Students with “Attitude”

How do you deal with a student whose verbal and/or non verbal attitudes are simply unacceptable?
I suspect that the three word title to this weeks article will already have stirred some memories of past students or even those you are currently managing during every school day. Unfortunately my guess is that you will be recalling not the student whose behaviour and attitude you find pleasing, helpful and enthusiastic. But more likely we bring to mind the student who can, with just one word or phrase, a shrug or change facial expression, change the whole atmosphere of a classroom and be the trigger which creates a situation that  quickly escalates out of control.

When you are already feeling worked up or anxious about a situation and you decide to move closer to the difficult student, using that well known tactic of “proximity,” how do you then feel if the student looks you full in the face and grins broadly?  Or begins to mutter something which you can’t quite hear?Remember his or her muttering or grin may well be the audible or visible sign of his or her own anxiety and not intended to cause even more challenge to you!

Obviously the grin, brought on by the students own inability to manage his or her own feelings and emotions, is relatively low level when compared to the other extreme of open defiance, non compliance and verbal threats. The natural temptation is to either try to ignore the students behaviour and walk away, or to take issue with the student and confront, argue and escalate the situation. You are not now just dealing with the one student and how he or she is reacting to you, but you are also on show to the rest of the class group, all of them waiting to see, or hear, your reaction. The situation can be easily inflamed by peer pressure, with the students friends eager to see how far the “face off” will go.

Clearly it is not appropriate to respond in such a way as to inflame the situation, nor can you consistently ignore this type of behaviour. It is important to consistently give the clear and non negotiable message that you, as the adult in the room, are in charge and that you are not prepared to accept his or her attitude towards you/school/lesson/learning etc.

The key skill here is to avoid making a response which can be interpreted as either passive or hostile but to remain consistently calm and confident.

Practical Tips

In remaining calm and confident it is essential that you are in control of your own emotions. Use all the learnt strategies of:

Self Calming Tactics
Be aware of personal space
Verbal language
Non verbal (body language)
Your carefully planned and structured approach to the problem.

Use all of the above in trying to resolve the situation, giving the student plenty of opportunity to think about his or her attitude and thereby begin to make some better choices about their behaviour. In any verbal interaction try to adopt a no blame approach and avoid using statements that begin with “You!”

“You just can’t help yourself can you?”
“Why don’t you start behaving for a change?”

Instead try to engage the student with a more empathetic message of how his or her behaviour/attitude is affecting you/the rest of the group etc.

“When you look at me like that I feel that you just don’t care…….”

In the heat of the classroom when all eyes are on you it is often a good idea to speak with the student, ideally so that others cannot hear (see Voice Matching Ezine Tip) and to use the tactic of the one to one meeting.

One to one meetings: Used when a student continues with their unacceptable behaviour/attitude. These meetings must be on you terms ie when you are calm, away from an audience, (be aware of school policy when speaking one to one with students), and vitally when you are totally prepared, which should include a variety of possible resolutions

The meeting should be carefully structured allowing you to clearly state what the problem is exactly and why you cannot permit it to continue. Describe the problem as you see it and use specific examples of when the problems have occurred. Allow the student to make a contribution to the discussion. You are not trying to place blame, but rather problem solve.
Ensure that as in problem solving, conclude the one to one meeting with a clear and agreed plan which clearly states how the student might begin to make changes, and most importantly, how you will be helping him/her to succeed. Set a time frame and review the progress as agreed. End on a positive!

In many circumstances pupils with attitude have got themselves into the situation through peer pressure, anxiety or simply not knowing how to respond to you. Your proactive responses showing that you genuinely care about the student and your  consistency and calmness in the classroom together with the use of specific one to one problem solving meetings can often help the student to change their challenging behaviour into acceptable and their testing attitude into enthusiasm.

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