Guiding Principles

I’ve been doing some self-directed professional development on behaviour management lately. I have a personal interest in the psychology behind learning and development, and as a Kindergarten teacher this is my main area of focus on a daily basis. Before my students will learn literacy and math, I need to ensure their social and emotional well-being.

I recently took a PD session through my board where I was inspired to take a step back and think about my language in the classroom. How do my words and actions influence the behaviour and well-being of my students? After all, behaviour management in a classroom is influenced the greatest by the teacher’s words and actions, rather than those of the children.

As adults, we are tempted to flood our children with rules. These rules make us feel better. If we redirect our students constantly, we will keep them safe and ensure they are doing what we want, right? Well, this isn’t always the case. Think of how many commands, comments or redirection you dole out to your student on a daily basis. These phrases may sound familiar to you:

“Don’t run in the hall”

“Quiet voices inside”

“Don’t build that tower too high”

“Get down from that chair”

“Careful with those scissors”

“Hands to yourself”

“That wasn’t very nice”

“I don’t like to hear those words”

The list goes on, and on, and on, and on. But what if we don’t need to spew out these phrases repeatedly? What if there was a way to get that message across without overloading our kids with what, will inevitably, become white noise to them? We know that overloading kids with language can be overwhelming and as a result, can bring about even more behaviours.

This is where guiding principles come in. For your classroom, choose a phrase or a few words that define what you believe to be the most important rules. In our classroom, we use:

“At school, we are safe and kind”. 

Rather than throwing out constant redirection and comments as listed above, we simply repeat this statement to our class. Why is this effective? We’re using simple language with words that are clear and effective. Almost any situation that could come up in your classroom can be successfully redirected using this phrase. For students who are ready, it can be turned into a question to get kids thinking and reflecting about problems as they arise. For example, if a student is running in the hallway I might stop them and say, “At school we are safe. Are you being safe?”, rather than giving the command, “Stop running in the halls”. For a group of students that are not including someone in their play, I might remind them, “At school we are kind. Are you being kind?”. I think of the two words as umbrellas that all desirable and undesirable behaviours can be categorised under.

This method has worked wonders in our Kindergarten classroom. I always know my strategies are effective when I hear my students repeating my language. Since beginning using guiding principles, I hear my students guiding each other through situations by using the exact same phrase, “At school we are safe and kind!”. Undesirable behaviours are being stopped much faster and I’m noticing more mindful students.

I do believe that there is never a “perfect” or “correct” method for anything in teaching, as we know, every group of children is different. This particular method has really changed how I think and interact with my students and has been a wonderful guide to my own approach to behaviour management. I encourage you to give it a try!


Updated: January 17, 2018 — 11:50 am

The Author

Laura Bottrell

Laura is an LTO teacher with HWDSB. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Youth & Children's Studies and is a Registered Early Childhood Educator. Laura is currently enjoying teaching grade 1/2, after teaching Kindergarten, 2/3 and 5/6! With a passion for the arts, Laura is an advocate for the arts in education and is currently the director of a theatre performance program for Kindergarten aged students!

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