As challenging as it can be to handle discipline in the classroom, when you have the students under your direct control, it can be even more challenging to handle classroom behavior management that occurs at recess, in the lunchroom, in music, in library, or anywhere at school that is not under your direct control.
Accountability for “recess behavior”
But hold it… isn't misbehavior outside your classroom the responsibility of someone else? The kids are under adult supervision of some sort every minute of the day; shouldn't the librarian or the recess aide deal with any infractions on their watch?
In a perfect world (and in a perfectly-functioning building), yes. Unfortunately, things don't always happen the way they are supposed to, and “outside” discipline issues spill into your classroom. This can mean, for example:
- Janice losing her recess as a consequence for throwing a marking pen at Markus in the classroom, but receiving no consequence for throwing a ball at Markus at recess.
- Josten receiving “step asides” and a note to his parents for talking back in class, but receiving not even an admonishment for talking back to a lunchroom aide.
As noted on my teaching values page, humans have a finely-tuned sense of fair play. You'll know about these incidents because both kids and adults will tell you – whether you want to hear them or not.
- Janice will complain to you about getting in trouble for one thing but not the other.
- Josten will increase her “talking back” in the lunchroom to make up for not being able to do it in the classroom and the lunch aid will complain to you.
- Andreaz will complain that neither Janice nor Josten are getting in trouble for bad behavior they are doing every day
Kids want someone to iron out these inequities, and they will turn to you, their reliable (and fair) classroom teacher for relief.
Isn't school discipline fun?!
Why “recess behavior” is ignored
First, why does it happen? Because it is easier for adults to ignore bad behavior than it is to:
- Admonish or remind of proper behavior choices
- Deal with issues on the spot
- Write up “behavior tickets”
- Report things to the office
Many, many people will choose the path of least resistance, especially when they don't have to pay the daily, long-term consequences of not dealing with behavior management. After their fifteen minutes in the lunchroom, or thirty minutes at recess, or fifty minutes at music, they get to turn the problem back over to you and move on.
It's much easier to turn a blind eye or say, “tell your classroom teacher about it.”
So you have a choice to make. You can also ignore it, saying “I didn't see it,” thereby opening up a loophole where poor behavior is allowed to continue because no one will force it to stop.
Or you can address it in some manner, to at least show that such behavior won't be totally ignored, even if it doesn't get the full treatment like it would under your own classroom discipline plan.
Video tips: behavior in specialist rooms
When it comes to student discipline, I favor the second choice, because allowing this little tear in the fabric of your classroom community can eventually cause it to come apart at the seams.
Let's be realistic: if Jona is allowed to tease Amber until she cries every day at recess, won't that negatively affect your classroom climate when both of them come into your room after recess and sit at the same table group?
Try to work with building staff. Talk about behavior with a lunchroom aide, for example, and gently offer suggestions such as:
“What works for Desmond is a reminder and a thirty-second time out. He watches the clock independently now!”
You can also hold a classroom meeting to discuss your expectations in unstructured areas. Kids may need time to vent a little at first (but keep it short). Ask the class to brainstorm ideas for how to solve the problems while proudly representing your classroom community.
Kids often come up with great ideas to work together in solving problems with is way more effective than a “royal decree” from the teacher.
Case study: accountability in action
My kids loved soccer but I had a consistent issue with them complaining about being roughed up on the field by kids from other classes – and the noon aide would do nothing about it (except direct them back to me). Their complaining took up several valuable minutes of instructional time every afternoon.
I explained what they already knew: that I could not be outside during lunch. Then I asked them for solutions.
In fairly short order, they all decided “go on strike” and boycott the soccer field for a week. This would make if difficult to get enough kids together for a game, giving them more power to demand less roughness whenever they decided to start playing again.
It wasn't a perfect plan, and it didn't work perfectly (some kids “crossed the picket line”), but it forced them to be accountable for some of their own problem solving. And it shifted the equation enough at recess that I stopped hearing so much about soccer issues every day.
Discipline in the classroom… sometimes the “classroom” includes the entire school!