Take CHARGE of the Classroom
Some teachers just make it look so easy. Whereas you might need to threaten, beg, and nag your students to quiet down or line up in a straight line, other teachers do it without lifting a finger. They can walk into a tornado of turmoil, take one look around, and create order by just raising an eyebrow. I've seen it again and again with many different teachers or instructional specialists. Most of the time, administrators have this ability as well.
I used to think that this special power was somehow granted to administrators and school leadership. By virtue of their position, the students knew that those people were not to be toyed with. It took me several years of being on both sides of the administration desk to realize that I had the equation all wrong. Those commanding educators didn't derive their classroom management ability from their positions in school leadership. Instead, those commanding educators became school leaders largely because of their classroom management ability.
In short, they projected confidence. This was a trait they developed while still in the classroom. They had learned how to manage their classrooms well. That, partnered with solid teaching ability, is the foundation of instructional leadership. They had that magical calming ability, that confidence, while still in the classroom.
And so can you.
Quiet our inner monologue
Confidence isn't something that can be turned on like a light switch. If it were that easy, you would be showing confidence already. I know the argument you're going to make. It might work for some teachers but not for you. Students don't respect you. They disobey you and make a mockery of what you try to do every day. Confidence is for some people, but not you.
And if that's your attitude, you are probably right. The truth is, you get what you focus on.
Confident teachers zero in on what they want. They want students to listen, to obey, and to enjoy learning. That's what occupies the majority of their cognitive real estate. They have voices of doubt, too, but they don't give them any power. The first step toward gaining confidence in the classroom is deciding to focus on what you want to happen, not what normally happens.
Focused attention connects and stabilizes brain circuits so they wire together. Thoughts that occur again and again become hard-wired. If you allow your inner monologue to be dominated by negative thinking, then that's the reality you'll live in. The more we focus on defeatist messages, the stronger these pathways become. Take the first step by choosing optimism and strength. Every action can either be viewed negatively or positively. Why not choose the latter?
Look on the bright side of your daily interactions. Every act of misbehavior is not an attack on your authority. Instead, it's an opportunity to help a child grow. Your students are asking for your help, day after day, needing guidance on how to behave properly and how to function in adult society. You have the privilege of not only teaching them reading (or math or science or social studies), but also teaching them to be polite, work with others, and be responsible for themselves and their actions. You are actively molding the next generation for success in life.
Know your limits
You cannot make students obey.
Accept it. Let it percolate in your soul. Classroom management is not about control. Trying to control children is like trying to keep the tide from destroying a poorly placed sand castle.
Confident teachers know their limits and do not extend beyond them. Teachers that struggle often think they have more power than they actually do. They use coercion to try to get kids to listen but, in doing so, make it an all-or-nothing proposal. "Do this now or go to the office. Stop doing that or I'll call your parents." By relying on coercion, teachers put students into a position of having to choose between submission or rebellion.
If you try to assert your authority in places you do not have the power (e.g., suspension, repeating a grade level), you will only reveal your impotence or become belligerent out of frustration and feelings of powerlessness. Instead of trying to make children behave, which is an exercise in futility, confident teachers come at it from a different perspective. They set limits and describe things simply as they are and how they want them to be.
The students are then given the choice of obeying or not obeying.
Disregarding the limits set by teachers results in consequences (not punishments). These are unfortunate and not what the teacher hoped for but, ultimately, students choose what to do and must accept whatever consequence comes as a natural result. These limits are not land mines or booby traps. Instead, they are most effectively set when they are firm, clear, and come from a grounded sense of authority.
By recognizing the power of students to choose, which they've always held, teachers are released from the need to try and control them. That's an unfulfilling path that ends in burnout and frustration. Know your limits. Set the table for students and invite them to eat. Keep in mind, however, that it'll always be their choice as to whether or not they want to sit and partake.
Trust comes from competence
Students are much more likely to give up their need to be in control, to subvert your authority, if someone they trust has the reins. It's not so much power that disruptive students are looking for but order. They need someone to be in charge, someone to have an idea of what's going to happen next. If they don't feel the teacher is that person, they subconsciously take on that role themselves.
Trust between the teacher and students is built by competence and a host of human descriptors (e.g., selective vulnerability, familiarity, similarity of interests, concern). To read more about building strong relationships with students, see Day 2 and Day 3. Competence means being good at your job. Know your content. Master your craft.
Come in each day with a plan (Day 5). That plan might be very loose and have to be amended ten minutes into the first lesson, but know what you want to do when you walk in each and every day. The students will recognize that and let you take the first step.
Think back to your last faculty meeting or training session. Did the presenter or leader start on time, share an agenda, and move through the material in a well-paced manner that respected your time? If so, you might not have been interested in the material but you at least listened respectfully. On the other hand, did the meeting start late, did the presenter spend three minutes apologizing for not being prepared, and was the pacing so off that you wanted to grab the clicker and just lead it yourself?
No one likes their time to be wasted, not even students. Your students will respect you if you don't waste theirs. Spend extra time each morning before the bell rings going over the lesson. Make sure you have it down so you don't need to read off the script. Know how you want each transition to flow so things move from one activity to the next seamlessly. Students need a teacher, not necessarily a friend. Students may like their teacher because they are nice and friendly, but they won't trust them if they are not confident. That comes from competence and connection.
Action: Create and use a positive mantra that you can repeat when negative thoughts threaten to bring you down. For example, "I've got this. No worries. I can handle it." Also, look over your classroom rules and make sure they are clear and concise. Practice what to say when students choose not to obey. "Sergio, I'm sorry you chose to throw that wadded paper across the room. You'll need to spend a minute after class helping me pick up the trash off the floor."
Reflection questions: Think about your recent interactions with students. Were you trying to control them through coercion or were you allowing them to choose their action? Also, how competent would your students say you were regarding subject matter? Do they trust you to teach them the required material?
Bailey, R. A. (2015). Conscious discipline: building resilient classrooms. Oviedo, FL: Loving Guidance.
Hammond, Z., & Jackson, Y. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a SAGE Company.
Shapiro, S. L., & White, C. L. (2014). Mindful discipline: a loving approach to setting limits and raising an emotionally intelligent child. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
To read Day 12, click here.