Muslim Teacher Feature: 10 Step Discipline Plan

Muslim Teacher in a Mosque

Top tips for being an effective teacher and leader, from a Muslim angle.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Having the right attitude
Each time you deal calmly but assertively with inappropriate behaviour in your classroom, you add value to your leadership. Students recognise that your discipline is not for negotiation and that your authority – whether in the classroom, home or madrasah (Islamic school) – remains your authority. At times this is easier said than done.

What really helps is feeling confident in your ability to respond positively and appropriately to a range of challenging behaviours that may:

(A) Not initially respond to your interventions
(B) Increase in severity

It is also important that you are consistent in your practice as often as possible to avoid accusations from children of being “unfair”.

Effective Muslim teachers, and all teachers in general, appear confident in their role and teaching. Their confidence comes from having a clear plan that allows them to respond calmly to the least and most serious incidents.

MUSLIMNESS offers you a ten step plan to support your discipline process, which can also be applied to other areas of your life, including your ‘imaan (faith). It is not definitive nor the complete answer to all your "teachery" problems. But do explore, refine and above all personalise this ten step plan to provide structure and support for your classroom – without having to cry ‘save me Allah!’ every lesson.

1. Catch your students being GOOD
An encouraging and supportive climate needs an emphasis on positive comments.

Whenever possible, focus first on those children who are choosing to be compliant to ‘good’ behaviour rather than those who are choosing not to behave. By doing this, the ‘good’ behaviour is raised as more praiseworthy and significant while the ‘good’ individuals are set as role models for others. Say 'masha'Allah', give them gold stars, use those individuals as "cool" role models for others to aspire to. It is well documented that praise goes farther in obtaining a change than criticism does.

Publicly praise children who are on task whilst ignoring those children who are off task. 
By this you need to be specific in what you are praising: ‘Well done Hanna, jazak'allah, I like the way you are sitting quietly and waiting for me/looking at me, thank you’. This ‘nudges’ others to doing the same.
If the off-task children focus back on task, praise them.

If some children do not return to task, redirect them by gently repeating your directions. Refer to {The Eight Core Principles} on how to redirect attention from the person who is ignoring you.

2. Use positive cueing
Positive cueing is a method that seeks to use children behaving well as models or reminders to those who are not. It links well with step 1 as:
• You are catching children being good, and giving recognition.
• You are redirecting children back to successful and appropriate behaviour.

Classroom example:
• Praise ‘good’ children near your off-task target child (instead of chastising the latter). So, in this situation, your student "Naeem" is not following the directions to put his pen down and look at you but Jasmine, sitting next to him, is.
• You say: 'Jasmine, thank you, shukran for putting down your pen and looking at me when I asked, well done.’
• Naeem, on this prompt, (hopefully) puts his pen down and looks at you.
• You then need to acknowledge this by saying, 'thank you Naeem, jazakAllah;. No drama involved, no raising your voice, no humiliating Naeem in front of everyone or getting the whole class involved. And now there are two children you have praised, which in my book acts as a good deed of the day.

3. Use physical proximity
Your ability to regulate your physical proximity to groups and individuals is a key part of your “toolkit”. That means where you stand, your distance and how you move through the classroom has an impact on how students will respond to you.

Classroom example:
• You notice that "Malik" is off-task playing with his mobile phone so your start to move among other children, getting gradually closer to Malik (think shark attack), but praising on-task behaviour of other children as you go.
• You praise others, ‘Bilal, (three desks away from Malik) thanks for working quietly’.
• You continue to move towards Malik and continue praising, ‘Huda, (a desk away) I like the way you’re working so well on your own’.
• As soon as Malik hears your praise and turns to his own work from these closer reminders, you should switch your attention to him and give praise too.

4. Use questions to refocus
Seemingly casual questions can be a very powerful way of unobtrusively refocusing an off-task child. This involves your resisting the urge to get at the student’s ‘bad’ behaviour, especially if it’s minor silliness. You gently approach one of the more rowdy children but pay no (verbal) attention to their ‘bad’ behaviour: simply ask a redirective question: ‘How’s it going? Do you need any help?’; ‘Sajida, do you need me to check how you’re doing so far?’ etc. The student knows in their subconscious that through your questions, you are giving subtle hints to change their current behaviour, so now they must respond to your questions.

You then leave the refocused child with an expectation of continued compliance (‘good’ behaviour): ‘I’ll pop back in a minute and see how far you’ve got inshaAllah’.

5. Privately repeat instructions
Giving the distracted child a brief, private discussion followed by a few seconds to enable the child to refocus their behaviour is particularly effective with children who respond badly to public reprimands. This is where psychological understanding comes into practice as nobody likes to be 'told off' or criticised, especially in public.

Classroom example:
• You notice Naeem (remember him?) has stopped focusing on his work.
• You quietly move to his side and say: ‘Naeem, I need you to go back to answering the questions (the work), thanks.’
• You shouldn’t expect instant compliance which is why you need to move away to give him a few seconds to modify his behaviour.
• When Naeem is back on task you move over and positively reinforce the improved behaviour. If you notice, our aim here is to reduce classroom hoopla and the need for you to raise your voice. Shouting and criticising is not the Prophetic way of teaching anyone.

6. Acknowledge and redirect
Rather than getting involved in argumentation or secondary behaviours, smart teachers use acknowledgement followed by redirection. Observe:

• You notice two students in discussion rather than being on task.
• You move over to them, ‘Hassan, David, I need you back on task now, thank you’.
• Hassan replies with annoyance, ‘I was only asking David what we’ve got next.’
• You respond with: ‘I realise you need to know what you’ve got next and you can ask him at the end of the lesson (acknowledgement) and right now I need you back on the task (redirection) thank you’ (expect compliance).

As leaders and teachers we often feel more "correct" and respond with superiority when challenged - the lesson is to acknowledge that everyone is on the same path of learning and needs guidance. You can either be an obstacle of progression by refusing to acknowledge this, or you can be a guide.

7. Give a clear rule reminder
Private, assertive reminders of your classroom rules can be a very effective, non-confrontational strategy with students. By referring to the rules as “our rules” you are, to a certain extent, de-personalising your discipline transaction. It takes away the ‘because I said so’ element that gives some children the chance to escalate ‘bad’ behaviour into an open challenge - 'oh yeah? so what?'

‘Naeem, remember that our rule for answering questions is hands up. I’d like you to follow that now, thanks.’
Compare this to what you would normally say for an off-task student and how he/she would typically respond.

8. Give a clear choice
Articulating the consequences of students’ continued, inappropriate choices puts the locus of control and responsibility within the child – “your choices bring these results”. Equally, as with step 7, it considerably reduces the ‘because I say so’ element.

Classroom example:
• You notice little talkative "Mariam" out of her seat again, talking to Khan.
• You move over to her and calmly but assertively state the consequences of continued inappropriate behaviour:
‘Mariam, I need you to choose to stay in your seat (restating directions). If you choose not to you will be choosing to see me at the end of the lesson (state consequences). Back in your seat now please, thank you, shukran’ (expect compliance).

9. Use agreed consequences
If a child continues to make poor choices, you can apply your agreed consequences, each time expecting compliance.

Classroom example"
• ‘Mariam, you’ve chosen to see me at the end of the lesson (consequences are applied), back to your seat now, thank you, shukran’.
• If the child continues to make poor choices or openly refuses to cooperate, you may calmly repeat Steps 8 and 9 working through your 5 Step Hierarchy of Consequences.
When the child does comply, repair the affected teacher-student relationship by praising him/her.

10. Use exit strategies
If children continue to significantly prevent you from teaching and/or other children from learning, it is appropriate that they are exited from the classroom using your school’s agreed procedures. So, don’t chuck them out of the window… unless you have a really good lawyer.

• Usually, an “exit” should be given as a choice (‘Malik, you’ve chosen to leave/ you’ve chosen to leave the room’)
• Use exit strategies calmly and assertively with the clear message that the exit is being used not because you’re a meany pants or to get them out of your hijab, but because of the child’s poor choices. (‘Hassan, you are continually choosing to ignore my instructions, therefore you gotta go!')
• Always follow up an exit by talking with the child and planning for better choices next time. In my years as a rebellious student, I despised the waiting-in-corridor moments for the dreaded teacher (usually the one that cursed out loud) to “see me” at the end of the lesson with a long lecture about why I was “so anti-education”. However, with a little open discussion, we both agreed spending the science lesson on a window-ledge was not fun therefore next time I would ‘choose to stay in the lesson quietly, sir’. It worked.

Exit considerations – don’t make a song and dance about it
An exit is clearly the most serious of your classroom-masjid-based interventions. It should be used with discretion to retain impact – not to send out every child that sneezes too loudly. The only occasion that an exit is not preceded by a series of strategies would be if a child’s behaviour endangers safety.

Remember, using an exit in this way is not a sign of failure or giving up. It is a legitimate strategy and should be part of your discipline plan.

Because an exit is serious there are a number of considerations you should give to the process. It is best that an agreement is reached over these ideas through whole staff discussion:

- What sort of behaviour necessitates exit?
- What sorts of language patterns are appropriate during exit?
- How do you get the child out? (age and safety aspects apply here)
- What if they refuse to go? (who you gonna call?)
- How and where can you seek help?

Also,
- Where does the child go? (on the window ledge or outside it?)
- What happens to them from there?
- What is the role of the ‘receiving’ adult?
- What records are to be kept?
- Who should be informed?
- What actions are triggered is exit occurs regularly? (e.g. monitoring behaviour)

An exit is only the initial consequence; therefore your role as an initiating teacher is also crucial.

Following an exit you should meet with the child as soon as possible to:
- Discuss making better choices next time
- Demonstrate that you hold no grudges and “next time” is a fresh start
- Arrange for the work that was missed to be done
- Teach the child any new skills needed to be able to make better choices next time – ‘lets have more sabr (patience), listen the first time, treat others with respect’
- Reconnect and repair the relationship – smiling is a Sunnah, and it helps children who have been thrown out to learn the value of earned care and consideration.

Lastly, it is important to inform parents and your key stage co-ordinator (in UK schooling), head of department or head of year as soon as possible.

Happy teachering folks!

Image: flickr

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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