2012 / Ireland

Behavior Management in Ireland after 8 weeks

8 Weeks living in Ireland, 7 Teaching at Johnstown all Boys’ National School

I have now spent 8 weeks living here in Ireland, only three more to go. While I have enjoyed my time I am looking forward to coming home. Even though, I feel like it’s going to be really weird; being able to drive, going to a big store like Walmart or Target, and having family and close friends around.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in my fourth class classroom. While the boys are some of the toughest I have ever had to deal with (even though I am a dual major and specialize in EBD). They are so talkative and they never stop. There are times when I am teaching and I have done everything to get them to get quiet and it still doesn’t work. They barely even listen to my cooperating teacher at times. They are not bad boys though, they are just full of personality, which I love! Even though they are disruptive they are so creative, funny and intelligent.

When I first arrived here I was shocked at how strict they were. Many of the classrooms do not have a solid behavior management program. You can hear teachers yell above students and ask for quiet or hear a teaching pointing out a student’s bad behavior in front of everyone as an example. I was not too keen on what I was seeing and hearing. Not only does yelling above the students disrupt the lesson, but the teacher who yells above them is setting the type of tone she wants in his/her classroom. I have noticed that when you present yourself calmly, the students will follow. I was also not okay with pointing students’ bad behavior out in front of the whole class. This is embarrassing for the student who made a wrong choice (we have all made bad choices but it doesn’t make us a bad person), and disrupts the lesson. It gets the kids focused on the other students’ behavior and it is then difficult to get them focused back on what they need to be.

After seeing this and getting into teaching in my classroom I knew I wanted to change things up and experiment a little on them with different behavior techniques. While I love the fact that they are full of personality, creative and intelligent, I did feel that I needed to come up with some type of behavior management for them. My cooperating teacher has a merit/demerit system. Here the boys will get merits for behaving well and demerits for negative behavior. Once they receive 20 merits they will get a night off of homework. If they get more than 5 merits in a week, they get extra homework and detention for that week.

I liked this system but I needed to create something new that would just be mine and help me to get their attention while I taught. The first thing I did was put them into tribe groups. They then created rules for their groups. I was impressed that the boys wrote rules that were very intelligent. None of the rules turned out to be silly or rude. Because I had them write their own rules, it showed me that they do have an understanding of proper behavior while at school and in their tribe groups. I then brought the rules further. While they are in their tribe groups doing science experiments or other group work, they can earn marks for following their group rules and the classroom rules through showing positive behavior. After two weeks, the marks are added up and that group receives gummies from me.

This was working for quite some time. However, I soon realized that they are just not able to be in groups together. They have too much personality and they cannot stay on task. While sometimes group work works out well, other times it was a disaster. This class, before I came, was never put into groups to do exploratory or group activities. This was something completely new to them and it just wasn’t working every time. Because of this, I decided that while I was teaching any normal lesson, the boys could earn a mark for their group individually by behaving throughout the lesson. This is much like my cooperating teachers merit system. However, I was not giving out any consequences for bad behavior at this time.
While this was working, I also wanted to have a system where the kids could earn something as a group. I am a strong believer in teamwork and knew that all of these boys played in sports such as soccer, Gaelic and hurling were they would have learned teamwork skills. To create this behavior management system I took some paper and cut out strips. I then connected 30 links together. This is now hung up in the front of the room. Every time that are showing positive behavior they will get a link taken off. Whenever they are showing negative behavior, a link will get put on. If they can get all of the links are taken off they are given a night off of homework. If the links hit the floor, they are given extra homework for that night. This program only works if you are very explicit with the boys. You need to say exactly when you are taking a link off and for what and when you are putting a link on and for what reason.
The final behavior management technique that I came up with was red and yellow cards. This is individual and goes along with my cooperating teacher’s demerit system. I chose red and yellow because these are the cards that he boys get if they showed un-sportsmanship like conduct or misbehavior in a soccer or Gaelic game. The yellow card says warning on. This keeps me from having to yell over individual boys if they are disrupting. While they are being disruptive and not stopping I will simply set down the yellow card in front of them and walk away. That is their warning and chance to turn the behavior around. However, if they do not turn the behavior around, they then have to get a red card (in soccer this is an eviction card), and that means they will need to give themselves a demerit in their homework copies. This works well because I never have to disrupt my thought while teaching because I can silently give them the card.
While I have done some very simple things in my classroom to keep my chatty young lads focused, it is nothing compared to what the school has created for their overall behavior management program. This behavior management program is simply called “Code of Behaviors”. This is a large packet that is revised and handed out to families and staff. It encompasses the school’s mission statement and enforces a positive safe environment. The schools Mission Statement on behavior is thus, “God behavior is essential in creating and maintaining a positive school ethos that encompasses good relationships, mutual respects and promotes a sense of belonging. These are key elements in providing successful teaching and learning opportunities for everyone in our school communities.” The school a great sense of pride in having a great school community that is contributes to a Bully Free Policy. These policies our outlaid very clearly. They contain sections such as what he school expects of their students and how they should act at school all the way to how teachers and staff can promote a positive inclusive environment.
To reinforce this code, teachers, parents and students alike contribute. When teachers establish a positive environment in their personal classrooms it will overflow into the overall performance of the school and Johnstown does a good job at creating this. In the whole school approach section, the school states, “A positive school ethos is based on the quality of relationships between teachers and the ways in which pupils and teachers treat each other. This positive ethos permeates all the activities of the school and helps in forming a strong sense of social cohesion within the school.”
The school also relies on parents to have the effects of the positive school environment continue at home as well. This is stated in the Code of Behavior as well, “schools need the support of parents in order to meet legitimate expectations with regard to good behavior and discipline.” Schools cannot be the only ones that help shape these young people. Parents and guardians need to make sure that they follow through with life lessons at home that will also help to contribute to the schools ethos.
To go along with the ethos of the school I have established my behavior programs to contribute to the positive environment, which are stated above. My cooperating teacher is even starting to use them when she teaches as well instead of yelling. 

Animal Tribe rules

Positive Reinforcement chain

Positive statements

Outside of the school

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