Dear Kid Whisperer,
I am a fourth grade classroom teacher. The behavior of my students in my classroom isn’t great, but the behaviors in the hall are really terrible. No matter how many times I tell them what the rules are, and no matter how many times I warn them that they will get in trouble if they act out, they continually talk, bump and push each other while in line. They fight over getting drinks from the water fountain as we walk by it even though I have told them a thousand times that they are not to get drinks when we are walking through the hallway. The newest thing is for my boys to jump up and smack the tops of the doorways as we go under them. Taking them through the hallway is embarrassing. I know that part of this is my fault. What can I do? –Tara, Columbia, SC
First of all, you’ve come to the right place. No matter how many tough kids I have in my classroom, I always have them completely silent and pretty much perfectly behaved in the hallways within four weeks. I have a fool-proof method for training kids for perfect hallway behavior that I teach when schools hire me as a consultant. I will not be detailing that system here, but I will give you some highly effective skills for creating a stress-free situation in your hallways.
Now to directly answer your question, let’s play good news/bad news.
The bad news: From what I can gather from your question, everything you are doing is wrong.
The good news: Since everything you are doing is wrong, and you are responsible for 100% of your problem, you are able to fix 100% of your problem by fixing what you are doing!
My entire method for creating perfect hallway behavior would be too much to absorb for one sitting over the internet, but how about I give you two things to change from what you are currently doing that you can experiment with? Perhaps you could get back to me and we could add two more experiments once you have tried these two out.
First, I will tell you something that may blow your mind. Now remember that I have pretty much perfect behavior after a month with my students. Keep in mind that I request that as many difficult kids are put into my class as possible and that this year I missed the first month of school while I was home with a newborn. What I will tell you is this:
I tell my students rules for the hallway exactly zero times.
That means I never remind them of how they should act in the hall and I certainly never tell them what will happen to them if they act out in the hallway. What’s more, I never even set the expectations for the hallway! I let them set the expectations! The only conversation I have with them for the entire year happens on the first day. My conversation looks and sounds like this:
Kid Whisperer: Okay, friends. We’re about to go into the hallway. How do we act in the hallway? Yes, Deshaun, you are raising your hand quietly.
Kid: We walk quietly.
Kid Whisperer: We don’t talk at all?
Kid Whisperer: Not even a whisper?
Kid Whisperer: Do we make any other kinds of noises?
Kid: No. No noises at all.
Kid Whisperer: Oh, OK. What else? Yes, Jaquata, you have your hand up quietly.
Kid: We walk with our hands behind our backs and a bubble in our mouths.
Kid Whisperer: A bubble in your mouth? What do you mean?
(Jaquata models a “bubble” by puffing out her cheeks)
Kid Whisperer: Oh, I see. Wow, that’s a lot to remember. I’ll tell you what, feel free to either walk with your hands behind your back or by your sides and feel free to walk with bubbles in your mouth or without bubbles in your mouth. Whichever you want is fine. Wow, you guys already know the rules. I apologize for wasting your time. I guess I forgot how smart you are. Sorry about that. Oh, yes Andrew? I notice you raising your hand quietly. What’s up?
Kid: What happens if someone doesn’t do the right thing in the hallway?
Kid Whisperer: Won’t it be fun to find out? Alright, friends. Feel free to talk until we get into the hallway.
I then stand at the door’s threshold, either modeling a “bubble in my mouth” or simply smiling at the kids as they proceed into the hallway.
The Love and Logic scenario that I just described involves no anger, warnings, threats, or lectures. It doesn’t even involve telling kids what to do. Instead of insulting the kids’ intelligence by reminding them of rules that my dog could remember, we are listening letting them set the rules and never talking about it again… ever.
Yeah, but… you might say… what about when they do break a rule in the hallway? What do you do then????
As soon as the first kid gets into the hallway, I want you to say the following prayer to yourself:
Lord, please let someone break a rule ASAP so these kids… all of these kids… can learn that breaking rules isn’t going to work for them.
For the first three weeks of hallway training, the moment one child acts out in any way whatsoever (remember, you want them to mess up) the entire class will make a u-turn turn and go back to the classroom. It will look and sound like this;
Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. Looks like we need to practice being in the hallway. Vanessa, could you lead us back to the classroom? It’s OK, friends. Practice makes perfect.
This is done calmly, without anger or frustration. No need to point out the negative behavior. Remember, it is not your goal to get to music class. That is their goal. Your only goal is to hold them accountable for their mistakes. When we start to confuse the children’s goals as our own goals, it causes us unnecessary stress and gives our students the false impression that teachers are responsible to accomplish kids’ goals.
Do this for three weeks. If you are concerned about missing lunch, physical education, music, etc., leave early so that you have time to practice. If you get to wherever you are going early, have them go outside or play a game or something fun. In any case, let your specials teachers/ lunch aides, etc. know that for the first three weeks, you may be late from time to time, but after the first three weeks you will be extremely prompt.
At the end of three weeks, change tactics. From now on, have individual rule breakers practice by empathetically asking them to go to the back of the line. It can look and sound like this:
Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. Looks like you need more time in the hallway. Could you go to the back of the line to practice? Thanks.
Once you get to your destination, if it is convenient for you, you can have anyone who needs extra practice stand somewhere near your destination and practice standing quietly in the hallway. This is most effective when it is used some of the time and when the required amount of extra practice time varies each time. Once the children have practiced from anywhere from ten seconds to ten minutes, I say the following:
Kid Whisperer: Thumbs up if you think you’ve practiced enough. Thumbs up if you think you’ve “got it”.
Kid Whisperer: Feel free to go on in if you think you’ve got it.
By doing this, you are able to remain an encouraging scorekeeper, instead of an angry referee. Also, the child is able to retain some control by telling you whether they have practiced enough and making the decision about when they can return to the activity or class at hand.
Note: If a child ever becomes beligerent and refuses to practice, I simply say this:
Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. You’re not going to practice? Yikes. Well, I suppose you can practice later. Try not to worry about it.
Then, at your convenience, that child can practice being in the hall. It could be at lunch (after they eat), recess, or after school. I have been known to schedule hallway practice during football practice.
Remember: no warnings, lectures, anger, or threats. I hope this helps! Let me know how it goes!!!!!
-The Kid Whisperer