The following text on Plan B is excerpted from the Bite-Size Book of Classroom Management by ben Slavic and Tina Hargaden.
The foundation of classroom management is student engagement. Student-centered and student-driven instruction, student jobs, relationship-building…this is the foundation of a successful classroom.
Plan A is to speak slowly enough to notice every time even ONE student is not focused on the language and walk, without fail, consistently, at the slightest hint of inattentiveness or disruption, over to the Classroom Rules and point to them, with a smile and good humor, taking a deep breath, until the class gets back to a focused state and you can continue on with instruction. More information on the power of SLOW can be found in the Bite-ize Book of Classroom Management and also in the Bite-Size Book of SLOW.
Plan B. This is where we move physically to the student who is at ground zero of the disruptions. Dr. Fred Jones, the great classroom management trainer, and the author of the must-read book on classroom management, Tools for Teaching, calls this the Queen Victoria Stare. He suggests a specific sequence of movements and actions that use our body language and physical presence to establish our leadership and set firm limits with our students, without spiraling into those “But I wasn’t doing anything!” or “You’re picking on me!” arguments that end up with someone (usually the teacher) losing face.
Please note that Plan B is for correcting the behavior of students who exhibit garden-variety patterns of misdeeds. It is not designed for students exhibiting seriously dangerous behavior. These suggestions are provided for dealing with commonly overlooked (except in your classroom) behaviors such as side conversations, using a cell phone, talking back to the teacher, interrupting, calling out, laughing at inappropriate times, making weird random noises, tapping pencils or coins, excessive pencil sharpening, congregating by the trash can, etc.
Fred Jones says, “Open your mouth and slit your throat.” This means that when dealing with behavior management, talking is the enemy. We do not want to talk to the student about their behavior; we want the behavior to change. That is the only “win”. Fred Jones asserts, and the authors have found it to be true, that the more we speak, the more we diminish our personal power. Therefore, body language, silence, and patience are our best allies in our work with challenging students.
When we have a student (or a group) who reveal themselves as needing some personalized attention to come into alignment with our expectations, and we have found ourselves pointing at the rules several times, just for them, this is when we use Plan B. When we direct our assertive, calm leadership more directly at them, using only our body language to silently redirect them, we are using Plan B correctly.
Fred Jones calls it the Queen Victoria Stare. It is a stare that says, “Oh you poor fool, I have seen this kind of nonsense before and I will stop it just as I have a thousand times before.” Even if it is your first week of teaching, you can fake this stare. Soon, you will not have to fake it. You will own it. And you will love it.
Use Plan B when a student who has displayed a pattern of small infractions displays yet another one. You stop instructing just as you did for Plan A. At this point, everyone expects you to go to the Rules poster. However, you will instead turn your feet to face the student who continues to disrupt. You will plant your feet both facing in the direction of the student. By this point you are silent.
Plant your feet, then turn your entire body in their direction, silently. Keep your arms down; do not point at the student. Do not say anything. Do not call their name. Do not say, “Shhh.” Say nothing. Simply turn your entire torso and shoulders in the direction that your feet are facing, so that it is abundantly clear that you are stopping instruction to address the distraction. If the student does not notice your attention is directed at them, because they are so deeply distracted, enjoying themselves, simply wait silently until they notice.
Remember, opening your mouth is your last resort. You do not want to invite a conversation. You want to see a different behavior, not have a talk with the student. There is no need to discuss this with a fifteen-year-old. If you cave and allow the student to engage you in a verbal interchange in this moment, you may as well do a happy dance out of the classroom because you will have lost your class for the rest of the year.
Everyone knows the rules by now. You have pointed to them about thirty-five thousand times in the three days of school that have elapsed so far. Now simply wait until the disruptive student notices the energy directed at them. They will notice. 95% of classroom management is energetic and happens in the realm of body language and nonverbal communication, anyway. They will sense that you and the class are focused on them. They will eventually look up. It only feels like it took six minutes. In reality, it was probably eighteen seconds.
Once they have noticed you and are looking at you, take a few slow steps in the direction of the disruptive student. Do not get overly close, though. And do not assume a combative posture. Keep your arms at your sides, not on your hips or crossed in front of you. Relax at the shoulders. Relax your jaw. Take a moment to take some deep, calming, centering breaths. Think to yourself, “I am fortunate that I have the tools to exert calm leadership, and I have worked too hard to get to this position professionally to let some rude child ruin it for everyone.” And mean it when you think it. That could be the root concept of the word mean – to simply “mean” what your say.
In moments like this, Tina likes to think, “I am lucky that I am getting paid to breathe and relax.” You need to keep yourself in a positive frame of mind, and not allow your reptilian brain, your fight-or-flight system, to take over. Deep breaths work wonders to drop you into a calm, centered emotional space.
Do not say a word. Simply make it clear that you are looking at them, so that they – and their peers – know without a doubt that you are dealing with them. Stare at them with a patient, withering, “Been There, Done That” stare. Do not say a word. Breathe. If they say something, perhaps, “What?” or “What’d I do?” then simply respond with what Fred Jones calls a look of boredom. It is not very productive for a student to argue with someone who is just staring at them silently, with a calm look of “I have seen this all before” on their face and no desire to win at anything but compliance with the rules.
Once the student is listening, or has put the cell phone away, or has turned to face you, or has done whatever you need them to do to comply with your expectations, simply take another deep breath and resume instruction as if nothing had happened.
It is important to note that Plan B is only the next step in a series of increasingly-pointed interventions. So how do we know when to move on to Plan C with a particular student?
If we sense that a student’s behavior is going to require us to move to Plan C and beyond, the authors tend to put that student at the top of our to-do list for the next several weeks. We call home immediately after school and make the student the center of attention for a few days. We talk about their card during Card Talk.
We may choose to assign them a job, not in a threatening way but rather in a way that allows them to develop a positive role in class. We try to learn something that the student is good at, generally through the use of the Card Talk activity (discussed later) and tell the class about this student’s accomplishments in glowing terms. An example of how to do this is found in Appendix XX. Of course, some disruptive students do not like being the center of attention, so if the student appears even a bit uncomfortable, then we immediately drop the Make Jimmy the Center of Attention campaign.
When the class in general continues breaking the rules, we continue using Plan A. But when a particular student continues on breaking the rules, we do not use Plan B more than a couple times on that child. We move to Plans C and D. (News flash: You will use Plan A all year, every day. It is the default setting. It is your cruise control until June.) If other students test your limits, execute Plan B on them a couple of times.