Lately, I’ve been so blessed by so many of you sharing your classroom success stories with me over at my TPT store! It is the highlight of my day to read those messages from teachers who have tried my classroom creations and had positive results. You can have your own classroom success stories, too! Sometimes it’s just trying something new or being willing to try a different approach. Sometimes it’s just our own enthusiasm that can inspire students. Sometimes it is providing enough examples and then giving the space to allow students to have productive struggle. I’m really excited to share with you my newest blog post series: A Formula to Having Your Own Classroom Success Stories! I’ll be posting one piece to the formula every week for five weeks, so I hope you’ll enjoy reading my musings on what has worked for me over the years! My comments are open below, so I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Formula for Classroom Success Series Post#1: Classroom Management
You can have the best lesson planned in the world, but without the right classroom management in place, it could potentially just fall apart. What does successful classroom management look like? I think it looks like anything that ends in an environment where students can learn. Here’s what I decided my classroom management plan for high school looks like.
#1) Students are engaged – not just busy – on something in my classroom from bell to bell.
I believe in the power of a great bell ringer. By “great bell ringer” I mean something that matters. Actually, that “something that matters” philosophy applies to everything I do. I’ve seen cutesy bell ringers, and those are fine and better than kids running amuck at the beginning of the period, but I choose grammar for my bell ringers because I know my kids are preparing for ACT, SAT, and/or writing test and they need/want to improve their grammar scores. There’s my engagement, my buy-in, and my motivation.
#2) Forgive and Forget.
This one is so hard, but really, we are adults. Kids are kids. They are going to mess up – and so are we, for that matter. But what good does it do to hold a grudge against a teenager? It does no good, actually. It creates tension and a ripple effect. Once kids see you mistreating one student, either they will do the same, or they all turn on you. It’s not pretty. I think this one ties in with the idea of consistent and fair discipline and consequences that make sense. I’ve never been a big fan of letting the admin fight my small battles for me. For example, why does a child need to go to the office to be punished for not having a pencil? Just give him a pencil and move on. Why create a barrier against his learning? Sometimes that pencil is a symptom of something larger, and it’s worth checking out, but that’s a topic for another day. Sometimes it’s a kid testing to see how far he/she can go. I once had a student not bring a pencil to my class every day for a week straight. He was doing it on purpose. On the 5th day, we had “the talk.” This kid was used to being screamed at and sent to the office. I think that’s what he wanted. Instead, I told him that I needed him to bring his own pencil so he could show me he respected me and my class, and that was the end of it. No screaming, no nagging, no office visits. He brought a pencil every day for the rest of the year.
#3) Listen to students.
It was only recently that I began to learn the value of allowing students to reflect on the lesson and their own learning. I often spend time debriefing with students at the end of the lesson to have them tell me what worked and what didn’t work. The 3-2-1 strategy is really simple, and students can do it alone, with a partner, or as a whole class. I change it up, but we do three things that worked in the lesson, two things that could be changed, and one thing that didn’t work at all. Other times I’m less formal, and I’ll just ask students to tell me what they need me to teach. For example, when seniors are doing a writing unit, instead of preplanning a list of writing workshops I think they need, I ask them to make me a list. Another way listening works in my favor doesn’t really have anything to do with class. Sometimes kids just want to talk about the game, their job, how bad lunch is, or their prom dress. Does this happen during class? Of course not. So, I have to be available every now and then before class, after class, and sometimes during lunch. It’s the relationship concept – a healthy relationship – that opens up the respect lines. Kids who respect you – and see you as a real person – will go so much further than kids who feel isolated, insecure, and undervalued.
#4) Have a plan and procedure, but be flexible.
I once wanted my students to get into groups with their desks to complete an assignment. It was the beginning of the year, and this was the first we had ever done an activity like this in my classroom. I just said, “Go” and expected them to get into groups beautifully and work productively. It was a disaster. Kids were sitting every which way and half didn’t even have a clue what was going on. I was frustrated and mad at them, and they were so confused. The next day I apologized as soon as class started. I don’t know what came over me that day to just turn them loose like that, but is has NEVER happened since. Now they don’t move until I give the signal, so I can make sure everyone is clear on the directions and that I’ve given enough examples. I even show them how to form neat groups. We know who will be in the group first and foremost. I even have numbers hanging from my ceiling so that students know exactly where to sit when we number off for groups. It may seem like micromanaging, but in a short class period with 25+ kids, it’s the only way to get things done so that we have plenty of time for the task at hand. There is a difference, too, between rigid and organized. Kids feel uncomfortable with rigid – a “my way or the highway” attitude, but they appreciate organized. Routines are healthy and productive. Chaos is not. (Can you have effective chaos? Again, another topic for another day.) Read more ideas for classroom management and get a few ready to go tools in my Back to School survival kit.
#5) Discipline doesn’t have to be mean.
A few weeks ago I was asked to watch a group of kindergarten boys in the Awanas class at church. It just so happened that these were the rowdiest boys in the bunch, and they were all in the same class. The coordinator asked me if I would watch them and told me, “You can handle them. I heard you were mean.” She said it as a joke and without any malice, but I guess it did indicate that someone had noticed my kids are usually well-behaved, listening, and on task. The assumption someone made, of course, is that I must be mean if my students behave. So, it got me to thinking. I’ve seen teachers scream. I’ve seen teachers get rough with kids physically. I’ve seen teachers call kids names. That’s mean. I’m not mean. None of that is my approach. I set up a plan, and execute it. I deal with minor stuff when necessary, and I don’t nitpick. I am consistent. I take what we are doing seriously, and I expect them to as well. I find what motivates kids and capitalize on it. Kids have to see that doing what’s right is right because it gets things done, and it allows me to be proud and brag on them. More importantly, they learn to be proud of themselves. Is this how it goes down every day? No – only in a perfect world. But never does discipline have to be mean.
See you next time for part 2 in the Formula for Classroom Success Series!