This post originally appeared on the blog Mrs. Russell’s Room.
Let’s just start with one premise.
You can’t MAKE kids do anything.
Live in that freedom with me? Would ya?
Now, there will always be that teacher who says, they can get ’em with that eye…or that specific tone of voice…but really, in the moment of decision….the student still CHOOSES to respond to your side eye in the way you would prefer because they CHOSE that.
The trick is ‘How do you get them to go YOUR way?’
Persistence and consistency.
Blog post over.
There is no magic bullet. There is no program, there is no clip chart, there is no system that will ever work without persistence and consistency. In this age of social media sound bites and Pinterest-worthy projects and programs, teachers are inundated with images of classrooms outfitted with gizmos, gadgets and more seating choices than a furniture store. Where there seems to be order, or the semblance of ‘perfection’, there are many factors at work. Some of those factors may not even be in your control.
There are some of us who are teaching in classes with students who routinely defy direct instruction. Who throw furniture or supplies when they don’t get their way. Who get up and move around the classroom at inopportune times, leave the classroom, or even attempt to leave the campus when they don’t feel like engaging anymore.
That was my classroom.
I teach in a gen ed classroom, like many of you who read my blog, but all of my boys are young men who were not being reached by a traditional approach. Many of them have experienced academic, environmental, or societal crisis that has left them frustrated and non-compliant in previous constructs. This classroom is their second chance at a fresh start. Many of them have spent so much time in an office or an adjacent classroom, that they are a year or more behind. If you are a teacher who is reading this and you know that you too have stepped into a similar story, there is HOPE. Please believe that!
Here are some shifts that I took in order to get on the path to classroom management that WORKS.
1.) Believe that all children can learn.
This is a fundamental key. You must believe it, even before you enter the classroom. Sometimes the behavior gets so bad when you are in the middle of trying to ratchet up the rigor, that you *may* start to feel like you’re doing something that is ‘too hard’. Remember that they may not be ready now….but you must continue to break down that content so that they WILL be ready for it in the future. In these types of classrooms, growth is key…but mastery is the ultimate goal. Keep moving towards that!
2.) Know that kids don’t come to school looking to ruin your day.
Most kids who are misbehaving are reacting to a stressor in the classroom or out of it. Do not let their behavior dictate yours. The behavior is a CHOICE. It is NOT about you. Whether you’ve been managing kids for a decade or a week, kids always have a choice. When they don’t choose your way, there is a reason. Sometimes, just giving them an opportunity to share their frustration with you can build a bridge to cutting off the trigger for the behavior before it starts.
3.) Consistently giving fair consequences that students have bought into does not make you mean. It makes you trustworthy.
One of the biggest ‘a-ha’s of my career was that sometimes, second chances aren’t what my kids need. Often in life, there are no second chances. Many of our most at risk kids have experienced this. They know that when there is no money, stuff gets cut off. No one cares if Mom lost her job or dad is in jail again. When we move the goal posts —change the rules that we’ve set up — it’s not kindness. It’s confusion. The BEST thing we can do with our kids is set up procedures WITH them, so that they get to participate in setting up the rules AND the consequences for breaking the rules.
4.) Learn how to pick your battles.
There are certain things that are necessary to maintain the flow of the classroom, but there are other things that might be an area of wiggle room. What are your non-negotiables? These are the things that make up the culture of your classroom. How you do what you do. These are your standard operating procedures, your SOP’s. I prefer to build these with my students. Where there are areas for rewards or consequences, I build that in with them as well. I model, I have them model. We role play scenarios for those SOP’s. With persistence and consistency with both praise and consequence, eventually, the behavior shifts. It’s a truly miraculous thing! Click HERE to read a blog post on how my teammates and I developed SOP’s for our classes!
5.) Relationship + high expectations + consistency is still a winning formula for classroom management.
Remember that in all of the best classroom scenarios…and that could be with a class that starts out super tough, or a class that is your best in a long time…in either case, the foundations of success are similar. We’ve still got to be good at relationship. We’ve still got to have high expectations no matter what. We’ve still got to be consistent with rewards and praise. Once this foundation is laid, there is no limit to what you can add to your classroom. More choice and autonomy? Do it! More singing and dancing? YES! Flexible seating options that are innovative and unique? Go for it!
No matter what program your school has asked you to adopt, make sure you are consistent with it. Calibrate your kids to embrace it. Work with them to create rewards and consequences. Then hold them to what they said they were willing to do! After that…you’ll be able to fit in so much more content and even loosen up a little! 🙂
You will not only survive, you will thrive! If you can manage a tough class, then you can manage ANY class!
Keep putting one foot in front of the other every day.
You are not alone!
We are in this together!
Tamara Russell is a National Board Certified Middle Childhood Generalist. Her relational yet no nonsense style approach has been an asset in her current class of all 3rd grade boys! When she’s not working with ‘her boys’, she finds joy in traveling with her husband, rooting on the Chicago Cubs, and reading paranormal fiction books. Want to follow her adventures more closely?