R&R is usually not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about classroom management, especially if it’s been a struggle. It is one of the most talked-about issues in education and impacts all classes, all grade levels, no matter what or where you teach. There are hundreds of books, articles, Pinterest pages, all on how to manage the classroom, and yet it still seems like such a mystery at times. I have been asked many times over the years how I managed not to have issues with management. Fellow teachers asked me what was my “trick” or “secret”? I spent time doing some intentional reflecting about the what, how and most importantly WHY I did what I did in the classroom and I came up with the following insights that I believe led to the most successful classes.
It’s what I call the R&R of classroom management. Nope, not rest and relaxation, although when done well you can rest and relax a little more. R & R of classroom management are Relationships and Routines.
Building trusting, honest, open relationships with our students is the cornerstone of ALL things in the classroom. Students will work harder, act better, take risks and overall be the amazing humans they are when they know that you see them as people and not just students.
I know that this is going to ruffle some feathers. I also know that it is the biggest truth I hold. If we only see each kid who enters our room daily as a "student," someone whose job it is to come in, sit down, listen and learn and nothing else, and if we only see ourselves as a "teacher," whose job it is to be in that room and deliver content and nothing else, we will constantly struggle with classroom management and apathy.
Think about what makes you personally want to perform, connect and grow. For me, I know it is when I feel trusted, respected and frankly, noticed. I have always been a little rough around the edges and extremely stubborn, so the moment that I feel talked down to, or mandated to do something without any consent or input, is the moment I dig in my heels and push back, hard. Why would my students be any different?
The second surefire way to help create an environment that is conducive to positive classroom management is to establish routines. I know this is not a new concept, none of this is, but it is important enough to be repeated. Establishing predictable routines contributes to an environment of safety. We like to know what to expect. We like when things are predictable. Not mundane. Not repetitive in content - maybe 'reliable' is a better word. Please do not confuse routine with repetition. I mean that structurally there are things that the students can always count on. That way we can mix up the content and encourage them to take risks. When the structures are predictable and familiar, they don't have to focus on that part and can focus on the ever-changing content.
Methods I have found that work to create R&R in the classroom:
STAND AT YOUR DOOR
My students knew that they were not to enter my room until I was at the door to greet them. This meant that the room was ready for them and that I was ready for them. I wanted the first thing that they saw when entering was my smiling face greeting each of them by name, noticing a new haircut, asking how their game/concert/art show/drama production went the night before, and welcoming them to our class. It was here I started to build relationships. It was here that I set the tone for what I expected. If the students shuffle into the room and I was busy at my desk responding to emails, or writing on the board and not ready for them it would send a very different message than I wanted. That message says, “I'm too busy for you; I will get to you when I can.” When I am at my door, the message I was sending was, “Welcome, I am ready and excited for you to join me today!”
There needs to be something that is expected of the students the moment they enter the room - something that grabs their attention and focuses them on the class. This can and should look different in every classroom. It should be something that makes sense and has relevance to your class. In my class, it was usually a prompt or a quote that the students are reflecting on that relates to the theme we are studying at the time. I used interactive notebooks in class that had a Bellwork tab. Students walked in, sat down, got out their notebooks and started responding to what was on the board. This gave me time to take attendance and deal with anything that might take my attention away from them and gave them immediate purpose and structure.
Students are used to being told what do do and how to act on a daily basis. Often without and feedback on what they think or feel about it.
At the beginning of the year (although it’s never too late) the students and I work together to develop our classroom rules. The Bellwork on day two reads: How do you want to be treated in this class by me? By peers? What does that look/sound/feel like? How do you think I want to be treated? What does that look/sound/feel like?
Students work independently to respond to the questions and then I break them into small groups where they discuss their personal responses and come to a group consensus. We then share out those group responses and open it up to discussion as I write them down on the board. We revise our list to the few that are the most important, as voted on by the class and write them on a large piece of butcher paper. After our agreements are written, all the students in class sign the contract and we are ready to go. I post the contract on the wall as a reminder of what they decided and agreed to. Usually, after a couple of times of me pointing to the wall if there is a behavior that doesn't match what they developed, the class will self regulate. Every year, without fail, the number one thing that everyone wants is to be respected. The key is to write down what that looks/sounds/feels like.
They always come up with rules that we as educators would want them to. In fact, it's usually rules we would have posted anyway. The difference is that now we have taken time to hear them, give them a voice in the classroom and hold themselves accountable to a standard they set, not me, not the institution.
The key is to relax and involve your students in the process. Build relationships and learn about who they are not just in the classroom but everywhere. It will make for a more enjoyable and more productive year for all of you.
Krista Gypton taught for 19 years and has received numerous awards for her teaching and student community service, including the 2008 Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. She is an emphatic believer in the power of service to others and has traveled as far as South Africa with students to give back. She has been a keynote speaker and trainer for the past 11 years, both nationally and internationally.