Five Tips for Teachers
(of all Ages)
I’ll admit it. Growing up, I was the class clown. I was always looking for attention and I often got my fair share. You know that saying, “all publicity is good publicity”? I think the same goes for seeking attention. I’m fairly certain I helped prematurely gray a few of my teachers’ hair. This might be especially true in high school.
Karma is real.. I think. At least it might be true when it comes to the classroom. If the universe was seeking justice for my behavior, it found it and then some. As an educator, I’ve seen many class clowns through the years. And, I must admit, most were pretty dang clever. I hope I was able to pull that off with my teachers too.
Of course, I look back to my school years and see things from a very different perspective now. I feel deeper empathy for all my teachers, having now walked a mile in their shoes. I’ve also learned a few tricks along the way, helping me to become better at handling all the hijinks and the class clowns.
I’ve also learned to never to take myself too seriously. My classroom was always filled with laughter. Laughter is important. Sometimes, I appreciated the classroom clown’s comedic timing.
If kids come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job more important.Barbara Colorose
Five Tips for Teachers of All Ages
I’m not declaring that I’m an expert in classroom management. On the contrary. I was told once long ago by a wise soul, if you reach a point in your educational career where you have nothing left to learn, then it’s time for you to retire. I now agree with that.
Not to mention, every situation is unique to those involved. A lot of factors play into the dynamics of a classroom. How much experience the teacher has; How the rest of the class responds to disruptive behavior; How involved families are in their child’s learning; The age of the child; The circumstances affecting their lives. I could go on and on.
However, over the years, I’ve helped many student teachers transition into the classroom. Now, I’m in a support role at my new school. I support our staff in something called transformational coaching. Working with teachers, both rookies and veterans, and everyone in between, I observe and, well, I give advice.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed myself repeating some of the same pieces of advice. Here are five tips to classroom management for all teachers (of all ages).
1. Communication is Key
Many key factors play into a functioning classroom. There are lots of moving parts, of which the most critical is classroom management. I divide classroom management into two major areas: Expectations and clear communication of those expectations.
The Montessori Method only truly works when interpersonal relations are both respectful and authentic. Therefore, classroom management hinges on healthy and open communication.
In a nutshell, the words we choose to communicate with matter. And they matter in significant ways.
Secondly, giving children specific and authentic feedback will help to shape a growth mindset. That is, the belief that intelligence is not fixed. Instead, it can be enhanced by hard work and effort.
This might seem obvious. But it only became obvious to me on the playground during recess or on a trip with another classroom. Knowing the names of students is half the battle!
If you see a student across the playground tying another student to a tree with a jumprope, you tend to react quickly. Shouting “Hey you!” as you hustle over to the tree is not quite as effective as addressing the student with their actual name. Knowing their name tends to slow them down in their tracks quickly.
When they’re a repeat offender, I always introduce myself and ask for their name. Then, I burn it into my memory for next time.
2. You are doing more than you realize
On tough days, this might be difficult to remember. But trust me when I say you are doing more than you realize. I’ve sat through many special meetings and consultations with parents feeling like a complete fraud.
I’ve sat through many special meetings and consultations with parents feeling like a complete fraud.
From time to time I was asked, “What classroom management strategies are you using?”
My mind would turn blank.
I would try to piece together some sort of respectful answer. Eventually, during one of those meetings, our school psychologist spoke up. She offered, “You are probably doing more than you think.” She offered me a list of classroom strategies having fancy names. She continued, “you probably just didn’t know what you were doing were recognized classroom strategies.” She was right.
I looked at the list and immediately realized I WAS doing several of those classroom management strategies.
Two Classroom strategies That Helped Me the Most..
Since then, I have come to rely most on two very simple strategies. One strategy is called Planned Ignoring. It’s so simple it’s brilliant, really. Assuming no one is being harmed in a verbal or physical way, simply ignore the behavior or comments you wish not to reinforce.
Change the subject quickly, or don’t react at all. It will deflate the class clown quite quickly when he is vying for valuable classroom attention.
The other strategy is called Proximity. Proximity ties in closely to freedom with responsibility. If you can’t trust Johnny to do his work in the back of the room by his friends, then he needs to be closer to you. Sometimes, he needs to be saddled up right next to wherever you’re working.
Realize though, plunking him down next to you isn’t enough. This means you need also pay attention to Johnny when he’s next to you. If he sees you aren’t fully aware, he will find different ways to have fun.
Showing you’re paying attention doesn’t really take much. Shoot him a glance or communicate through sign language. If he recognizes that you are aware and paying attention, he will often try to respect your wishes and the classroom expectations.
When the time is right, give Johnny another chance to prove he can work independently.
3. Be Consistent
Students, like your children, will only believe you when you mean it. Children don’t have a lot of power over their lives. This is why I believe they become masters at the one thing they do have control over: Influencing and persuading their caregivers. Some might even call this manipulating (you know, the “but dad said it was ok…” trick).
This is where consistency comes in. If a student or child knows you are standing firm today but tomorrow you will cave in, they will try again tomorrow. You might say to a student in your class, “If you continue to play during work time this morning, you will have to stay in and work during recess.” But, if they know when the time comes you will instead soften up and send them outside, they won’t take you seriously. If you say it, even if later you change your mind, try to follow through.
This is of course, one of the most difficult parts of working with children. Really, working with people.
Every day is different. Some days you are so tired you might fall asleep standing up. Other days you are dealing with something difficult in your personal life, but you are trying not to let it affect your work. You realize you are distracted.
Still other days, you feel so defeated you just want the day to be over. These are the days it’s difficult to be consistent.
But you need to dig down deep and find it. I have always felt there are really only two things we have control of in the classroom. One is preparation, whether of the prepared environment or of what materials or lessons you might like to focus on that day.
The other is time management. Be consistent with those two things, and you will feel more prepared to handle the unexpected. Because, let’s be real, once those doors open, you really don’t know what’s going to happen!
3. Wake up Each Morning Curious
When my student’s would come to me and declare, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.” I’d respond with shock. I would say in an exasperated fashion, “What? But, the world is YOUR oyster!” Staring back, they would usually reply with, “I don’t know what that means.” So, I’d try to explain it.
You are never too old to learn new things. this is true for adults just as much for children. If you look for it, there is always a lesson to be learned each and every day.
Over time, educators develop their own style. When you do, it’s easy to dismiss what others might be doing. You might think, “I don’t teach like that.” I’ll admit it. I’m guilty of it, too.
But what those educators offer, is a different perspective. They might see things in a different way than you. Maybe they see something you never thought of.
And even if they are less experienced than you, they might be approaching the classroom fresh with energy and enthusiasm. They are excited to try out new ideas.
And guess what? Sometimes those ideas are better than yours. Teaching isn’t about your ego. Try to let that go and follow what works. I’ve learned you can always find a pearl of wisdom in every bit of advice you receive, if you are willing to look for it. A diamond in the rough.
5. There is more than just Reward & Punishment
Classroom management can be viewed through a much bigger lens than simply ‘classroom discipline.’ That is controlling children’s behavior through a variety of rewards and punishments. This type of conditioning holds that a certain behavior and a consequence, either a reward or punishment, have a connection. It is believed this connection brings about learning.
Instead of ‘classroom discipline,’ the Montessori approach guides children to find discipline from within. Dr. Maria Montessori referred to this as ‘freedom with responsibility.’ Discipline derived from a child-centered universe.
In a social context, freedom requires us to act out of knowledge and reason rather than out of impulse. A responsible member of society understands the consequences of their actions before the choice is made. They will use this knowledge to inform their decisions.
Once again, this all sounds really nice, but how can this actually be achieved? Freedom with responsibility are very difficult ideas for children to understand. The task of helping a child recognize and take on responsibility belongs to both caregivers and educators. It begins first within the environment of their home, then into the classroom and finally it should continue toward our wider society.
The realization of freedom and the understanding of responsibility are what Dr. Montessori referred to as ‘points of arrival.’
The Answers are Never Black and White.
As I previously stated, I’m not declaring that I’m an expert in classroom management. A lot of factors play into the dynamics of a classroom. Sometimes, you might do everything right, and the day might still seem to add poorly.
Another great tip I got in my training was this. You will have good days and you will have bad days. Learn how to reflect on those bad days and then let them go. You will wake up tomorrow to a new day.
You will have good days and you will have bad days. Learn how to reflect on those bad days and then let them go. You will wake up tomorrow to a new day.
Remember, there is no how-to manual given to you when you step into your classroom. At least not when it comes to classroom management. Answers are never black and white and each person’s circumstances are unique to them in their own way.
Do you have more suggestions for Classroom Management? Do you have a suggestion for another blog topic? Please send me an email with your ideas and experiences at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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