Some teachers are seen as masters of their classroom. Students come in quickly, get to work, engage, and leave the room tidy. Other teachers seem to be losing their mind amidst the chaos. Why the difference?
In the 1994 edition of Educational Leadership Journal, researchers reviewed the last 50 years of education research and collected 28 factors shown to improve student learning. When they ranked the factors across various students, classroom management was named as the top way to improve student learning in the classroom. If principals and curriculum directors want to improve learning, they should help teachers become more effective classroom managers.
You can go from chaos to classroom manager extraordinaire but it depends upon your willingness to learn. Certainly books like Harry Wong’s The First Days of School and Fred Jones’ Tools for Teachers give time tested tips, but here are some things you can do to get started.
Procedures are not the same as rules
Harry Wong has a masterful way of explaining the difference between rules and procedures. You should only have a few rules — no more than five. Rules have to do with how we treat one another.
Procedures have to do with how you do things. When you don’t follow procedures you have consequences because you didn’t follow them. Only when it is becoming a real problem should a procedure be turned into a rule.
What do procedures help you do?
Effective classrooms have procedures for everything: starting class, ending class, asking questions, going to the bathroom, what to do when you’re absent and more. If you don’t have procedures, students will create their own and you might not like what happens.
For example, before I put in a procedure for asking to go the bathroom, I’d look up and a student would be gone. I didn’t know where they were or what they were doing. Now, students ask and I have a sign out clipboard by my door as well as a bathroom pass. Procedures do not mean that you are authoritarian or harsh. Procedures just mean that you have ways that you do things.
Every time the teacher speaks it interrupts the class. You can even have hand signals for questions. For example, students can raise their hand with one finger if they have a question or with three fingers if they need the teacher’s help. While this may sound silly, the more students you have in a class, the harder staying on task and classroom management can become.
These techniques can even help the class get back on task. We have a fourth grade teacher at our school who claps and the students respond with a special sequence of claps in return. The class is immediately quite, in order, and attentive when this happens and they feel more like a team.
Procedures can help you in every way!
When do you teach procedures?
The best teachers spend the first two to three days of school teaching students procedures.
As you start school you teach these procedures by explaining them, practicing them and practicing them again. While you’re teaching content and getting started, make sure to reinforce procedures for how work will be turned in. Students should turn something in, or a few things in, on the first day to get a feel for things. On the second day you should have those items checked, recorded, and graded. Then, practice the procedures for returning work.
As we discussed this in our school’s PLC last week, the first grade teacher says that they even practice getting out their books. They call their math book “big yellow,” so she’d say something like this:
“Now, let’s practice getting ready for a math lesson. First you get out big yellow and look on the board to see what page we’re on. Get out your paper and a pencil and write your name at the top of the paper. After big yellow is open start looking at the book to see what we’re going to be doing.”
What about consequences?
Never interrupt the flow of teaching to discipline a student. My sister, a middle school math teacher, just writes the name on the board. If the student continues or repeats the inappropriate behavior, she will write a check by their name. Students spend time with her after school as their consequence when they had their name on the board.
It is up to you to determine the consequences. Just make sure you are consistent and fair to all students. For example, some of my students have practice after school. Those times of the year students will have to come before school or miss part of break but I make it the same for everyone.
If classroom management is a struggle for you, procedures are just part of the process of getting it together. When your classroom is well run, it will run itself. You and your students can enjoy learning and not worry about the distractions that come from disorganization and chaos. Take time to set up your classroom procedures now and a first day of school script to teach those procedures and you’ll be set to have a great year.
Wang, Margaret, Geneva Haertel, and Herbert Walberg. (December 1993/ January 1994). “What Helps Students Learn?” Educational Leadership, pp. 74-79