De-Escalation: How to Take Back Control in Your Urban Physical Education Classes

By Henninger, Mary; Coleman, Margo | Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, January-February 2008 | Go to article overview

De-Escalation: How to Take Back Control in Your Urban Physical Education Classes


Henninger, Mary, Coleman, Margo, Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators


A teacher walks into the gym and notices that several students have not dressed for class. As she gives instructions for an activity, two students in the back of the class talk about their plans for an after school social event. During a game of team handball, two students accidentally run into each other prompting a verbal confrontation. The teacher is in the middle of a swimming lesson when one student sits off on the side of the pool instead of participating. A teacher leads a class in warm ups when two students arrive late. As the teacher moves around the gym giving feedback to students, he notices a student hitting the shuttlecock up into the rafters. One student refuses to follow teacher instructions during activity or refuses to participate.

Do any of these situations sound familiar? How should these situations be handled? While individually these situations do not appear to be a threat to the learning process in urban physical education classes, the cumulative effect poses difficulty in providing an environment where learning can occur in the gymnasium. Dealing with these types of behaviors day after day can place stress on a teacher, which ultimately can lead to burnout.

Behavior management or discipline of students in schools has consistently been reported as one of the major hindrances to educational success in the public schools in the United States (Rose, Gallup, & Elam, 1997; Supaporn, Dodds, & Griffin, 2003). Many secondary physical education teachers have voiced the complaint, "I wish that someone had told me how to deal with all the little problems that I face as a teacher in the gym." Teachers are often taught behavior management strategies such as establishing rules, routines, and expectations (Fink & Siedentop, 1989; O'Sullivan & Dyson, 1994). Other proacrive and reactive approaches to behavior management are often suggested (Perron & Downey, 1997; Rink, 2006; Siedentop, 1991), yet many urban teachers still feel unprepared to deal with the frequency and quantity of minor disruptive episodes that occur in physical education classes (Henninger, 2006).

The purpose of this article is to provide urban physical educators with a set of tools/behaviors that can be used to establish and maintain order in their classrooms. Readers may recognize some of the techniques but research has recently shown that the following strategies and behaviors can be especially helpful for physical educators in urban schools (Henninger, 2006). Order is the establishment of a classroom environment that supports desired learning processes and tasks (Doyle, 1986), and has been noted as being an important factor affecting learning in the classroom (Siedentop, 1991). Behaviors, big or small, that disrupt the classroom and take away from learning opportunities, are common in all classrooms (Rose, Gallup, & Elam, 1997; Supaporn, Dodds, & Griffin, 2003). The authors of this article believe that teachers in urban schools deal with more regular disruptions and would benefit greatly from some of the techniques suggested here.

Misbehavior does not always refer to major disruptions (e.g., arguments and fights). In fact, many of the managerial issues faced by teachers are of the mild yet chronic variety as described in the opening paragraph of this article. For example, as one teacher stated, misbehavior included, "not listening, not changing clothes, not participating, skipping class, not following directions, breaking class rules, and not paying attention" (Supaporn, Dodds, & Griffin, 2003; p. 333). Each occurrence of such "minor disruptions" may not really be a problem for most physical education teachers, but when constant it can drain and stress teachers. As one urban physical education teacher stated, "It is the consistency and the severity. It is the sheer numbers; it isn't just a couple kids doing it, it is a lot of kids in a lot of different ways, [and] often," (Henninger, 2006). …

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