The Circle of Behavioral Limits

by Helene J. Uchida

circle of behavioral limits illustration

When I was teaching in Brentwood, New York, many of my students were notorious behavioral problems. Rather than be a victim of their abuse I decided to tell them what the rules were the first day; this is what I did. I drew a circle on the blackboard and listed all the things that they could do, like be late to class once, forget their homework once, speak without raising their hand anytime, etc. Then outside the circle I wrote what they could not do, like show disrespect to their teacher or their peers, interrupt someone who was talking, make fun of another student, bully another student, etc. The circle concept, with things inside and outside it, made things really clear. I then asked the students if they had any questions. Some did and I answered them seriously. I was very focused on this presentation because I knew it would set the tone for the year, and it did. The students really appreciated having the rules made clear for them from the start, and there was no guess work on what was right or wrong.

I had a good year with those students, and the few times someone did something outside of the circle, it was the other students, not me, who reminded the offenders and kept things in line. I must admit some of the other teachers were envious of me. Why did the students behave in my class and not theirs? The answer was simple; I made the rules clear the first day via the circle explanation.

If you are a native-Japanese speaker, I strongly advise doing this at the beginning of the year in Japanese. If you are a native-English speaker, then you have to do it step by step by setting examples as they come up. It is here the Japanese speaking teachers have an advantage, but the non-Japanese teachers can do it also; it just takes more time.