What would you do?


After taking the poll, read our explanation.


Option 1: Reconsider how my teaching may influence the student.

For some students, disengagement is disruptive to learning. Brain science gives us important clues about how to engage students. Consider the following brain science principles that increase engagement and retention of information:

  • Talk– learners need to hear, process, and restate their learning, so create frequent opportunities for students to talk about what they are learning. When students only “sit and get” content, they may be able to regurgitate it, but they haven’t made meaning from it;
  • Short– chunk content delivery into groups of three and repeat it in different ways. Reduce teacher talk time and increase student movement and talk time. Do not use text-heavy slides that bombard the learner;
  • Writing– learners remember what they write and where they write it, so provide graphic organizers, index cards, chart paper, and other tools to help them make sense of and reorganize the content;
  • Images– learners remember vivid images, stories, analogies, and metaphors because they cause an emotional charge that releases dopamine into the brain. Balance text with images to increase retention and recall by up to six times;
  • Novelty – the human brain is hardwired to notice change, but it will shift into “neutral brain” when bored by repetition, routine, and predictability. Change things up and surprise students with props, visuals, movement, and different teaching strategies; and
  • Movement– when learners stand, they increase the flow of oxygen to their brain. This can increase the capacity to learn by up to 20%. Plan for movement by building in a two-minute soft brain break for every ten minutes of direct instruction. Soft breaks could be stretches, movement, talking, or writing.

Excerpts adapted from: Bowman, S. (2014). The Best of Brain-Based Teaching, Training, and Learning! Retrieved from: http://bowperson.com/



Option 2: Alter the space and routines in my classroom.

The physical arrangement, routines, and procedures in a classroom help to promote positive behaviour and interactions. Strategies for proactive classroom organization include:

  • Structure classroom space by seating students in strategic areas where they can see you and you can see them. This increases the opportunities to notice and reinforce positive behaviour and prevent or manage problem behaviours in a proactive way. Also, organizing materials so they are easily accessible and stored in an orderly way will lower frustrations, avoid distractions and interruptions to learning, and make the best use of instructional time;
  • Develop routines with a that clear communicate expectations for behaviour. Students who have learned to follow predictable classroom routines are more independent and socially competent, and they have an increased sense of personal security. As a result, these students are more successful learners and have a reduced need for adult assistance; and
  • Use a signal to gain attention at the beginning of a class, activity, or transition. The most effective signals are limited to unambiguous cues such as raising your hand. They can be visual (holding a sign or other prop) or aural, or they can take the form of a whole-class energizer.

Excerpts adapted from: Manitoba Education (2011). Towards Inclusion: Supporting Positive Behaviours in Manitoba Classrooms: pp 17-24.



Option 3: Take a problem-solving approach by considering the student’s needs.

Students need to feel a sense of purpose, challenge, affirmation, contribution, and power. When you assume positive intent and become curious, you shift your focus and response to discovering how to meet unmet needs. Empowering students to be part of the process is more effective and sustainable. Working with them through behavioural issues gives students voice and choice, and it shifts the power dynamic by making teachers and students allies in times of high stress.  Always use the minimum intervention necessary to handle a problem behaviour; you don’t need a hammer to kill a fly. Also, consider how important it is to teach social and emotional regulation skills to help students problem solve on their own without adult intervention.

Excerpts adapted from: Manitoba Education (2011). Towards Inclusion: Supporting Positive Behaviours in Manitoba Classrooms: pp 17-24.



Option 4: Change how I communicate my expectations.

How and also how often you communicate expectations is important. Also consider that behaviour you ignore is behaviour you permit, so be aware that you are communicating acceptance of a behaviour when you do not address it. The beginning of the year talk about rules is not enough to maintain a community of learners because the discussion needs to be ongoing with consistent feedback and follow up.

To effectively communicate expectations and requests to students,

  • use polite requests rather than questions (e.g, “Please start your work”);
  • move close to students when giving directions—the optimal distance is approx. 1m;
  • look students in the eye (consider cultural differences and do not insist on eye contact);
  • use a quiet voice;
  • give students at least 10 seconds to respond before repeating a request or adding a new request;
  • ask only twice, and then follow through with a correction; the more often a request is made, the less the likelihood of gaining cooperation;
  • make only one request at a time;
  • remain calm and unemotional;
  • make more start requests (“do”) than stop requests (“don’t”);
  • verbally reinforce students when they demonstrate cooperation; and
  • include parents in the communication loop bout expectations.

Excerpts adapted from: Manitoba Education (2011). Towards Inclusion: Supporting Positive Behaviours in Manitoba Classrooms: p. 11.



Option 5: Work on building a stronger relationship with the student.

Positive teacher–student relationships require time and trust to build. When teachers consistently make deposits into students’ emotional bank accounts, it forms the foundation for trust and security and provides bonding and connections that teachers and students need. It helps students learn that demonstrating respect and caring is a natural aspect of human interaction.

Teachers can develop positive relationships with students by:

  • demonstrating a personal interest in students. Take time in class and in the hallways or on the school grounds to talk with students about their lives outside of school
  • greeting students at the door. Use this strategy to informally engage students individually, ask how they are doing, gauge their emotional state, have a brief conversation, and/or generally make them feel welcome;
  • using students’ names Students of any age generally respond positively when a teacher smiles at them and acknowledges them by name, especially in the hallway or on the school ground. This simple action lets students know they matter and are valued as individuals within the school community;
  • using humour. Humour that heals (rather then hurts) is sensitive and good natured, defuses difficult situations, and brings people closer together;
  • smiling and showing enthusiasm. Let students know when you are particularly enjoying the teaching role. Passion and enthusiasm has been identified in many studies as the most significant characteristic of an effective teacher. Enthusiasm can be shown in many ways: a “let’s find out” attitude, a positive tone of voice, moving around the classroom, and sharing and articulating interest in the subject. Sharing your enthusiasm makes the classroom safe for students to express their enthusiasm too;
  • sunshine calls to parents, to tell them positive things about their child.

Excerpt adapted from: Manitoba Education (2011). Towards Inclusion: Supporting Positive Behaviours in Manitoba Classrooms: pp 8-9. Also, see the work of Gordon Neufeld.



— Information compiled by MTS Staff