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How to Successfully Manage Behavior in K12 During Virtual Schooling

Are you familiar with the “ripple effect” and its relationship to classroom behavior management? It refers to the tendency for students to act out after a peer gets chastised for misbehaving.

Two psychologists, Paul Gump and Jacob Kounin discovered the phenomenon in the 1950s. Despite the passage of time, the “ripple effect” remains alive and well today. This fact is confirmed by more recent studies.

Researchers in a 2016 study noticed increases in disruptive behavior after reprimands. Initially, a rebuke temporarily halted misbehavior. But it came with negative repercussions.

Students felt disengaged. They experienced difficulty regulating their emotions and thoughts, and they couldn’t concentrate.

The result? A vicious cycle of amplified misbehavior. Fortunately, you can avoid this cycle, even in the virtual classroom.

Keep reading for tips that foster positive behavior management.

Classroom Behavior Management

Kounin and Gump concluded that scolding one child for misbehavior exerted pressure over every student. In turn, this approach led all students to rebel. Instead, Kounin and Gump suggested giving clear instructions to misbehaving students.

Of course, there’s more to behavioral management theory than avoiding the “ripple effect.” Teachers must contend with many factors. These factors include how parents, administration, etc. perceive their classroom management style.

They must also address the impact of classroom management on social-emotional learning. In other words, classroom management remains a challenging topic for many teachers.

Yet, half of the new teachers report feeling “not at all prepared” or “only somewhat prepared” for behavioral management.

Lack of training contributes to 144 minutes of instructional time per week spent on behavioral issues. That’s three weeks per academic year spent solely on discipline issues!

Clearly, behavior management systems rank at the top of the priority list. Whether you’re a school counselor or a director of special education.

The Task of Extending Classroom Management Online

What has happened since the COVID-19 introduction of the trauma-informed virtual environment? In some cases, a worsening of behavior management issues.

School districts across the nation are opting for part- or full-time virtual schooling. Remote learning changes the classroom landscape. It can make the challenge of behavioral management feel even more frustrating.

The key to a quality program remains the instructor’s ability to manage a classroom online. You might assume this requires a radically different approach than that used in a traditional classroom setting. However, such is not the case.

The best practices in traditional environments work virtually, too. Why? No matter the form of interaction, students are best managed as a cohesive group of learners.

What do great education experiences have in common? Whether online or in-person, the use of classroom management to build community and engagement.

Effective management also requires outstanding organization and developing routines for students. What’s more, exceptional learning environments rely on forging real connections with each participant. These connections must go well beyond turning in assignments.

Behavior Management Techniques for the Virtual Classroom

The principles outlined above provide the framework for a virtual educational experience. But they don’t offer the nuts and bolts of how to achieve this environment.

Where should you start when it comes to cultivating an online learning environment? These pointers will help you get started:

  • Design an engaging virtual learning experience
  • Forge a learning community
  • Remain present through every aspect of the educational experience
  • Present answers in an organized fashion
  • Set boundaries for video conferencing and office hours
  • Don’t group learners randomly
  • Educate students about plagiarism
  • Rely on various ways of communicating with students

Let’s take a closer look at each of these tips. Then, we’ll explain how they assist in forging a thriving learning community.

Design an Engaging Virtual Learning Experience

Think about how you would set up a traditional classroom. Elementary teachers generally create a habitat with multiple areas. These areas typically include:

  • Work areas
  • A reading/library area
  • Areas for discussion

Advances in online learning mean instructors have many options when designing learning spaces. Where to start? Find ways to embody physical places through virtual spaces in your online classroom.

For example, you may wish to incorporate a chat room or “lounge” space for side conversations. You’ll also have areas set aside for assignments, deadlines, schedules, and a course syllabus.

But don’t stop there! Consider adding a space where students can ask questions of one another. Of course, you’ll want to check this area regularly and field any unanswered questions. But having such a space fosters a virtual community of learners.

Designate office space and time so that you’re predictably available to students, too. Yes, Google Hangout, Zoom, and Skype are popular for these activities. But don’t be afraid to innovate.

For example, some teachers hold “office hours” on Second Life or even Minecraft. No matter the platform you choose, be accessible to students. When you do this consistently, you ensure no one gets left behind.

Forge a Learning Community

One of the most challenging aspects of crafting a cohesive learning community online? Helping learners get acquainted.

Remote learning makes forming a community more difficult. After all, everyone remains at a safe distance.

Nevertheless, forging a learning community online is a proactive step in classroom management. It should also be a process that starts immediately.

Why? Because students will only treat each other well if they know each other. Of course, this raises questions about how to help students interact and familiarize themselves.

Physical limitation calls for non-traditional methods of bonding. What to do? Design ways for students to learn about one another and you. Encourage them to find commonalities in their experiences.

As their instructor, spend time humanizing the voice behind your writing. Provide opportunities for students to feel connected to each other and the culture of the classroom.

Present your educational norms and expectations clearly. Then, work on constructing some together.

Involve students in small group activities. Guide them to create contracts outlining how to collaborate. These tips will help students avoid feeling disconnected.

Did you know that disproportionality remains another significant factor when it comes to classroom management? Here are some additional steps to help address disproportionality in the classroom.

Remain Present Through Every Aspect of the Educational Experience

Some instructors assume that online teaching starts and ends with lesson presentation. In these classrooms, students work with no additional guidance. Unfortunately, this approach leads to frustrated students.

Instead, maintain a consistent presence in your virtual classroom. Participate in discussion threads.

For example, when a discussion forum dies down, inject it with some new observations. Add questions or conversational sparks to get it moving again.

Teach students about online educational success. Never assume they know how to study independently. Spend time providing a framework and strategies for online success.

Offer students tools and resources to develop a higher level of success through independent learning.

The result? You’ll maintain an organized and well-behaved virtual classroom where students know how to act.

After all, one of the number one reasons for misbehavior is frustration. By proactively addressing frustration upfront, you enhance the learning environment.

Present Answers in an Organized Fashion

Besides frustration, another reason some students act out is confusion. As a result, you must make your online classroom as clear and helpful as possible. Spend time organizing responses and resources so that they’re intuitively easy to find.

It’s essential to foster a certain level of “productive struggle” when it comes to assignments. That way, students push the envelope in terms of educational growth. This “struggle” should not extend to navigating a poorly organized class, however.

Emphasize the user-friendly aspect of your online classroom. That way, you’ll encourage student success.

You’ll also preserve each student’s ability to work through a “productive struggle.” How? By not exhausting them with needless course confusion.

Set Boundaries for Video Conferencing and Office Hours

You can and should establish clear boundaries with online students. For example, during video conferencing and office hour times, students should maintain a dress code. (This can be as simple as a “no pajamas” rule.)

Students should also follow specific rules when it comes to how they interact virtually. For example, if you’re using Zoom, introduce students to functions such as raising their hands to ask questions.

Direct students to raise their index finger when they would like to ask a question or respond to a topic in discussion. Have them hold up two fingers to change topics. These simple boundaries will cultivate a respectful and organized classroom culture.

Don’t Group Learners Randomly

Many virtual classroom platforms now contain a feature that lets you randomly group students into learning groups or cohorts. It’s tempting to let the software do all the work. But this approach doesn’t always work.

Instead, remain proactive when it comes to creating collaborative groups for learning. After all, as a two-year study from John Hopkins University demonstrated, students of every achievement level excel in the right cooperative learning environment.

For starters, give students a choice when it comes to creating groups. Remember that your initial activities should encourage students to interact and get to know one another. Students may also be acquainted with one another from other classes.

Many students already have a sense of those with whom they work best. Don’t be afraid to ask each student to suggest a certain number of classmates as group mates. That way, you honor student choice while still having the final say.

Remember that groups don’t need to be set in stone. Instead, shuffle kids around regularly. When you send the signal that changes may occur at any time, grouping becomes more equitable and less threatening.

Last but not least, forge an agreement with each student from the first day of class or group work. This agreement should be a whole-class shared document that clearly outlines the rules for group work. It should provide a foundation for how groups work together.

Educate Students About Plagiarism

We’ve already discussed the dangers of assuming students come with independent learning skills. The damage that can be done by faulty assumptions doesn’t stop there, however.

Many teachers fail to address plagiarism with students. Yet, assumptions about plagiarism can lead to unintended infractions. Students may not know what it is or how it impacts their work.

Instead, check with your institution about its definition of plagiarism. Then, enact strategies to help students guarantee the submission of original work. Review how to cite quoted material and others’ ideas in academic work.

The online environment makes it easier to cut and paste unoriginal work. Yet, it also makes it easier to catch plagiarism. Do your students understand this?

Whether or not you think they do, it’s time to have a talk with your students. After all,  students need reminders. By remaining proactive about plagiarism, you help students avoid it.

Rely on Various Ways of Communicating With Students

As an online instructor, you have a variety of ways to contact students. Don’t be afraid to use different formats for different conversations. For example, there will be times when you communicate with an entire small group about a project.

You’ll also have times when you communicate directly with the entire class. These messages may be about upcoming assignments, responses., etc. That said, know when to speak one-on-one with students.

Individual messaging involves a behind-the-scenes intervention via email or over the phone. Used sparingly, this approach has a significant impact.

Behavior Management Foundation for the Virtual Classroom

Classroom behavior management starts with best practices used in the live classroom setting. Think outside-of-the-box to integrate these approaches into the virtual classroom. The tips outlined above provide a firm foundation for getting started.

Of course, the topic of classroom behavior management is vast. It requires reliance on cutting edge resources designed to help instructors and students succeed.

Are you a school counselor, special education director, school psychologist, or behavior interventionist? Then, sign up for our free monthly managing student behavior series. It’ll provide you with tools and resources to support virtual learning success.

And if you’re the director of special education? Schedule a 30-minute online personal demo of our software application now. During this demo, you’ll learn how to craft legally-defensible behavior intervention plans in under an hour.

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