Classroom Behavior Management in the Pacific, Developing an Approach to Create Meaningful Shifts in Teacher Thinking
A child’s unproductive behavior can detriment their own and others’ learning. Thus, it is necessary for school staff to implement some form of effective classroom management to ensure students are engaged in their educational tasks. At the extreme end of classroom management is the disciplinary teacher approaches of corporal punishment. Once common, it is now banned in most classrooms around the world; however, the percentage of students reporting to be subject to corporal punishment is still as high as 40% in some South Pacific countries (Gershoff 2017). If it were effective at maintaining appropriate student behavior, school corporal punishment would be expected to predict better learning and achievement among students, yet there is no evidence that school corporal punishment has a positive effect on children’s learning in the classroom (Gershoff 2017). Although corporal punishment is prohibited, globally, classroom behavior management philosophies have persisted with the notion that errant student behavior could best be overcome using less punitive but equally authoritative methods such as giving detentions, suspensions, and exclusions.
Specifically, in the South Pacific, many nations share similarities, however, are also distinctly different, from this trending narrative. On the one hand, despite shifts in thinking across Pacific lawmaking, the dominant discourse that persists in local schools is that classroom behavior management remains predominantly punitive. In contrast, the growing strength and positioning of indigenous research methods (Panapa 2014) in the Pacific have encouraged an alternative discourse of the child that challenges traditional thinking. Children are described in different terms: to be nurtured, loved, and valued and to receive an education that creates meaning in their lives and connects with their community. This student-centric approach lends itself to the development of classroom management practices that align with recent Pacific school policies and laws that ban corporal punishment and discourage punitive management strategies. The reasons for the policy to professional practice gaps must be explored to possibilize complementary approaches to classroom behavior management in Pacific Island schools that enables effective student learning.
Traditions of Classroom Management Practices
Two lines of thought have provided the contemporary forms of classroom management affecting both teaching and learning in Pacific Island schools. One influence was that of early Christian teaching of religious knowledge that was described by Tuinamuana (2007) as “objective, factual and unchanging promoted a view of the word of God as well as the word of the teacher as infallible” (p. 116). Formal schooling, in this sense, emphasized the notion of instruction and the unquestioning acceptance of the presented ideas as being fixed and unchangeable. Western ideologies given to Pacific schools focused on a transmission of knowledge that was to go unchallenged and promoted the idea that learning was passive.
Building on the principle of compliance, other Pacific cultures historically and contemporarily note the importance of silence and respect (Hang 2011). Individuals are taught when they are very young to respect authority figures and to realize that a contradiction is unacceptable. Any behavior against an authority figure is seen as a sign of disrespect and disobedience. From this context, methods of maintaining obedience equate with the maintenance of teacher respect.
Accordingly, in terms of teacher classroom behavior management strategies, the need to preserve control and compliance is paramount. However, unintended consequences of commanding respect using such methods are that research in the Pacific has shown that students fear to make mistakes, of mockery if they do, of being made to feel embarrassed and then becoming unwilling to participate, and, ultimately, of becoming reluctant to attend school (Hang 2011).
Thus, in the Pacific, despite 10 out of 14 countries and territories prohibiting corporal punishment in schools, it is not always enforced (as stated earlier by Gershoff, the percentage of students reporting to be subject to corporal punishment is high as 40% in some Pacific countries). Links may be drawn between teacher punitive behavior and a lack of teacher professional development to address classroom management issues and a lack of reporting and response mechanisms to support alternative ways of coping.
Changing Nature of Classroom Management
From a global perspective, the use of corporal punishment has historically been justified by the common-law doctrine of in loco parentis, where teachers are considered authority figures granted the same rights as parents to punish children in their care, and how traditional philosophy regards children and childhood continues to permeate our approach to behaviors that are challenging (Michail 2011). Prevailing psychological theories have for many years informed and intersected with the conceptualization in the Pacific that student behavior requires control and teacher management strategies are concerned with regimes of compliance. Moreover, popular doctrine teaches that a student’s behavior is likened with problem behavior, and can often be defined as disruptive and defiant, and pathologically located within the child (Millei and Petersen 2014). When prevailing psychological theories conceptualize student behavior in terms of control, teacher strategies are concerned with techniques to ensure obedience. Additionally, the emphasis on “behavior” in “classroom behavior management” is suggested to imply a focus on poor behavior and locates this “bad” behavior within the student. It can also take away the necessity for developing an understanding that behaviors occur in a broader classroom context (Millei and Petersen 2014).
A paradigm shift from the conceptualization of unquestioning student compliance, however, has been long overdue. Evidence-based changes to the material environment, social and teaching practices, and a pedagogy that support student engagement and learning are now endorsed (Michail 2011). Positive ecological approaches to classroom management promote an alternative view of children and young people as knowledgeable and competent individuals who contribute to their learning. The reconceptualization also “allows the student to be intimately involved in addressing their own behavior by taking responsibility for their actions” (Michail 2011, p. 16). Classroom management may involve engaging students in substantive and individually relevant intellectual tasks; adopting a quality learning environment that creates a classroom that is positive; connecting with student experiences, identity, and knowledge that are relevant; and managing micro-behavior skills to support productive teaching and learning.
These classroom management approaches align aspects of classroom management that are aligned with Pacific beliefs and values of children. For this reason, it is worthwhile to assess the promise of amalgamating new understandings of classroom management and the evidence that supports its practices, with relevant Pacific indigenous frameworks. Doing so will attempt to forge sustainable changes in classroom management practices in South Pacific nations.
Fa’avae (2018) suggests that rather than imposing views exclusively from the outside and making claims about how education should be for Oceanic people, he draws on the benefits of being located to serve, learn from, work together with, and “search for ways to support and strengthen Oceanic people and their educational needs” (p. 81). Positioning such as this highlights the failure of the western lens in its attempts to capture local strengths. Instead, indigenous frameworks are proposed, where indigenous knowledge and lived realities give respect and high regard of the capacity of local people and communities.
even at a national level, such as in Tuvalu, policy development and decision-making begins at the macro level (national and regional) and descends to the micro level (community, school, and classroom). This trickle-down approach assumes that central governments will develop education, and the benefits of education will, in due course, trickle down to the community and schools. However, many times, trickle-down approaches fail. All these factors make it difficult for education to thrive in many countries, particularly those that are developing. (p. 54)
A Case Study of Using Local Voice in Classroom Management Professional Development
In her interviews with Nauruan women, Gaiyabu (2007, p. 18) reports that many voiced their concerns about children’s bad behavior that was described as “running wild, using bad language and absconding from school” and correspondingly, local teachers had little “disciplinary ability” to deal with the behavior. Gaiyabu reports feeling shocked by these statements, as the relevance of ekereri (a Nauruan term for the interweaving of education, school, teaching, and learning built on traditional cultural principles) “seemed to have lost its value” (p. 18) and, as a result, directly contributed to the problem. Additionally, students reported that teachers were less than enthusiastic about the delivery of their lessons.
One solution, therefore, to encourage productive and engaging classrooms is to place indigenous frameworks at the center of educational strategy.
To achieve this end, the indigenous framework ola lei (Panapa 2014) can be used to illustrate how indigenous frameworks can provide structure for teacher professional development in specific settings. In this case, ola lei, a health framework, has been used in education to develop strategies for teachers in classroom management that brings together local wisdom, values, and beliefs that are shared by the members of that community.
Filemuu (harmoniousness, peacefulness)
Fiafia (happiness, contentment)
Ola leva (longevity)
The ola lei framework (Panapa 2014) for education: suggested examples of teaching practices through which ola lei can be achieved
Having school policies in place
Being organized in class as a teacher
Having the skills needed to teach well
Lei a te masaki (recovery)
Being healthy and fit in mind and body
Teachers supporting each other
Students and teachers being well presented and taking pride in their appearance
Having a clean and orderly classroom and school
Teaching students to care in their work
Meakai e lava and lei (food abundance and quality)
Having a healthy and balanced diet that encourages the consumption of fresh food and water
Teaching taking care of the community and environment
Talitonu and Fakatuanaki ki te Atua (belief and faith in God)
Connecting belief and faith in God with teaching and learning
Practicing the relating values such as love and kindness in interactions with children
Poto faka-Tuvalu/logo (traditional skills and knowledge)
Helping students to understand their history and traditions
Maumea or Maukotoa (richness/wealth)
Teaching children to manage the wealth of local resources wisely: how to fish and grow plants and vegetables
Having a high regard for the wealth of local traditions
Valuing education and strive for the highest level of education
Galue malosi (hard work)
Being committed and dedicated to teaching
Dedication to learning is expressed by teachers and modeled to students
Helping students to achieve learning outcomes
From the illustration, links can be observed between the framework that reflects local values and beliefs and its application to classroom teaching, learning, and management. “Readiness” was described as readiness for teaching and being prepared for lessons. While “recovery” appeared at first to be the least likely to apply to classroom management, “recovery” was interpreted as having strength in mind and body and also to develop resilience in oneself and between selves. “Cleanliness” was described by teachers as taking pride in their appearance and wanting students to do the same. A tidy appearance referred to one’s personal presentation as well as school work. “Food abundance and quality” was associated with the interrelationship between general well-being and a healthy classroom. The ola lei quality “Belief in faith and God” was related to both teaching and learning objectives and reflected the classroom management goal to adopt the positive classroom teaching strategies of caring for each other. Having students understand the values and beliefs of their culture through religion as well as “traditional skills and knowledge” was also regarded as a significant dimension. “Richness and wealth” were also considered connected with classroom management principles in that to have richness and wealth can be to value your traditions and education. Children would also benefit from understanding the wealth of their resources and rich history and traditions. Finally, teachers related teaching and learning with the Ole lei dimension of “hard work,” which in this case referred to achieving academic goals for students and reflecting a dedication to teaching.
Using the framework as a scaffold in developing classroom management approaches is that the values and beliefs of the Tuvalu community became aligned with classroom practices. The framework could be loosely mapped across important principles. An additional strength of using the framework with teachers in professional development is that individual teachers, as well as school staff, will be more likely to be committed to change as classroom management issues can be perceived from local perspectives and local solutions offered (Gaiyabu 2007). While the workshops did not explore the application of ola lei in the classroom, the summary can be used as a platform for future development.
Working Together to Achieve Successful Outcomes
Fa’avae’s (2018) suggestion on the benefits to serve, learn from, work together with, and “search for ways to support and strengthen Oceanic people and their educational needs” (p. 81) can be used to illustrate how the existing and seemingly disjointed divisions of knowledge can be brought together. To begin with, “learning from” and “working together” can apply to sources of knowledge. Rather than taking models that work well in other settings and mapping them onto another context, Pacific Island nations could appropriate evidence-based practices to inform classroom management approaches in different ways. Starting with indigenous frameworks, and then layering over content or knowledge derived from global research that fits the framework, brings together two parts to make a stronger whole.
Secondly, “to support and strengthen Oceanic people” may be reached using “outsider” contributions of knowledge where it is deemed appropriate and useful. Any professional development will benefit from “outsiders” who have articulated pedagogical solidary for the planned changes. Solidary is defined as a pedagogical education strategy where the outsider’s role is to bring support that is shared and mutually productive. The outsider has a mutual interest in the progress of change (Gaztambide-Fernandez 2012) which is to “articulate a set of parameters for solidary relations through which to imaginatively construct new ways of entering into relations with others” (p. 1).
Additionally, “supporting and strengthening Oceanic people” can be enhanced by using methods to engage teachers in their professional development that are valued within each context. Using relevant indigenous frameworks is one such approach.
Changes in how we view classroom management and classroom behavior management have shifted considerably in recent years. Global pressure, as well as local support, has led to the need for a philosophical transformation for Pacific teachers also, as punitive methods to manage classrooms have fallen from favor.
Despite the strong position against the use of corporal and other punitive disciplinary measures, studies of student experiences indicate that punishment is still used as a teaching management strategy in Pacific classrooms (Gershoff 2017). Professional development in classroom management ought to address the suggestion that teachers engaged in punitive strategies because they are not equipped with alternatives. While policymakers are supportive of additional training, existing strategies and systems to support effective change are at times wanting. Strong leadership and systems will undoubtedly promote the development of good classroom management. Additionally, systems will benefit from being structurally supported by culturally relevant frameworks and practices, reinforced by sound contemporary techniques and methods. It is hoped, as a result, that teachers will increasingly choose to engage in positive classroom management strategies to facilitate student learning.
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