Classroom Management - It all starts with you!
Second Grade Stories 7:00 AM
Earlier this year, a student teacher from another classroom came to spend some time in my room. "Your kids are so well-behaved. What kind of behavior program do you use?" she asked me. Quite honestly, I was taken aback. I didn't have an answer. "I don't use a behavior plan," I replied. "So how do you get the kids to behave?" she asked.
I really had to stop and think about this. I've been teaching for many years now. Classroom management has always been a strength for me. But why exactly is that? What do I do - what do other teachers do - in order to have great management skills? (And can I tell you - I really don't like those words. I don't "manage" my classroom or my students. There needs to be another term for this area.) And I'm going to be honest - Right now, I don't teach in a school where major behavior problems exist. But I have. My district... my classroom... my students... may be different than yours. You have to do what is right for YOUR students. But this is what works for me. And it has worked pretty much every year for over 20 years now.
The big key to success? Here it is:
Start with a PHILOSOPHY before you put in a system. Marble jars, clip charts, lottery ticket, brag tags... these ideas come and go. Some years I've used none of these. And some years I've used them all at some time or another. But my philosophy, the "why" behind everything I do, stays the same year after year. So whether you're a new teacher looking for help after feeing like you've been herding cats all day... or you're a veteran teacher who has seen it all :-), here are my top 5 tips for good classroom management.
Connect with your students inside and outside of school. If you can go to sporting events and dance recitals and music performances, then go. If not, that's ok. ASK about these things. Find out what's coming up in each and every child's life. Talk with them about how their day is going, what they had for breakfast, where they're going after school. Share with them things you like to do and encourage them to share the same. You can do this by standing in the hall and greeting everyone as they come in. Use five minutes at morning meeting to share. Listen as they're having snack. Pay attention to conversations on the playground and during indoor recess. Make it a point to get to know your students. This connection is invaluable. It breeds respect. It makes students WANT to do well. Do the same thing with each other. Make sure students connect with their classmates. Celebrate everything, no matter how small. I guarantee you this one action of making connections will have a monumental effect on the behavior of your students.
I love those words. I read them in a book one of my principal's gave me about the differences between a good teacher and a great teacher. Great teachers think about things beforehand, rather than reacting to what occurs. Think about it this way. Is it better to plan beforehand and think about how certain students will react to something (choosing partners, using manipulatives, etc.) and plan accordingly, or to react in the moment when someone complains because of who they are working with or fools around with manipulatives, etc.? This idea goes a long way. Planning an activity that requires students to get up and get materials? Visualize what can happen - then plan for it! Move things to a different spot, have everything ready... think about it BEFORE it happens and the behavior issues will be so much less!
Celebrate, shout out and point out the positives every, single. day. High five, do cheers, and smile with your kids! Did Lucy just write a complete sentence? Has Harry been working quietly for five minutes? NOTICE these things. You can point them out in a way that involves everyone, or just quietly with that student. If you focus on the positive, your students will soon discover that if they want attention, doing it the right ay is the way to go!
Fair does not always mean equal. We've all had discussions about what is "fair." Fair means that everyone gets the same playing field. It does not mean everyone gets the same thing. And for young students, this is a tough one to understand. I address it right away. "It is my job as the teacher to make sure that everyone gets what they need to be successful. That might mean different things for different people. And sometimes it may not seem fair to you. But trust me, it is fair to them." Then we talk about what if Mia came in with a broken arm and couldn't write so I had a friend do the writing for her. No one else gets to do that. Is that fair? Of course! What is important is that YOU know it is fair.
This is a big one for me. Is someone still fooling around with the math cubes after being asked to stop? Then that student cannot use the cubes. (It might be for a short time or the whole time - remember to be fair!) Is Martha having a hard time working with her friends nearby? She needs to choose a different spot. Did Ryan just tell Mark he didn't want to be partners with him because he cheats all the time? Ok... choose a different partner. The idea here is for the consequences to come naturally out of the actions. Having to move to a different seat for talking with friends - natural consequence. Losing 5 minutes of recess because of it? - Not a natural consequence. Sometimes natural consequences present themselves immediately, and sometimes (remember Ryan and Mark?) they might come later. But they are always there.
Knowing your classroom management philosophy is an important part of being a successful teacher. But it takes time. When you have a clear understanding of WHY you do things, the HOW will be so much clearer!
You can read more about classroom management ideas in my other posts in this series:
3 Things to do at the beginning of the year
3 classroom management mistakes beginning teachers make
Ideas for classroom management incentives