Managing Students in the Drama Classroom

Drama teachers, I believe, need to consider their behaviour management strategies far more carefully than those in a “conventional” classroom.

For many students, a room with no desks is totally foreign to them and doesn’t compute with what they have been taught is the “traditional” way of learning in a classroom. Believe me, I know this because I’ve seen it. The amount of times kids are bouncing off the walls with hyperactivity and cannot settle down in any way because they just can’t deal with the fact that there isn’t a desk for them to put their book on, is astounding. It also feels like the air when a storm is coming – electric. The kids can sense it and their brains go haywire đŸ™‚

Just like any classroom there are no hard and fast rules to behaviour management and nothing is ever perfect nor works with every single group. That’s the uniquely brilliant (and extremely difficult) thing about teaching. Part of our job is building up a bank of strategies that we can pull out of our magic top hats whenever we need them. For many beginning teacher’s behaviour management is their worst nightmare. Believe me, I know this veeeeeeery well.

However, in my five years of teaching I’ve done a lot of trial and error with my classes when it comes to behaviour management. Some of it has failed dismally, other strategies have been slightly more successful. Many of these will continue to fail depending on the group and the one’s you least expect to work with one particular group are actually the one’s to work.

Safe learning environments are crucial in the Drama classroom. Without them, students do not feel comfortable enough to take risks and perform in front of others. By setting boundaries for students this allows them to feel a little bit more at ease about this.

Here are a selection of strategies that may help guide you to managing behaviour issues in your classroom:

  • Establish Routine OUTSIDE the Classroom – This is important to ensure students are not going into the room unfocused. Ensure students line up outside your room. I personally request that all my student’s put their hats, phones, i-pods, mp3 players, food and drinks into their bag before they enter the classroom. I even stand at the door and check them one by one. I stop them if they haven’t done what they’ve been asked and make sure it is put away before they try to enter again. It’s also a really nice way to greet everyone individually before you start the lesson. You may like to allocate a particular part of the room for students to leave their bags so as to keep them out of the performance space.
  •  Establish Routine INSIDE the Classroom – This goes without saying in any classroom. Structure your lessons very carefully so that students become familiar with what happens in your lessons. Your watch/clock is your best friend. In Drama it is a good idea to spend approx. 10-15 minutes on a warm up, 20-40 minutes on your main activitie(s) and 10-15 minutes on discussion or logbook activities.
  • Establish POSITIVE BEHAVIOUR EXPECTATIONS in the Classroom – Here you can combine your school’s discipline policy with your own expectations. You may even like to get the students to help you decide what the classroom expectations will be (this could take an entire lesson). Our school is following the PBL (Positive Behaviour for Learning) Framework so I’ve tried to talk to students about their behaviour in terms of positive choices and that incorrect choices should expect a consequence. I also frame my expectations around how students should behave when watching a performance. So, I teach them about theatre etiquette. In the end, after it all my motto is: just give it a go.

My four rules are:

In the drama classroom we always:

  • Begin and end every lesson in a circle;
  • Follow theatre etiquette when others are performing (no talking, clapping at the end);
  • Listen to all instructions to make sure everyone is safe and working;
  • Leave all our food, drink, i-pods, MP3’s, mobile phones in our bags.

Finally, follow-through, follow-up, follow-through, follow-up. Decide what the consequence will be for not following through on the appropriate behaviour e.g. lunch detention, after school detention, a phone call home, Head Teacher referral etc. Develop a system that you can use first before referring the behaviour on e.g. three lunch detentions = phone call home. One detention after the phone call = afternoon detention.  The more you are in control of the situation the better. In order to gain respect from your students you have to show them that you’re serious. Phrase your expectation clearly as well as the consequence. E.g “Johnny, I’ve asked you once to stop speaking. If you speak again during the performance I will be seeing you at lunchtime.” If Johnny does this then do as you said.

Now, I know writing it down makes it sound so easy and believe me, I know, better than anyone that this is just not the case. For many of us it is not natural to be disciplining students this way. Especially when we often have rather grandiose ideas of all students absolutely loving what they are learning and that there shouldn’t be any need for behaviour management. The reality is not all students love learning and these can be for a range of reasons. It doesn’t mean you should not be allowed to teach however nor show them how great Drama can be. Be realistic about how long it will take your class to learn your routines. For every class it will be different. Be persistent and don’t let the difficult students get you down because for every horrible student there will be 3-4 great kids who try the work and do what you say.