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Music Teacher Tips - #9 - Discipline

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

Music Teacher Tip #9 - #Discipline: (Warning = Long Post)

One of my current college students emailed today asking for help with low-level, pervasive talking that happens while he’s trying to teach. I was checking in on one of the Choir-Director-Facebook pages and one of the teachers asked for help with the same issue. It’s a super common problem with a fairly complex solution.

⭐️ Students will rise to the level of your expectations. Don’t expect them to hang on your every word if you haven’t taught what you expect regarding their behavior.

⭐️ You can explain to students that you expect that they will listen when you are talking and when others have the floor, but that isn’t enough. You also have to be prepared to follow through when they don’t do what you have said. Even the best students will eventually break this rule because they’re human and therefore, imperfect.

⭐️ So, you have to decide how you’re going to handle this. Will you teach them or shame them? Will you consistently set limits for their benefit or will you let things slide because sometimes it seems like a lot of trouble to deal with it?

⭐️ Here’s the hard pill to swallow: If you shame them in any way, you will lose their respect. Once you’ve lost their respect, you’ve lost them as students. They may still come to class and do what you say while there, but the lessons you teach will remain in your classroom. You will have no impact beyond that.

⭐️ If you’re not consistent with consequences, you will also lose because you will be seen as unfair.

⭐️ How do you discipline without shaming then? You begin by telling them what you expect and that you understand they will make mistakes. Tell them you will also make mistakes and when you do you will apologize. Model respect by finding a way to correct their behavior in a way that doesn’t embarrass or shame them. Here are some ways to do that that I have used with success in inner city schools with students who sometimes struggle to manage their behavior.

⭐️ Have rules and post them. Teach them the same way that you would teach your content. (See my Facebook post #4 for establishing rules.)

⭐️ Have consequences and post them too. Teach students what will happen and what you will do. There is no need to be threatening. Tell them you will help them learn a better way that’s also better for the class as a whole.

⭐️ Here are some consequences that have worked for me:

1. R - Reminder - This is the time when you remind the student of the rule by restating it, referring back to your posted rules, or by asking the student if they understand what to do regarding that expectation.

2. T -Time Out (Change Seat for older students) - This allows the student to reflect on their behavior, regroup, and ultimately, rejoin the class. This also removes them from continuing to disrupt those around them.

3. C - Class Pass/Contact Parent - At this point, students have disrupted so much that they should not remain in your space. In a perfect world, you could coordinate with a nearby teacher to send students to them when they reach this level. This usually stops the behavior because many of the instigators will no longer be present. Parents should also be contacted at this point. (That’s for another day... another post.)

4. O - Office Referral - If you’ve followed all of the steps above and the behavior persists OR if something extreme happens like a student hitting another student, you should skip to this step and immediately call for administrative support.

⭐️ As a general rule, when correcting a student, always state what you need the student to do in positive terms. For example, a student is talking while you’re giving instructions. If this is a first offense, give the student the benefit of the doubt. You could say, “Emily, did you have a question?” If Emily says, “yes” then answer her question followed by a reminder (R) to just raise her hand if she needs help so that you can help her.

⭐️ Let’s say this student has made a habit of this behavior. Then you could try one of several options: If able, move in to where the student is and quietly ask if they understand the rule regarding when they’re allowed to talk. If they say yes, ask them if they can follow it so that you can teach uninterrupted. If they say yes, then walk away and continue teaching.

⭐️ With my students I told them that I never wanted to embarrass them and if they broke a rule, I wouldn’t say anything if they just showed me the consequence they earned with their fingers. I actually taught them the sign language for the starting letter of each consequence: R, T, and so on.

⭐️ I know you probably just became skeptical, but let me tell you a story.... I once had a fourth-grade student who didn’t regulate his emotions well. He got in trouble in a lot of classes and tended to be social with others at inappropriate times. Around my 13th year of teaching I realized that most of the emotional pushback when students got in trouble was because they were embarrassed and were trying to save face. I began teaching them what I described above. The very FIRST day I tried it, this student was talking again! I didn’t stop teaching; I just looked at him with my eyebrows raised. He looked back at me and showed me the sign language for R. For about 20 minutes he kept it together and then... he talked out of turn again. I gave him “the look.” He also gave me one. He started crying while he showed me the sign (T) for time out. He had never shown remorse before. I was shocked. I showed a T back to him and nodded my head. He put himself in time out. There was no argument. There was no disruption to class. After 10 minutes I walked over and asked him if he was ready to come back. He said no, so I let him stay there. I could tell he had had enough of that school day. I wasn’t mad at him. I showed him compassion. But did I let him get away with talking in my class? No way. He learned more than just music that day.

After class I told him that I was proud of him for accepting responsibility and that I knew he would get better and better the more he tried. And he did. 💕

The rest of that year, he only got as far as a reminder if that.

And one more thing...Many of my students struggled at school because they didn’t have the skills to brush off minor offenses from others. If someone touched them, they wouldn’t assume it was accidental, they would react. If someone smiled at them who wasn’t already their friend, they would assume they were being mocked. That same year I began with my expectations, but I also said the following:

“In my class, you are safe and I have your back. No one is allowed to keep you from learning. No one is allowed to bother you. If someone bothers you, all you have to do is raise your hand and say, “May I please move?” If you say it just like that, I will always say “yes” and let you move. Then at the end of class, you can let me know what happened, so I can make sure it doesn’t happen again.” We then practiced raising our hands and saying the phrase in unison so they wouldn’t forget.

I never once had a student take advantage of this rule, but I would remind them of the policy on a regular basis.

One day, a troubled student raised his hand and when I called on him, he was so angry that he almost yelled, “May I please move?!!” I immediately said “yes.” The student moved himself and I heard nothing more about it until the end of class when he told me about a student who had been harassing him the entire day. I talked to his classroom teacher and we both put some things in place to improve the situation including never letting the offending student sit near the one who was being harassed.

⭐️💫 All any of our students want is to know they’re safe, cared about, and respected. Give them those things and not only will your classroom environment will improve, your students will learn music and so much more. They will move about the world as better versions of themselves for having been a part of your class. ❤️🎶

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