Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Behavioural Challenges in the GP classroom

(Or why we do the things we do.)

At a recent Godly Play training that I gave for two churches in our area, someone asked me if I ever encountered behavioural challenges in the classroom. The answer is a resounding yes!  Although the "getting ready" methodology of Godly Play greatly decreases the inclination towards unwanted behaviours, there are times when kids test the boundaries and act out.

To be quite honest, negative behaviour was something that I didn't deal very well with in the beginning of my career as a children's pastor. I relied on a system of rewards and punishments and didn't know how to help the children develop self-control. Godly Play and Montessori principles were a lifesaver, so much that I have incorporated them into my English classes at school, and not just at church.

Jerome Berryman has written a great deal about being firm, but gentle with children and giving clear boundaries in the classroom. Over the years, I have also found it helpful to discern a child's motivation as well. Here Montessorian Jane Nelson, who co-authored Positive Discipline in the Classroom, has mentored me from afar. She helped me to learn that there is usually a message behind frustrating behaviours. Because the child can't express his or her needs in words, the message comes out in their actions.

For example, a child who constantly disrupts the teacher or provokes other children may have a natural leadership gifting and may be crying out, "Please involve me!" A recent  example of this was a second grade boy in one of our after-school clubs. On one occasion during Response Time, he deliberately took a clay sculpture that another child was working on and poured glue in it. I gently but firmly told him that he had to wash the glue out, so that the other child could continue to work on his sculpture. Once the boy realized that I was not going to flip out over his behaviour, he complied and fixed the problem that he had created. 

After we discerned that this same boy's behaviour could be redirected in a positive way by letting him help, we came up with other creative ideas. One time, I asked him if he would like to pick some of the story materials and tell me a story. He then happily told me and another child the Parable of the Good Shepherd. At other times, we asked him to help with feast or quietly play the piano (there just happened to be one in the room we were using) to signal that it was time to clean up. 

Another child may be sending the message through her actions that she is hurting and needs to have her feelings acknowledged. Yet another child may be exhibiting the urge to just give up and retreat from everyone. He may be saying, "I need you to look at my baby steps and get excited over them!"

It was a process for me to learn all of this (and I am still learning!), so don't get discouraged if you don't get it right the first time or if you make mistakes. Karen Tyler, who taught my on-line Montessori certification class, said that we all make mistakes once in a while and we just have to forgive ourselves and go on. It's part of the process of change. 

I highly recommend looking at Jane Nelson's website, Positive Discipline, where there are lots of helpful articles for every age group. 


  1. I love how you are sharing your own personal experiences with this. Looking at things at different perspectives certainly helps bring more awareness to help curb negative behavior. Thank you for sharing.