If a non-educator were to pose the question: “What makes a teacher”, we may talk about our love of children, our passion for sharing information, developing creativity, or watching those first few times that they “get” a new subject. We will often talk about new technological improvements, lesson plans, or cool strategies like workshops and nature walks. Every teacher has their favorite part of teaching, and most of us have some differences between what is our personal favorite. The least favorite part however, is fairly common, and unfortunately it is one of the most important: Classroom Management.
The Importance of Classroom Management
Of course, some are obviously better than others at classroom management, not unlike many other things in life. Some teachers are highly effective classroom managers, and are widely respected for their styles. But ultimately, the unfortunate part of classroom management is that it very often comes at the expense of teaching and learning time that could be applied more effectively.
Now I’m aware that some things fall under classroom management that will always be there. These are the things that I would label as “basic skills” in the classroom management world. Calendar, class jobs, bathroom breaks, etc are all going to happen whether or not you are effective at managing them. So it is definitely in your best interest to get good at them, or people will start to notice. The first people that will notice, you guessed it—the students. These basic skills are just that-basic. Follow a routine and provide consistency, fairness, and firmness. They will not test you if they know the outcome.
Moving past the basic skills is where the true challenge comes in—behavioral issues. Every teacher has students with behavioral issues in their classes. According to the research done by Class Dojo – 50% or more of good class time is lost on behavioral issues. That is just amazing. A lot of my colleagues are using a tool like Class Dojo for real time reporting of data to students and reporting to parents and have had high success rates. For those not using a tool like this, I want to discuss how to bring this 50% down—way down, and fast.
The first thing we have to do is realize that behavioral issues are behavioral issues. There really isn’t a degree of behavioral issue until you get to the point where you’re talking about something that would be considered an issue for adults—crime, vulgarity, violence, etc. Otherwise, we are merely dealing with distraction, attitude, indifference, etc.
As teachers, the issues we should be most concerned with stamping out are behavior pattern, duration and frequency, rather than degree of behavior. The reason why I say this is fairly simple, but often overlooked. The students that exhibit a high degree of negative behavior are often well known to have such. Their behaviors have been documented over time; they have involvement of the administration, counselors, and other teachers. Their parents are often aware of the situation. But what about the students that don’t have a “serious” problem?
An analogy that I’ve often heard here is that of the forest fire. Let’s say in this example that your kid with the serious problems is the big fire. And you have 3 or 4 small fires as well. If you put all of your efforts, or firemen, on the big fire, what will happen? Chances are, the small fires will soon burn out of control and then you’ll have 4 big fires.
So in order to put out our small fires, what do we do? We involve the parents and engage the student, right? Well, this only works if what we are telling them is accurate. How many of us have filled out a report card that says Julie is “occasionally disruptive” or Bobby “drifts away sometimes”. How in the world is the parent supposed to do anything with that? Let’s just say in these examples, you have the perfect parent involved. You’ve given them NO information. So how do we change that? By tracking the behavior over time, in a journal or diary. It doesn’t take long, but the results are staggering when you do this.
Here is an example of a journal that my husband uses in his line of work. He converted the file for a classroom a couple years ago. The cells move as you type in them. Note, this works best as one child per tab, so it will all be at a glance. With this tool, you simply take 5 minutes every day, and go tab by tab and reflect on your students’ day. Here are some examples of what you may see:
In this first example, by tracking Miguel’s behavior over time, we learn that a child who comes in on Mondays in a bad mood, but is better later in the week, is acting that way because he misses the other parent in a divorced home. Very simple answer. If we don’t track this “Monday” trend, do we remember that it is every Monday, or do we just notice that he is “occasionally” acting like this?
|1||Miguel was late|
|3||Miguel was tired all day|
|5||Miguel was very sad, and non-responsive|
|7||Miguel was very sad, and non-responsive|
Instead of sending home a report card that suggests something is wrong, we can now call, and tell Mom/Dad what we are observing, and get their input. They know what is going on, but they will sometimes need to be steered. In this case, Miguel was just sad because he only sees his Dad every other weekend, so we asked Miguel to use his creative writing time on those Mondays to describe his next adventure with Dad, and also invited Dad to be a classroom volunteer.
Miguel’s buddy Will on the other hand has the exact opposite problem. Step-dad lets him do things he shouldn’t, and we pay for it on Mondays.
|8||tired||spoke to Dad. Stepdad allows Will to watch scary movies on the weekends, so Will can’t sleep. Dad will try to put a stop to this.|
Now we’ve got Brenda. She is your big fire. You’re basically documenting this just to document it. You may not be able to solve anything this way, but at least you’ll remember. Documentation is always critical and benefits all parties.
|1||wet herself||got into a fight with another student|
|2||painted wall||stapled head||ate glue||ate sanitizer||another fight, different student|
|3||told story about masked men hanging around the house|
Here is Maggie. Mom wants her to be a dancer when she grows up. It might not be the best idea, since she can’t stay awake in school on Thursdays.
|6||Tired||Called Mom to find out why she is tired on thurs….sounds like dance classes *2 on Weds|
This is an interesting one. Check out David, who has nine tardies. Put that on his report card and it won’t make sense. Point out that it happened only on Tuesdays, and Mom can clearly identify that her oldest son that drops David off on Tuesdays isn’t doing a very good job of it.
The key to all of this is being able to identify trends, work with the families to solve the issues, and put the student in a better position to learn. Looking back to our Class Dojo video, we know that 50% of class time is spent on behavioral issues. But look at these examples above. Some may disrupt the entire class, others just one student. But if we can help provide a solution to some of these for the student, our 50% can become a much smaller number, and maybe we will get down to just that one big fire.
Then when somebody asks, “What makes a teacher” we can talk about all the cool stuff we’re doing in our classrooms and how great it feels to see those little minds grow, with a great deal of comfort in the notion that we really are doing some very cool stuff. Looking back at a couple of these examples—think about our dancer, would she really continue dancing if Mom pushed her this hard forever? Or how about our little guy Miguel that misses Dad. How cool will it be when his Dad is the guest reader in our classroom? These are the little things that help influence buy-in from the students, and buy-in from them is what keeps them walking in a single file line when you need them to.
About the Author
Erin Klein is a second grade teacher in Michigan and author of the award winning edu tech blog, Kleinspiration. She is also a certified SMART Board Trainer and SMART Exemplary Educator. Erin serves as the Michigan Reading Association’s co-technology chairperson and is a member of The National Writing Project.