Educators can learn a lot from the realm of sports.
Successful coaches win games through a variety of means. They create and execute a game plan that capitalizes on their team’s strengths and exploits their opponent’s weaknesses. They conduct practices to train their team in the skills needed to execute the game plan, going over the plays again and again until they become second nature, drilled into muscle memory. Finally, they make adjustments to adapt their preordained plan to the context of the game and the machinations of the opponent. Through planning, practice, and adjustments, victorious coaches win games and championships.
In the same way, teachers that play to win the game of classroom management incorporate all three components of coaching. They design systems that put students in the best position to be successful, leveraging their social, emotional, and motivational drives to gain maximum engagement and minimize behavioral disruptions.
These teachers also practice skills with their students, not content to simply fuss at them when they misbehave and hope that that somehow solves the problem. These positive skills are prosocial, behaviors that benefit others or promote harmonious relationships. By providing opportunities for students to repair relationships and do things right when misbehavior interrupts learning, successful teachers drill these actions into students’ muscle memories so they do them naturally and automatically.
Likewise, most plans do not survive first contact with the opponent. Being able to adjust in the moment to meet the various difficulties that arise when over 20 humans are cooped within a small space for over six hours a day is essential to children succeeding.
All of this lays the foundation for learning, and for those that are already experienced teachers, will restore the joy of teaching again. Many teachers are leaving the profession or seriously considering it because it doesn’t bring joy anymore. Instead of a career that fulfills a deep longing to impact others and leave their mark on the world, teachers are exiting faster than they can be replaced because they are losing the classroom management game.
Teachers are primarily hired to teach content. Whether it be 10th grade chemistry or early literacy to first graders, educators are employed to teach an established set of knowledge and skills to students. However, many teachers struggle to get to the content because of the elephant in the corner that cannot be ignored.
Teachers can’t teach when students are insulting each other, constantly out of their seats, or disrespectful to each other and to the teacher. As much as teachers want to engage students in a hands-on science experiment or analyze the symbolism of The Great Gatsby, classroom management often impedes learning. More than that, poorly behaved students tend to suck the joy out of teaching.
Education programs at universities and alternative certification programs offer content courses to provide teachers deep knowledge of literacy, mathematics, and other contents. However, the courses giving the scientific and practical background for successful classroom management are often lacking or nonexistent. The end result? Instead of playing to win, teachers play not to lose the behavior management game.
With only a basic discipline plan in place, many teachers’ ideas of how to run the classroom don’t survive first contact with their students. While they have exciting lessons planned around a variety of topics, they have to abandon them because they find themselves chasing students around and fussing at them to stay seated and stop talking.
Instead of exemplifying successful coaches, some teachers enter the classroom with an undefined game plan for behavior management. Even more, they have no system in place to teach missing skills when children don’t exhibit the correct behaviors at the right times. To cap it off, their vague plan includes no tweaks or adjustments. It’s a one-size-fits-none program that doesn’t account for the individual needs of students. Missing these strategies, teaching becomes a chore and drains all the life-giving fulfillment that is inherent to the profession. Rather than feeling energized about molding the future of children, many teachers are exhausted simply due to unruly classrooms.
This web series is about playing to win the discipline game. It’s about establishing productive, supportive classrooms that enhance learning and make teaching fulfilling again.
The remainder of the web series shares four keys to creating this beneficial classroom environment. While discussed in a certain sequence, all four are interdependent and fail when one component is diminished or missing altogether. While most teachers have implemented some of these keys, the lack or weakness of even one of them can erode the effectiveness of the other three. Much like a dining room table cannot stand on just three legs, winning classroom management requires a solid foundation in all four areas.
Episode 1 lays out the first goal of taking a proactive role in student discipline. Instead of merely aiming for compliance, or the absence of negative behaviors, a loftier (but achievable goal) is belonging. When students feel a sense of belonging with their classroom community, they do more than simply behave; they actively invest in the class and make it stronger. The episode concludes with three strategies that can be implemented immediately to create belonging.
Episode 2 explores the second key, relationships, and how social interactions unwittingly set the limits for students’ prosocial behavior. After discussing how relationships are the foundation of teaching, three strategies for improving teacher-student relationships are shared.
Episode 3 looks at engagement and why it is so important. In addition, a model for understanding student motivation is examined to see how it can be leveraged to increase classroom engagement. Three strategies for improving student engagement are also shared.
Episodes 4 and 5 dissect discipline, the oftentimes weak link in the fight to winning classroom management. Episode 4 examines praise, the largest but most underutilized weapon in a teacher’s arsenal to prevent student misbehavior. Episode 5 dives into the flip-side of discipline, correction. This section looks at how teachers can address discipline issues that occur in the moment without using power coercion, which ultimately works against classroom belonging. Each of these episodes also includes three strategies to use to prevent and address student misbehavior.
These four keys run parallel with the skills coaches need to employ if they can to win games. As coaches proactively create a game plan to leverage their strengths and attack their opponent’s weaknesses, the keys of belonging, relationships, and engagement all work together to set students up for success. Practicing skills, in this case prosocial behavior, is addressed in episode 4 (praise) while in-game adjustments, or correction, is covered in episode 5.
While some struggling teachers might be tempted to jump straight to episodes 4 and 5, the four keys are interdependent. Discipline won’t work without a strong teacher-student relationship and student misbehavior will increase exponentially if they are not engaged. Using the four keys together, educators can play to win the classroom management game, unleashing an upward trajectory of beneficial behavior that increases learning and achievement.
And that’s when teaching becomes joyful again.
Find all the episodes in this web series (and the free eBook) here.
Bergin, C. (2018). Designing a prosocial classroom: Fostering collaboration in students from prek-12 with the curriculum you already use. W.W. Norton & Company.