Technology, lesson plans and PBL. All useless without one key ingredient: cooperation from our classrooms. Students today have the chance to learn about the world around better than ever, thanks to the revised curriculum, technology and student focussed pedagogies such as PBL; however, many new teachers (and even more seasoned ones) are struggling with classroom management. You can have the best lesson and educational accoutrements in the world but without classroom management, unfortunately the learning outcomes (and goals) will not happen as expected.
In my experience, classroom management becomes more of an issue at the 9th and 10th grade; students in these grades often have access to distractible technology, are more socially stable (in so much that they at least know their peers), they’ve learned “the system” in terms of deadlines and the infamous “I” package. So what can you do? What is the magical formula to getting your class to settle down and settle into learning?
THERE ISN’T ONE!
Every class is different, every nuance of classroom dynamics on any given day will be different; HOWEVER, there are a few things we can do as educators to mitigate distractions, behaviour issues and create a space where learning is priority for everyone.
- Set high expectations. Right away. If you start the year or class off with the expectation you aren’t going to get amazing results from your class, they won’t give you any. We as teachers should be making this a priority every.single.day to get our students pushing themselves to achieve more each and every day. High expectations means that students need to actually try each day, participate each day. High expectations helps build resiliency, because it means that students need to be prepared to fail to meet expectations some days. It means that students will learn to try again when that happens. It means that we respect their intelligence, their capabilities. It shows them that you value who they are. Setting high expectations also is an opportunity to work with students on goal setting (#goals), and what it means to reach goals and reassess. The great thing about setting high expectations is that you can do it in every single class, in every single classroom in every single school.
What NOT to do: Make sure that the expectations (though high) are still achievable. I can run, but I can’t run 10 miles the first week of training. Also, remember its about the students not about you–if the high expectations are to build you up as an educator at the expense of your classes, that isn’t going to help your classroom.
2. Routines, routines, routines. Setting up your classroom routines and expectations are integral to a successful year. That includes rules around behaviours (and consequences), parent communication, due dates, technology use. The tone of your classroom is essential for learning. Students should have a clear understanding of what they can and can not do. You are the leader of your classroom, and that should be 100% clear to students. There needs to be a clear division between teacher and student in the classroom for it to function. That means you aren’t their peer or friend. I have had many colleagues that struggle with this balance, especially younger colleagues who are close in age to their senior students. Being respected, having students listen and learn from you, and be mentored by you is more important that being “cool” (or “fleek”, apparently). That means being consistent, owning your mistakes, keeping the mystery (they don’t need details about your personal life!) and overall, making sure that that if the classroom is the community of learning, you are the mayor.
What NOT to do: Even if you are the mayor, you really do need to pick your battles. Sometimes turning a blind eye and limiting the “reward” of a reaction is the best way to go. When you do go “toe to toe,” make sure that whatever threats you dole out, you actually follow through on. That means know where the professional line is, and knowing the expectations of your school on certain types of behaviours.
3. Enjoy your students for what they are: students! Everything is better with humour. That means that sometimes its okay to let students be silly (don’t be surprised when they do age-appropriate things, like giggle at certain topics or are over-dramatic or [insert typical teen behaviour here]. When it comes to age-appropriate behaviour, sometimes it is best to let it play out and move on. Use fun rewards, like stickers or stamps in a class that might not expect them. Have competitions, or use games for learning whenever possible. Even big kids enjoy having fun, even if they sometimes don’t act like they do. On that same note, try and see the good in every kid, even if some are more prickly and difficult to get to know. After all, you are the adult and you get to let them be the kids. We want to teach good citizenship to our students, but “being a kid” literally has an expiration date so use that to help steer their enthusiasm into building a positive learning community.
What NOT to do: Counteractive to enjoying students as students who want to be a kids too–don’t treat them like little kids! They still want to be seen as autonomous adults but with the benefits of childhood. Don’t punishing them for age-appropriate behaviour either. If you grade 8s can’t stop talking after lunch, then they are in need of a way to get their energy out. Instead of threats of extra work, make them do something silly to burn that excess crazy that is turning your classroom into a chaos-zone.
Hopefully some of what I’ve talked about in this post will be helpful to you in your classroom, even if you have taught a number of years already! Teaching is a joy but also very stressful. Classroom management can make or break your year, so take the time to fix those issues you might be seeing right away before you start to look at content. A lot of these tips aren’t in any shape or form NEW to education, but sometimes reiterating (instead of reinventing) the wheel helps it spin a little better, a little faster, a little more effectively…