positive correlation between teacher positive behaviors and students’ achievement. Positive behaviors make students feel safe, secure, comfortable, welcome, and accepted as individuals who come to school to learn.

Let’s ponder on these questions for a moment and see how students’ psychology and their learning can be greatly affected by teacher behaviors.
If students feel reluctant to ask questions because they are afraid of the teacher, can they succeed as learners? If they lose self-confidence to respond to a question because the teacher does not demonstrate acceptance of their ideas, can they achieve well? If students lose interest in the lesson and feel ignored because the teacher uses the same teaching method throughout the year, can they learn well?

If effective learning is the common goal shared by teachers and students, they should work hand in hand to achieve it. They both have equal responsibility of creating a supportive learning environment in which students enjoy studying and teachers find joy in teaching.

(Written by Benedictus Widi Nugroho. Unpublished article)

~ oleh berbagiasa pada 23 Februari 2010.

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