My first year of teaching, kids hid equipment in garbage cans, cursed at me under their breath, and got into fights when I wasn’t looking. They pushed my buttons so much that I had an intense pain in my jaw for the entire year. Even last week, after years of teaching, I fell into a power struggle with a boy, and lost a night’s sleep. How do we approach classroom management so we not only survive, but truly thrive?
After 14 years of teaching I’ve found three keys I’d like to share:
• Every classroom looks different. (Find your own style)
• Be real
• Stay grounded (and rise above the negativity)
Excellent classroom management looks different for every teacher. Why? Because every teacher and every group of kids is different. A strategy that works for one teacher might not work for another. An approach that works today, might not work tomorrow. So your style needs to be real, needs to come from who you are, and needs to be flexible from day to day.
My biggest pitfall is trying to teach like other teachers, or worrying what my principal will think if she walks into my room. For example, I love encouraging kids to explore and be themselves. I create flexible lesson plans that allow for divergent thinking and unique approaches. This might look chaotic, or like the kids are off task, but they’re actually very much on task. Sometimes I worry what people will think when they walk by and see kids doing their own thing, but at the end of the day I have to ask myself what really matters. Are my students engaged? Are they learning? Are they growing their confidence and thinking for themselves? Most days I give a resounding YES!
Be real. The next key is remembering that kids crave real connection. They want very much to know us and to be known by us. But it’s got to be real - they have excellent BS detectors! so instead of trying to control students (which is based in fear…and kids can smell fear), good classroom management comes from building relationships and establishing trust. When kids feel respected, they engage and learn more.
Even moments when kids misbehave can be excellent opportunities for building connection. For example, a few years ago, a student named Thomas gave me a wonderful lesson. Thomas sat in the back row of the choir with the other boys and sulked.
I saw him texting, so I asked him to give me his phone. He responded with “That’s bulls–t. This *!@# sucks!” So I sent him to the office. In 10 minutes he came back (thanks office!), and continued to grumble at me from the back row.
At the end of class I took him aside and asked “What’s going on? This is miserable for me, and probably for you too! What’s the story?”
And to my surprise he opened up and said “”I feel totally disrespected by you left and right!” So, I stayed as calm as I could and I said “I feel disrespected too. I’m willing to try and do better if you are. What do you say we start over?”
I offered my hand and we shook on it. After that interaction things weren’t perfect, but we got along respectfully and he stayed engaged in the class.
Stay grounded. Even with all these great intentions in place, there are still those days and those kids that push our buttons. We get frustrated and angry. When this happens, we need to have strategies and tools to help us stay grounded and above the negativity. Like all things in teaching, these strategies are different for every teacher. They might include: remembering not to take things personally, staying curious about a student’s behavior, having firm boundaries for when kids go too far, avoiding power struggles, taking mini timeouts to get a little perspective before acting. Whatever strategies we choose, we need to practice them, so they’re well honed when we need them.
And perhaps the most important tool is to get lots of help and support along the way.
Even the most veteran teachers need to vent and get feedback. Don’t worry about looking silly, we all face challenges, get stuck, or make the wrong move sometimes. Reach out and get the support you need! Share your wins and your struggles. It’s amazing how much it helps to know you’re not alone! It’s also great to find support outside of your building, like joining a mastermind group or working with a personal coach.
Thanks for being a teacher, and good luck with those kids!
Originally published by the fabulous organization Center for Courage and Renewal. Check them out!