Prevention of March Madness

Spring fever can test everyone in an educational setting. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to actively seek ways to recharge your batteries, reflect on practices and student outcomes. Earlier this month Dr. Tim Knoster presented at the APBS conference in Boston, MA. During his presentation he discussed the essence of classroom management within the PBIS framework. Below are some of the big ideas taken from his presentation at APBS.


“The notion of control is such a grand illusion and it sets us up for failure and sends us down some dead-end streets.” If we actually believe we control our students’ behaviors, we may act in counterproductive ways that get in the way of learning. Knoster suggests that the right thinking is “how do I facilitate or position myself and my actions to engage the kids so they engage in learning.” Therefore, our actions matter a great deal in the classroom. “What we do (how we act) in the classroom does directly influence how our students act.” Knoster went on to say that effective classroom management requires teacher self-management of instructional practice in group settings.

Behavioral Noise
What about behavioral noise? What about those behaviors that students deploy that seemingly reflect years of doctoral level study designed to interrupt the learning process? Knoster suggests that although they may drive us crazy, “most pet peeves can be sufficiently addressed through universal preventative approaches.” When used with fidelity “universal prevention can help to increase each student’s sense of connection, respect and achievement in the classroom.” Knoster recommends the use of prevention strategies at least 80% of the time. These strategies include rapport building (or staying close), establishing clear expectations and positive reinforcement. All three should be used. Think of each one as the leg of a stool adding support to the whole object. Knoster notes that it’s the interconnected nature of rapport building, clear expectations and positive reinforcement maximize universal prevention.

Being Proactive
Although it was not a focus of his presentation, Knoster noted that there is a place for classroom interventions. He suggests they make up less than 20% of a teacher’s management practice. The two practiced mentioned are pivoting/planning ignoring with proximity and the use of stop-redirect procedures. Classic PBIS philosophy is the investment in prevention. Knoster shared this as well with the 80/20 rule of classroom management that “no less than 80% of your classroom management practices should be prevention-based.”

Building Rapport
The first strategy discussed at length in his presentation was rapport. Knoster admits that the term rapport is not new to anyone. However, defining and enacting the practice in the classroom is more difficult. The statement that stood out most from this presentation was that most “kids will ‘let you in’ to develop rapport, but will only let you in on their time frame when they feel they can TRUST you.” This has tremendous implications for teachers and their daily work with students. Trust can’t be assumed or taken for granted. Rapport develops on the student’s time frame, not the adults. The good news is that we can all work to build rapport with our students no matter the time of year. Knoster suggests that we “look for small windows of time (15 seconds to 2 minutes maximum) to build rapport with kids. The key is frequency.” These informal moments can occur anywhere from your doorway, the lunchroom, hallways and the bus lot during dismissal. The key is being available and making the most of opportunities that exist. “Be prepared to talk about things that are of interest to the student of concern. Be patient, rapport takes time to develop.” This is nothing new to middle school teachers. You are involved in some amazing conversations each day. The suggestion here is to be intentional and invest where the student-teacher relationship is not strong. This is an act of sacrifice and a decision of the will. “You are giving away your time for free when deliberately using a rapport building strategy.” Knoster notes that consistent attempts to build rapport have an incremental positive effect over time. Sometimes we underestimate our value and our impact with a particular student. Don’t forget, you may be the only adult to stay the course and invest in building rapport.

Core instruction isn’t the only thing we need to differentiate for students. Positive reinforcement isn’t the same for everyone. Don’t forget, the 4:1 ratio is a minimal target. For some students a 7:1 ratio may be more important. For students with the most chronic problem behaviors we must provide reinforcement on a frequent basis. It must be genuine and contingent upon meeting universal expectations. This shouldn’t be a chore for classroom teachers. Knoster concluded his presentation with an observation and a challenge. “Throughout the course of the day, students will do things worthy of praise. The key is to be on the lookout for it.”

By committing to building rapport with our students, establishing clear expectations and delivering positive reinforcements we can alter the nature of “March Madness” and maintain our classroom’s focus on learning.

Knoster, T. (2015). The nuts and bolts of preventative classroom management: PBS in the classroom.


Photo: cc licensed