TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

Thoughts on the Good Behavior Game and Classroom Management

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I am one of NCTQ's biggest supporters, but I am very disappointed with the recent publication of The Good Behavior Game as a means for improving classroom management. This is not a criticism of the Good Behavior Game. There is also a Classroom Protocol Game produced by the people at the Huberman Foundation. There are also discipline programs—two popular ones are Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS). And then there are behavior rubrics and contracts, and every advocate swears that they have research to back their game, program, rubric, and contract.

The Good Behavior Game has nothing to do with classroom management; it has to do with behavior management and the two are separate entities. As long as we continue to subscribe to the notion that discipline is classroom management, we will never attain improved student achievement, which is the goal of NCTQ. The purpose of classroom management is to maximize student learning with a well-organized classroom, not to minimize student misbehavior.

Classroom management is the most misused term in education. Classroom management has to do with managing or organizing a classroom for student learning. Effective teachers MANAGE their classrooms, whereas ineffective teachers DISCIPLINE their classrooms. So many teachers have the mistaken belief that classroom management has to do with discipline; thus, every day is a self-fulfilling prophecy of going into battle with the students, because that is the expectation. Teachers who incorrectly define classroom management as discipline are likely to join the ranks of the thousands who quit the education profession after their first few years on the job.

Classroom management is not about discipline. It is about organization and consistency. Store managers manage a store; they do not discipline the customers. Team managers manage a team; they do not discipline the players. Likewise, effective teachers have a classroom management plan consisting of a series of practices and procedures that are used to organize an environment in which instruction and learning can take place.

Can you imagine asking a store manager what she does and she responds, "I was hired to discipline the customer," or a stage manager says, "I was hired to discipline the actors." Yet, when you say classroom management to people in (and out of) education, they invariably equate this with discipline.

I do not deny that discipline is an issue that must be addressed, and if The Good Behavior Game helps, that is great; however, no learning takes place when a teacher disciplines. Learning only takes place when a classroom is organized so the students know how to do things (procedures) correctly in the classroom. The reason behavioral problems occur in the classroom is because there is no organized management plan in place so the students know what to do.

Regretfully, the great majority of teachers think that classroom management is synonymous with discipline, so they spend their days looking for games or programs to solve their behavior problems. To tell me that a game helps classroom management is not classroom management. My question is, "How do YOU manage a classroom, and can you teach someone else how to manage a classroom?"

The GBG cannot succeed on its own any more than a diet book can succeed on its own. As Kate Walsh so wisely states, "The GBG serves to keep students focused on learning by promoting appropriate and on task behavior, but the game is more effective in an environment where the essential components of classroom management are already in place." So I ask again, "Where is your classroom management plan?"

Teaching classroom management has been our forte for well over 35 years, over the course of which thousands of teachers have told us, "Thank you for teaching me the difference between discipline and procedures." Procedures range from how to head a paper, how to begin class on time, and how to write an essay. When students know how to run a classroom, you not only minimize misbehavior, you have a class that can function on its own, and can even run itself in the teacher's absence. Simply put, when you teach students how to do things, then they won't do what you do not want them to do.

We teach teachers how to be proactive, not reactive. A proactive teacher has a plan to prevent problems; a reactive teacher has no plan, and when a problem occurs, they react from one problem to another, looking for a game, an activity, or a threat. To be effective and successful, all a teacher needs is a classroom management plan.

Effective teachers prevent problems with a plan that keeps their students focused and on task, from the moment the opening bell sounds, until the end of each day. This is done with procedures, which simplify the tasks students must accomplish to increase learning and achieving. Once taught, procedures become the responsibility of the students to carry out the appropriate tasks. A well-managed classroom is safe, predictable, nurturing, and focus-driven. A classroom management plan ensures learning takes place efficiently, with minimal stress. When you have an organized classroom, you avoid the pitfalls of becoming a disciplinarian.

Students want a plan, too. It is extremely important to realize that many students come from disorganized, unstructured home environments, where chaos abounds. Neglected children crave structure and guidance. Give them a well-managed, organized classroom with clear daily practices and procedures, and they will respond positively.

Chelonnda Seroyer, a high school English teacher in Atlanta, says, "My students enjoy having a predictable classroom. They feel safe because they know what to expect each day. They like consistency in a world that can be very inconsistent."

Amanda Brooks is a teacher in Dyersburg, Tennessee. Upon completing her first year of teaching, she said, "With procedures that organized my class, I never had to waste time repeating what they should be doing or reprimanding them for bad behavior. I created an environment where students could just learn. I simply taught and enjoyed my students."

At the end of her second year of teaching, Amanda said, "My state test scores just came back and my class had the highest test scores in my school, and I am only saying this to encourage new teachers to get it right on the first day of school and then enjoy the rest of the school year."

A veteran teacher of 40 years, Audrey Lowery of Irvington, Virginia, says, "If our new teachers would implement classroom procedures and keep them separate from rules, they would be in education for the long haul."

I trust that those who read about The Good Behavior Game will not misconstrue it as a panacea for classroom management, because the mission of NCTQ is to promote teacher quality and quality teachers, such as Chelonnda Seroyer, Amanda Brooks, and Audrey Lowery know the difference between classroom management and behavior management.

*Dr. Wong is the author of several popular books used in teacher education.