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5 Positive Classroom Discipline Tips for Teaching in Japan

A patient approach to classroom management for English teachers.

By 4 min read

Considering a teaching job in Japan or are having some problems in the classroom? It can be hard to keep a cool head when you have a student who just won’t behave.

You may be thinking, “Positive discipline? There’s no such thing.” But believe us, it is a tried and tested way of managing rowdy students, and can make your classroom life a lot smoother.

Starting with Alfred Adler in the 1920s and popularized by Jane Nelson in the 80s, positive discipline guides children in making the correct choices through connection, patience and mutual respect. Of course, this is easier said than done. Especially when your students don’t speak the same language and subscribe to cultural rules that you know nothing about.

Here are some tips on handling bad behavior in a positive, kind way. 

1. Set out ground rules 

Once more unto the breach.

Routine is vital for children. According to Melbourne Child Psychology services, it allows for clear boundaries and makes children feel safe within their environment.  

By outlining your boundaries at the beginning of a lesson (and school year), children can be well informed, prepared and less likely to misbehave. To be fully understood, explain some of this in Japanese (by yourself or through a Japanese staff member). If that fails, employ visual aids: videos, photos or crude drawings on the whiteboard. But make sure to be clear; they must understand your classroom rules. 

For example, set a rule that students must raise their hands to ask questions. If they don’t do this, then you won’t answer them. Or make a rule early that if the teacher’s hand is raised, the class needs to settle down. 

Remember, children need patience. Moreover, you are teaching in a whole different language. It might take time to set the rules in stone. 

2. Positive reinforcement 

Focus your positivity!

Professor Chihiro Hosoda, a brain expert at Tohoku University, said that praise and encouragement regarding progress, not bargaining or rewards, keep children motivated.  

Instead of general praises, like “well done” or “good job,” it is better to use your words to positively reinforce specific behavior, such as “thank you for sitting up nicely,” or specific praises pertaining lesson you are teaching.

Children will associate praise with their actions and are more likely to repeat it. While physical prizes can work in some circumstances, a reward system is not something to rely on permanently. 

3. Consequence, not punishment 

For the last time, Nanako…

Despite carefully laid out parameters, children are bound to test the limits. So remember to keep calm and follow through on the rules you set out at the start. Under no circumstance should you be shouting or berating your students. Instead, look to a logical consequence. 

For example, you may have a student who has not stopped playing with the scissors, despite your warning (“Please, could you not…”) and explanation (“…because you could hurt someone”). The logical consequence would be for you to take away the scissors after giving a choice (“You can either stop playing with the scissors or have no scissors at all”).

An illogical consequence, such as removing the child from the room, is an overreaction. Remember to discipline the action, not the student. The language barrier can make this situation a lot more complicated, but remember to keep calm, repeat and use body language.

4. Positive time-out

There’s a big difference between exclusion and a safe place to calm down.

This method is for particular occasions when no amount of logical consequences will work. Essentially time-out, but several studies have found it is one of the most effective discipline tools. 

The key to this technique is not to use it as a punishment. Instead, the ‘time out’ should be a moment for the child to reflect on their emotions. To do this, assign or make a space in your classroom that is a calm sanctuary for students. Then, fill it with books, cushions and cuddly toys.

You can even make a day out of brainstorming with your students to design this chill-out area. Of course, you’ll probably need to talk to your school about it first.

5. Ask ‘why?’

Have you considered your lessons are just really boring?

The question is: Why is my student disrupting the class? There could be several reasons. Our job as teachers is to identify the source and tackle it. 

It could be that they are bored. Take a look at your lesson plan. Is it a long slog of phonics, writing and Q&A with only five-minute game time? It might be time to mix it up.

They could be fighting with their classmate. Ask what happened, but do not take sides. Instead, be proactive and recognize the signs before these situations arise. Is your classroom setup distracting? For example, do you have too many pencils on the table for them to fiddle with? The point is to figure out the “why” and not just jump to punishment.

Not all of these techniques work for all children, but we hope you could take away a few pointers when navigating your English teaching career. 

How do you handle a classroom? What are your rules? Do you have any tips? Let us know the comments below!

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