Providing support goes a long way in reducing behaviour issues

There’s a story that is well known by many teachers. A university lecturer instructing a class of student teachers asked them a question. “If a kid came to class without a pencil, what would you do?”

 Firstly, the student teachers discussed in groups how they would handle this situation. Various solutions were suggested. Most involved some form of collateral in exchange for the pencil being returned. One suggestion was that the kid gave the teacher a shoe in return for the pencil. They would get their shoe back when they returned the pencil at the end of the lesson.

Finally, once all these suggestions were made, the lecturer asked: “Why not just give the kid a pencil?”

Some argued there should be some form of punishment for a lack of responsibility. Others argued that the kid would take advantage of the situation,. That providing a pen would reinforce bad behaviour.

The lecturer argued that considering some of the challenges kids face in their daily lives, not having a pencil is a minor issue . The problem could be easily fixed. He said he would give the kid a pencil – first time and every time, and I completely agree.

Reprinted with permission of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

 To find out more about this story, read this article here:

Adults forget stuff.

We have all attended plenty of professional development workshops where pens and paper were provided for all participants. We have walked into post offices, medical centres and banks where pens were provided if we needed to use one. We’ve bought takeaway food and been provided with disposable cutlery and napkins. We often take these small supports for granted, so why can’t we do the same for kids in the classroom?

 Kids forget stuff.

In my own classroom, anyone who forgot a pen or a workbook could just take one from the supply my desk at the start of the lesson and bring it back at the end of the lesson. I would keep the workbooks in my desk so that the kids didn’t have to worry about losing them. Within five minutes of walking into a classroom, all my students had the equipment they needed and the lesson would begin. At the start of each year I bought a box of 50 pens and 50 workbooks for less than $35 and claimed it on tax. The materials might have cost me a few dollars, but they saved me a lot of wasted time and angst in the classroom.

Kids forget pens and books for all sorts of reasons. They can be living between two families with shared custody, so they have to remember their stuff in two different houses. Many kids are couch surfing and it’s an achievement that they get to school at all. Sometimes kids just forget, like we all do, so a little support and understanding can go a long way. Kids’ brains are still in the process of developing. They are nowhere near ready to think like an adult. Kids’ priorities are different, especially adolescents whose brains are primarily developing social relationships and their sense of identity.

Ask yourself, is the objective is for the lesson really remembering to bring equipment? Or is it something greater than that, such as an improved learning outcome?  

Teacher Working With Students In Library

Build positive relationships

If kids know they will be supported with everything they need to learn, then they can relax. This frees up their mind for the learning that’s to come. Kids need to be allowed the same latitude we give to adults if they make minor mistakes. If they don’t have a pen, and you don’t help them to get one, the learning isn’t going to take place anyway. Arguing with a kid or shaming them for not having a pen is not going to put them in the right frame of mind for learning either, and that feeling will last longer than the lesson just on that day.

Teaching is as much about building positive relationships as it is about building knowledge and skills. Setting high expectations involves adults modelling appropriate behaviour as much as kids demonstrating appropriate behaviour. Cutting kids some slack over a minor issue will be a demonstration in grace that will last longer than remembering to bring a pen. A simple act of always having pens available for them to use will demonstrate to any child that they will be supported, no matter what, that they are valued, no matter what.  For some kids, this simple act might be the only time where they will find that kind of emotional support.

Got a Pen?

The organisation Got A Pen?  recognised this need. Got a Pen? was founded by a High School teacher in Sydney who came across kids on a daily basis just in her own school who didn’t have the basic supplies they needed to work in class. She recognised this problem was not just isolated to her school and started with a group of friends in 2016 supplying students in need all over Sydney with stationery supplies free of charge. The supplies they provide all come from donations.

Another well known saying among teachers is – pick your battles. In the day to day of managing behaviour in a classroom, save yourself the unnecessary battle over a pen. Help kids out, and you may find that in doing so, you also help yourself out. You will build a relationship that could have otherwise failed. You will also save yourself unnecessary disruption so you can get on with the business of teaching and your students can get on with the business of learning.

Just give the kid a pen.