Key Ways of Dealing with Offensive Behaviour in the Classroom

Behaviour ManagementHi Bob,

I need some behaviour management advice.

In a year 6/7 class, a boy from one table is complaining that a girl from another table is staring and him and saying offensive words. This happened when I'm facing the board and I have my back to them.

I suggest that the girl moves to a place that is closer to the teacher. She is adamant that this is where she always sits and the boy is lying.

The aim is to disrupt the class.

They refuse to listen to the relief teacher.

I thought about this and decided that next time I should be able to call a Deputy or a Principal to come to the classroom.

What should I have done??

Would it show the Principal that I couldn't control a group I've met for the first time.



Bob's Behaviour Management advice:

Hi Cheryl,

Thanks for your letter. It is a great question. Unfortunately, it is a common scenario in a lot of classrooms.

There are two issues to this behaviour management scenario.

1. The nature of the offensive behaviour and how to deal with this and

2. When do you need Admin support?

Issue No. 1. Dealing with Offensive behaviour.

The boy is obviously offended by what the girls are saying and doing. I assume the "staring" is a power play and possibly a bullying predicament. It would be prudent to look into this situation more closely.

The best way to get to the bottom of the complaint is to have the victim prepare a written statement about what happened and why they were offended/wronged etc. It clarifies events in their minds and lets them muddle through their feelings. It is slower that verbally retelling to you but much more effective.

Suggest to the students that you are going to check on this situation closely. This will form the first part of the investigation. It is similar to any professional investigation. Don't worry about telling them how to write the report because you are going to use this as a way of getting to the bottom of the matter.

Once the student has written the report, you need to debrief them by getting to the facts. Ignore extra matters and concentrate just on the facts,

In this case you need to know what was the offensive behaviour and why it offended him. Of course it is topical at the moment to highlight racial and sexual slurs. And rightly so. But that is not the only offensive behaviours for students.

It is important the remember that they may be offended by matters, which to you, might seem trivial. If they are genuine, then the behaviour is offensive and should be dealt with as such.

In this situation there are a few variables. Perhaps the girl is staring the boy down as a bullying strategy. Perhaps the girl "likes" the boy but doesn't have the social skills to manage her feelings. Perhaps the staring is in retaliation for other incidents at another time.

In the behaviour management scenario, I would set the boy the task of writing the report is an area away from the girl. The girl should see that you are taking some action and if she complains, you let her know that she will be accorded the natural justice right of having her say. You have reduced the friction of the moment because the boy is out of the picture. You can get on with the lesson. The boy is out of the firing line, at least temporarily. When he hands you the report, tell him that you will look at it after the lesson and get back to him. You might mention then, that if it is appropriate, you will raise the matter with the principal.

You need to make a time to debrief the boy. Once you have debriefed the boy after class and have all the facts (according to the boy) you could give the girl the same chance to write her side of the story. You could do this together but if you do it at separate times, they are apart longer and you can continue uninterrupted teaching .

After you have both report, you could hit the girl with, "Brian (assumed name only) feels like you are bullying/harassing/annoying him. How can you fix that?" It is important that you don't deviate from this message. The responsibility is on the girl to come up with some answers. You can rephrase the question if the girl starts to get  defensive like, "He's lying."

Your response could be along the lines,

YOU: "That may be. However Brian still feels like you are bullying him. What is your solution?"

GIRL: "He's just trying to get me in trouble and you're taking his side."

YOU: "Still, we have the position where Brian feels like he is being bullied. How can you solve this problem?"

GIRL: "I didn't do anything!"

NB. Notice the change to we in this next statement. You are offering a partnership for the girl to save face. Also note that you don't use questions which could be answered by one word. Don not say, "What can we do about it?" because the answer could just be, "NOTHING!" Use opened ended questions which require more than one word answers.

YOU: "That may be the case but Brian feels bullied. How can we solve this problem?"

You really need any sign of an offer towards a solution regardless of how small.

 GIRL: Snarling. "Well I won't look at him them."

YOU: "That's a good start. I'll check on that during the next lesson."

This is a no blame position. In this discourse, you are solving a problem not punishing an offender. For all we know, the boy might be the initiator of the conflict. Solving this problem might be long and complex because it appears to be personality based. Some of these, "he said - she said" issues are incredibly hard to resolve. If you can't come to a solution, it is best to manage it appropriately.

It is significantly important that you provide some follow up. It need not be much. Just a comment to the girl to see if she has gone someway to resolve the situation.


Issue no 2. When to ask for Admin Behaviour Management Support.

The only time it is necessary to call for immediate admin support is when personal, physical or emotional safety is seriously at risk. Fights, serious abuse, antagonism towards a teacher or student, angry parent all warrant immediate admin attention. Someone from admin should come straight away. You have a right to feel safe and so do the students in your class. Call admin immediately you don't feel safe.

Classroom management issues like the above as best dealt with by providing information to your admin contact. This might be the HOC, HOD, DP, VP or Principal. The information provided should be a description of the situation, how events unfolded and how you dealt with it. You should provide it in writing, I preferred such contact by email so I could copy and paste into the relevant file. However, I understand time constraints so written notes were typed up by the admin officer. Verbal reports were written into my diary for later reference but you can understand the inherent issues with this.

Most principal understand if you leave behaviour management reports for the teacher without bringing them to the office.

I would assume that most principals would happily offer advice if asked. If you want some ideas on how to manage a situation ask a colleague first but always feel free to ask for advice from the top. I don't know any principals who wouldn't welcome the opportunity to assist. There may be some. I just don't know them.

I'm not sure it is a good idea to ask an admin person to solve a behaviour management problem. That is not a good look for your class. It shows them that you have to defer authority to others. That doesn't bode well for the next time you expect the class to accept your authority.


Second opinion.

Adam's advice: (DP - Large highschool)

This is an issue I would expect the classroom teacher to manage themselves. They should go to their Department Head if they need some help. The Dept Head would know if this is an outgoing matter and requires further intervention. Moving both students at the same time would show that you are not taking sides and both are involved. In this case, move both students to opposite side of the classroom so they can not make eye contact would be short term solution and a no biased approach.

If you think there is a need for counselling, you could access the services of the chaplain or student counsellor. They may offer some mediation.

If the matter is racial or religious slur then it requires careful treatment. Your HOD should be consulted.

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