Response: Classroom Management Advice From Readers of Ed Week Teacher
Brittany Peppers asked:
I am excited to follow this blog and learn many things about it as I graduate from college and begin my teaching career. My question to you is "In your opinion, what is one thing to remember about classroom management if you don't remember anything else you are taught about it?"
Brittany has asked a great question, and this post is the final installment of a four-part series responding to it.
Part One appeared two weeks ago and shared guest responses from several authors of books about classroom management and other education issues.
Part Two was composed of answers from other educators who I know and, in most cases, with whom I have worked.
In Part Three, I shared my own advice and thoughts from Katie Hull-Sypnieski, who is the best teacher I've ever seen.
Today's final installment will provide a sampling of suggestions offered by readers....
Nancy Gardner, a National Board Certified Teacher, teaches senior English at Mooresville High School in Mooresville, N.C. A member of the Teacher Leaders Network, Nancy works with the Center for Teaching Quality on its Implementing Common Core Standards project.
I often tell my three year old granddaughter to "use your words." This same advice is the
key element in classroom management. We need to remember the power of positive
Greeting students at the door with a comment about a recent event or an improvement
on a test establishes an environment built on trust. This initial interaction shows we care
about them as individuals. Students thrive in environments where their successes are
expected and applauded. Although students arrive with excess baggage from home, the
halls, and the buses, when they enter our classrooms, we should encourage them to
leave their baggage at the door. Sometimes we must provide opportunities for them to
"cool down" in private.
During class interactions, we should strive to treat students equally and show our belief
that all students can succeed. Expert teachers respond to academic and behavioral
success with positive, reaffirming verbal and written feedback. Our words establish high
expectations in a classroom based on relationships, not on control. If a student has her
head down, a simple "Are you okay?" rather than a commanding "Get your head up"
gives her the opportunity to be respectful with her response. We might be tempted to
ignore the misbehavior, but that could suggest that we donʼt care.
Positive communication helps students know there are clear expectations for academic
success and social behavior. When they feel safe (rather than threatened), they don't
have to act out their frustrations. Our words, along with a smile and a sense of humor,
can create the ideal atmosphere for learning.
David B. Cohen
David B. Cohen is a leader of Accomplished California Teachers.
I don't know if it's the most important, but one thing I figured out is that classroom management involves partnership. When I've struggled with certain students in the past (I teach high school), I've found it helpful to take up the matter outside the classroom. A full room and peer attention might make students act differently from the way they'll engage one-on-one.
I once kept an unruly student after class and I could see he was ready for yet another chastisement - he'd probably been through this many times over the years. Instead of addressing the problem directly, I started talking to him about water polo. A few minutes later, in the midst of a now pleasant and relaxed conversation, I brought up the changes that I would require in his classroom behavior, and his response was less defensive than I'd have expected otherwise.
I think there was a level of trust that also allowed me to co-opt one of his favorite disruptions. He loved to exclaim, "Why are we even doing this?" so I made him a sort of purpose monitor. Before he could complain about a new assignment or activity, I'd turn to him and just say, "Go ahead, Brian. Ask me." Brian enjoyed the attention and would throw in a little drama and some fake exasperation, but then I could impart something useful to the class and avoid disruption.
For students who crave some attention and will settle for negative attention, giving them a role to play can meet their needs and turn those moments into something positive. And to be honest, at that point in my career, I needed to be more intentional about articulating the purpose of class activities and assignments anyway, so I learned something valuable in the process as well. I won't claim that one strategy made everything better all the time with Brian, but our rapport and the overall classroom atmosphere improved because I made the effort to establish a partnership with a student outside of the classroom.
"I Simply Teach"
"I Simply Teach" is a pen name used by a comment writer. I'll also be identifying others by their "handles."
Genuine respect of individuals goes a long way. Some of my students over the years have been taught to use, Yes ma'am or No, sir when speaking with adults. I use the same response with students when we are in conversation.
Knowing and calling students by name creates a caring attitude that can ripple through a school campus. Students learn, "Hey, I'm important!" in a positive way.
Every day starts out new. I don't remember a behavior problem from the day before, and don't bring past transgressions into conversations. Students know grace is a way of life.
Keep conversation on the action versus the person when needing to discuss poor behavior.
Being in control versus trying to control helps create a positive learning environment.
I really think the most important thing to remember is that the best functioning "organizations" are best managed by their members, internally. System theory offers us many examples of how things function without direct authority and external control. Our classrooms should be the same. My advice - try to give more control to the learners. They'll respond and manage themselves..... all things equal.
To me, classroom management is, first and foremost, about engaging students. If we are able to plan and deliver a dynamic class, with lots of and varied types of student interaction, a brisk pace and smooth connections between activities, I believe we take care of at least 80% of potential classroom management problems.
Don't waste their time with tedious busy work or allow "free time" because you didn't plan enough- all things I was guilty of when I started teaching. I see a lot of teachers use videos or worksheets as "busy work" especially around the time that grades are due and that is when we have the highest referrals to the principal's office.
Even if grades are already turned in and the students all know it, I don't have behavior issues because we are working on something important to them. For example on our last day before break we had an informal debate on contemporary issues, a team building exercise that encouraged specific word choice, and vocabulary battles. But even during the academic year, students want to feel challenged and capable. They want to know what they are doing in one class will relate to something they want to pursue in their lives.
Do not be the students' friends. They have enough friends. They need your guidance and structure, and will respect you for it.
David Ginsburg writes a great Education Week Teacher blog. He also left a comment.
Great to see you giving classroom mgmt so much attention, since it's such a key to overall teacher effectiveness. One thing I hope you'll give even more attention to is the distinction between BEHAVIOR Management and CLASSROOM Management.
It's a distinction Harry Wong makes a lot, as do I in workshops and on my blog, including this post.
Educator Tom Perran left a quote from Dr. Haim Ginott that I think would be a good way to end this post:
"I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It's my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized."
Readers left many other helpful suggestions in the comment sections of those previous posts, and I'd encourage you to explore them further.
And please feel free to leave your own comment sharing your reactions to this question and the ideas shared here.
Thanks to everyone who responded!
Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it's selected or if you'd prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.
I'll be taking a holiday break next week, and will begin posting "questions of the week" and their responses after the new year. I hope you all have a fun and restful holiday!