Last week I found myself working with some brand-new teachers, leading a training on a topic that most of them think about virtually all day long:
The twenty-or-so teachers in my room were struggling. Many of them were being “eating alive” by their students. They knew how to plan lessons and units, how to articulately convey information and how to assess learning. But they couldn’t manage their classrooms; the setting within which all of these things play out.
It’s obviously unrealistic to expect to learn classroom management in a two and a half hour training. But I think I was able to make three solid points with these teachers.
First of all, classroom management begins with lesson planning. When we’re planning the learning activities for our students, we have to think about what the students are actually going to be doing during those activities. Last Tuesday, for example, I had my students come to the front of the room during a writing lesson as I modeled a skill on the smart board. But I had a specific procedure in mind. ”Everyone in the third row and back has exactly ten seconds to stand up, tuck in their chairs and sit school style in the front of the room, next to someone they don’t normally talk with. Go; 10, 9, 8…” This works much better than simply asking the students to “Move to the front where they can see better.” More importantly, it allows me to move onto the actual content of the activity without having to redirect any students.
Furthermore, teachers need to invest time on teaching specific routines and procedures. What to do when you first enter the room; how and when to use the bathroom; how to sharpen a pencil; what to do when you need help; how to line up for recess; how to sit down in the lunchroom. These things take time to teach, but the payoff makes it worthwhile. Lining up for recess, for example, can take twenty seconds if it’s done correctly, or two minutes if it’s not. The difference between 20 seconds and two minutes, over the course of a 180 day school year, is five hours. That’s a lot of instructional time. Not only that, but letting students spend two minutes lining up is just asking for trouble. Chances are, you’re going to have at least student acting up, and dealing with that only prolongs the activity.
Finally, teachers need some type of reinforcement plan, and they need to follow it fairly and consistently. I use Class Dojo. When students are on task, I’ll let them know and record it on the app. when they aren’t, I’ll let them know and record it on the app. When recess rolls around, I flash the app up on the board and the students can see how many “good points” they got and how many “red points” they got. They sit in the room during recess one minute for each red point. I rarely give any student more than five “red points,” so they don’t lose out on too much recess; just enough to make them wish they were out there. What do they get for having “good points?” Nothing. And it doesn’t matter.
I explained to the new teachers that classroom management is hard for everyone to figure out. I pointed out that classroom management takes at least 50% of our effort when we’re teaching. It’s also one of the most idiosyncratic things we do; what works for me might not work for anyone else. But I also explained that it’s something that can be learned. When I first started I was horrible at it. Horrible. But I kept trying new techniques and strategies until I found what works for me.