Each day you walk into your school with a passion and desire to make a difference in every student. No matter what your role is at the school, the strategies for developing expectations in and out of the classroom are similar. How does a teacher get to the point where classroom management is under control and time can be spent delivering course content and making positive connections with students? How does a bus driver ensure safety on the bus? Here are my strategies for success.
1. Set clear, high expectations
From day one, it is important that school rules are posted, are consistent from classroom to classroom or bus to bus, and there is buy-in from the students. A class discussion of expectations to explain the relevance needs to take place. Additionally, in my classroom, I create our “house rules” with the students, which are then posted on the board. These include items such as no whining, no talking about others, and of course, in my ELA classroom, no slang. It is always entertaining to hear from another teacher that their slang was corrected by a student! House rules bring a sense of unity to the classroom because we create them together and the students hold each other accountable for following them.
2. Hold students accountable for their behavior
If the expectations are clear, and the students know the rules are created in their best interest to create a safe environment where their minds are open and ready to learn, students begin to hold themselves and each other accountable for their behavior. No one wants an engaging lesson interrupted because a student cannot control his or her behavior and the teacher cannot control their classroom. Students work together to keep each other on task, the teacher is able to deliver a lesson that the students value, and meaningful discussions can take place.
3. Make yourself a presence in their lives
Getting to know your students outside of your classroom, where you don’t necessarily have to monitor and manage their behavior, helps to create a positive relationship among you and your students. Even little events like spending time with them during their lunch or recess or attending sporting events or other after school activities can help to create a positive relationship between you and your students. The saying, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is a very valid, proven point. My students will often comment and start a conversation with, “I saw you at my game last night. Did you see…?” They are excited to showcase their lives outside of the classroom, and even our most troubled students can shine in ways they might not be able to in other circumstances.
4. Model respect and create an environment of mutual respect
The teacher’s job is to deliver instruction in his/her content area and to make the lesson engaging and meaningful, but the students also need to feel valued and worth for their contributions to the class. This is one of the easiest ways to promote a healthy relationship with your students. One can have the most disgruntled student at the beginning of class, but it is almost a small miracle to watch the difference a “thank you” can make. It may seem obvious to state, but the students respond positively and similarly when they feel respected. It is amazing the way that respect is reciprocated.
5. Handle discipline issues and allow for reflection
This is important because if we wait too long to deal with a discipline issue and our tempers have reached their peak, we are more likely to lose control. If students see that they can push us to this limit, thus enhancing a weakness, they will work that angle every time. Handle all discipline issues with a clear mind and always maintain your professionalism. If a situation escalates and too much time is being taken away from student learning, it may become necessary to remove the student from the room. Call the office to make them aware of the situation and the student who is on his/her way. This is a time for the student to reflect on the situation. He or she identifies the problem, selects the desired outcome, and brainstorms options for how to achieve that selected outcome. The other part of this is that the teacher needs to go through the same reflection. Our ultimate goal is to keep students on task and in a positive learning environment. What factors went into the situation? How can I change so that our desired outcome is the same? Once both parties have had time for reflection, it is important to get back together, find a common ground of resolution, and move forward. Tomorrow is a new day.
6. Be aware of student “baggage” and make your classroom your students’ safe zone
Teaching students and changing lives is a job of utmost importance because we often walk a fine line where our words and actions have a huge impact in our students’ lives. This alone makes it important to understand that while we may be with them for 8-9 hours a day, they are under multiple influences for the duration of their entire 24 hour day. As teachers, it is our job to pay attention to the tiniest of details and keep our ears open for signs that our students may be silently calling out for help. Knowing that students may be struggling outside of the classroom also dictates that we maintain our high expectations, but also now act with additional empathy that tells our students we are there for them.
7. Design engaging lessons
When students are engaged, they are less likely to act out or be disruptive. It can be a lot of work to mix things up and keep students on task, interested in learning, and influenced to have a desire to continue to learn. This starts with students being aware of the mastery objective of their learning. Who wants to work if you don’t know the desired outcome? Students must know the agenda to get them to the final goal. Students who are engaged have teachers who question and encourage, facilitate discussions that are meaningful and relevant, provide feedback, group their students purposefully, and provide multiple ways of instruction delivery. Sounds overwhelming, right? The work that is done upfront is minimal compared to the reward of seeing your students find success. A busy, active learner does not have time for mischief – he/she is too engaged in the task at hand, and behavior issues become a minimum. I’ve seen it happen.
8. Wrap it all up
Remaining firm, fair and consistent encourages a room full of engaged learners. Successful classroom management does not happen overnight. It is a series of building relationships, trying different strategies and tactics, and exhibiting the willingness to work with your students to maintain a productive classroom relationship. The most important aspect to remember, at the end of the day, is that teaching is one of the most rewarding professions. You may not feel the impact immediately in the classroom, but there is nothing more gratifying than hearing from a former student that YOU made all the difference in his or her education. That is why we do what we do, right?