11 December 2008 10:23 AM

“Tricks” for Good Behavior

by Dr. Rick

Not too long ago, I received an invitation to contribute to a collection of “some of the secrets” teachers use to “keep kids behaving well, engaged and interested.”  These “tricks of the trade” will be shared with interested – and presumably frustrated – parents, no doubt eager to replicate in their homes the peace, calm, and focused quest for knowledge that can be found daily in school classrooms across the nation.


Yikes!  That’s quite a request. 


Yes, there are indeed lots of “tricks” teachers learn over the years to help them maintain order in their classes and keep learning on a more or less forward march.  I’ll get to some of them in a bit. 


But I’ve also noticed that the teachers who have the most success are not the ones with the best “tricks,” but the ones who have learned the lessons of William Purkey, who writes about “invitational education.”  I heard him speak years ago, and his words have stayed with me ever since.  He suggests that teachers can find themselves in one of four distinct categories.


There are the teachers who are “intentionally disinviting.”  These are the teachers who, in the name of maintaining order, take seriously the old (and discredited) teacher-training adage, “Never smile until Thanksgiving.”  They purposefully want to manage by fear.  Whether fear is a favorable teaching environment is highly debatable, but that’s not their interest.


Then there are the teachers who are “unintentionally disinviting.”  These are the teachers who frighten and intimidate students, although if you were to tell them that they do this, they’d be appalled and at a loss as to why it’s occurring.  For whatever reasons, their behavior and demeanor may be conducive to quiet but not necessarily to learning.


There are teachers who are “unintentionally inviting.”   These are the felicitous souls who are just naturally warm and welcoming.  Kids and adults gravitate to them, are eager to earn their respect, and can’t wait to please them, make them proud.  If you were to ask them why their students behave so well, why they succeed so regularly, these teachers would confess to doing nothing more than “just being myself.”


The most self-aware teachers, Purkey suggests, are the ones who are “intentionally inviting.”  They work at their success, leave nothing to chance, and are fully aware of their important job and the little time they have in which to do it.  They know that students succeed readily when they’re nurtured, challenged, held to high expectations, respected, and earn self-confidence.  These teachers have the right personalities, but they also work to make those personalities just right for each student.  Respect underlies everything they do.


All that said, if it’s still tricks you want, then tricks I’ll give you.   Each of these works best if you first and foremost remember Purkey and be “intentionally inviting” in your dealings with children. 


  1. The louder they get, the lower you get.  Lower your voice, and the only way they can hear you is to quiet down.  This takes patience and practice, but it works.  Really.
  2. Allow some activity in study time.  Some kids need to move as they study.  They’re called “kinetic” or sometimes “haptic” learners.  Harness that energy.  Jump rope to this week’s spelling words, and let the rhythm help the learner.
  3. Stick to routines.  Kids love and need routines.  Have a special time for homework, playtime, bedtime, mealtimes, etc.  They need the structure.  You’ll find it helpful, too.
  4. Be a good role model.  Let your kids see you using your math, reading, and writing skills.  That way, they’ll see their lessons as having relevance to “real life.”
  5. Be generous with earned praise.  When your kids are successful, especially with a difficult goal, praise their work, their habits that got them to this success, and their perseverance.
  6. Encourage group studying.  Studying can be a social activity, especially if the kids are middle- or high-schoolers.  “Study buddies” can motivate, challenge, and compete with each other.  They can answer each other’s questions.  They can keep each other on deadline.  You’ll need to monitor them occasionally, but the effects can be positive.
  7. Encourage some friendly competition.  Kids love to compete, so let them challenge each other.  Reward the winners, support the challengers.
  8. Get help early.  If you notice an academic problem, get help right away.  A minor problem is easier to deal with than a major one.  Get help from a teacher before or after school, enlist an Honor Society member, take your kid to a tutor.  Just get help.
  9. Keep deadlines.  Keep a large calendar in a prominent place, so everyone can see upcoming tests, projects, term papers, field trip dates, etc.  Motivate your kid (read: nag) to be ready.
  10. Organize.  Teach your kids to be organized.  Have them keep their school supplies in the same place, so they don’t waste precious minutes during homework time.  Show them how to keep a planner.  Show them how you organize yourself.

During all of this, keep your sense of humor.  Laughter can lighten up the dullest, most difficult tasks.  Be intentional about it.  Purkey’s watching.




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