Teaching Tips: Proximity Control

Last week, we talked about ways to give students clear, concise directions to increase desired behavior. It’s important to note that sometimes, managing behavior effectively requires no words at all!

Put yourself in this scenario: You are standing at the front of your class, introducing a new concept to your students. You have told the students the schedule for the day, and you have reiterated your expectations. As you delve into the lesson, however, you notice little Stephen in the middle of the room. His shock of red hair, twinkly eyes, and quick smile make him a welcome addition to your class…if only he could pay attention for more than 30 consecutive seconds!

As you continue teaching, it is impossible to ignore Stephen’s current project: tearing his worksheet into a pile of confetti which he covertly sprinkles into the hair of the girl in front of him. He isn’t being malicious (knowing Stephen, you probably can guess that he thinks the “snow” will look really pretty in her curls, and it reminds him of a sledding trip he took with his grandpa…) He’s just off task, and Emma, the girl with the curls, has noticed, and is getting annoyed.

What should you do?

In this situation, it might be easy to blurt out , “Stephen, STOP IT.” After all, you have probably reminded him 14 times to get back on task. Instead, try a strategy call proximity control.  This simply means that as you continue teaching, you slowly, but deliberately walk around your room stopping purposefully near Stephen’s desk. Students like Stephen, who are struggle with impulse control are very likely to sense your presence, stop what they’re doing and refocus their attention.

By using this strategy, you accomplish several things:

  • You preserve Stephen’s dignity. You have not embarrassed him in front of his peers
  • You maintain the attention of the rest of the students, and continue teaching your content.
  • You subtly reinforce your leadership in the classroom without frightening your wiggly friend.
  • You reinforce respect and fairness for the students and the materials in the classroom.
  • And most importantly: You help Stephen–and all of your students–remember that church is a place where everyone is welcome and everyone is safe.
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