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Rolling Out Classroom Changes

Is your classroom so out of control that you think you'll be lucky to make it to Christmas, let alone June? If so, release the panic button and check out my recent post, Replacing Classroom Chaos with Control, for a practical process of identifying sources of classroom problems and, in turn, solutions. Also keep in mind, though, that even the most surefire solutions can bomb if poorly implemented. And effective implementation is all about effective communication, so here are some guidelines for rolling out changes in your classroom:

  1. Move at the right pace. Strapping on a tool belt involves no transition to speak of for you or students, so there's no limit to how many changes like this you can take on at once. But many new policies and procedures can involve an adjustment for you and students. So depending how many of these changes you're looking to make and how complex they are, it may be better to introduce them over time rather than all at once. Focus at first on a few that will make the biggest difference--you may want to reach out to a coach, administrator, or veteran colleague for help prioritizing.
  2. Take the blame. Want a captive, open-minded audience as you introduce classroom changes? Then tell students the truth: "I've been thinking about how things have been going in here, and realize I need to do a lot better than I've been doing." Forget the false image of infallibility you may have had of your teachers or want your students to have of you. Telling kids you blew it--as long as you mean it and don't go over the top with it--does not, as some teachers fear, make you easy prey. On the contrary, it creates a safe place where kids follow your lead by accepting responsibility for their failures and taking steps toward correcting them.
  3. Make it about them. Always convey to students that you're making changes in their interest as opposed to just yours (again, of course, only if this is true, since they'll see right through you if you're blowing smoke). The fact is many students are jaded and see school as a place where things are done to them more so than for them. So, along with stating a new policy or procedure, always share your rationale for it (again, including why you believe it's in students' best interest). Doing this, in my experience, is the surest way of getting students to accept and respect a policy or procedure even when they disagree with it.
  4. Dignify rather than defend or dismiss. I've been in hundreds of classrooms, and a hallmark among great teachers has been the ability to establish control of their classrooms without being controlling--or said another way, they maintain authority without being authoritarian. Great teachers do not create a democracy, but they also don't dominate. Certain policies and procedures are sure to be provocative for kids, so give them a chance to air their concerns. And resist the temptation to defend your perspective or dismiss theirs. Just dignify students' input by telling them you appreciate where they're coming from, and thanking them for having the courage to speak up. It's their classroom too, so give them a voice in it. (See Children Should be Seen AND Heard Part 2 for more on this.)
  5. Show and tell. Instructional best practices apply as much when communicating policies and procedures as they do when delivering academic content. This means explaining a new policy or procedure to students, but also showing it to them (ideally using a projector; otherwise chart paper, handout, etc.), and posting it in the room for ongoing reference. Also be sure to assess students' understanding of each new policy or procedure just as you do for a new academic skill. Sometimes it may be enough to ask a few kids to repeat a procedure in their own words (this was fine when I introduced a self-service calendar and folder system for students returning from absences). But some procedures require modeling and practice, where you demonstrate what you expect from students and do a few dry runs until they get it down (I did this when I introduced a procedure for students to change the orientation of their desks from rows to groups and vice versa.)

Well, there you have it, overwhelmed teachers: between the troubleshooting process I shared in Replacing Classroom Chaos with Control, and the communication guidelines here, you now have a plan for restoring order in your classroom. A plan that can not only help you survive this year, but maybe even thrive.

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