Take CHARGE Day 5: Preparation is key
Updated: Feb 11, 2020
Take CHARGE of the Classroom
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
There's a reason that productive classrooms are called well-oiled machines. They have structures and procedures for every component. Students know what's expected of them, when it's expected, and what the finished product looks like. These are the classrooms that substitute teachers love to work in because they virtually run themselves.
For many teachers that bemoan the behavior of their students, sometimes the culprit can be found by looking at their own preparation. Or lack of it. The best teachers don't just have a plan. Coming up with a plan is easy. What the best teachers have is a backup plan.
They know that things don't always go as expected. Lessons that are planned for 30 minutes take only ten. Sponge activities are at their fingertips, ready to continue learning when things go off track. Likewise, they know how to shrink things when there's an unscheduled fire drill or assembly.
Well-run classrooms do not happen by accident. They exist because of meticulous planning. If you want your students to be so busy that they have no time to misbehave, try reflecting on your classroom instruction through the three lenses below.
Access to materials
Most lessons require some type of materials for students. Whether it be markers, scissors, glue, or even rulers, students need many items to succeed at their classroom activities. How accessible are they for students? Are they conveniently located in caddies on top of tables? Are students responsible for their own supplies? What happens if students run out of needed supplies or never had them in the first place? Thinking through the required materials is a central part of planning.
More than just supplies, though, are the innumerable pieces of paper students need throughout a class period. Worksheets, handouts, cut-outs, or blank pieces of paper for an activity all have to be copied, collected, and sorted out. The prepared teacher does this ahead of time, having all copies sorted and piled, ready for distribution. The ill-prepared educator sends a student to the office asking for a class set of copies or has to cut out game tiles while students wait before they can use them.
There are many other materials that teachers and students need to get through a school week. If they have whiteboards, students need a steady stream of dry erase markers. They'll also need some type of eraser (old socks work great). There will need to be tissues and hand sanitizer available. Additionally, it's always helpful to have a few extra spiral notebooks and composition books on hand for new students that get dropped off with only a backpack and two pencils (most likely without erasers) for supplies.
Some classes run as swiftly as a greased pig trundling through a McDonald's PlayPlace ball pit. Others more closely resemble thick molasses on a frozen Christmas morning. Pacing refers to the length of activities, the breaks in between, and the transitions from one to the next. Some classrooms suffer behavioral outbursts because the class moves much too slowly. Not enough is planned for each period, or the estimates for the amount of time needed to finish a task are much too high. An old adage states that the devil finds work for idle hands, and it's very true in glacially-slow classrooms.
At the other extreme, some teachers pack too much into a day. Students run from task to task, not finishing one before being handed another. After falling behind too far, some students act out because they feel like there's no point in even trying anymore. Much like Ethel and Lucy at the chocolate factory, odd things begin to happen when the pace gets out of control.
The sweet spot, then, is just enough to keep students thinking but not enough to overwhelm them. In addition, transitions between activities should be concise and focused. With advance preparation, students can move from one task to another in less than a minute. If it takes any longer than that, the natives will become restless.
Another key skill that teachers with few behavioral problems have is visualization. Either at the end of the day, thinking about the next day, or early on the morning of, successful teachers quickly work through their day in their minds. They mentally check and recheck their plans, looking for any holes and predicting where problems might arise.
If there is anything new or out of the ordinary, they rehearse it. For common tasks or lessons that hold nothing unusual for the teacher, they can usually teach through those without looking at their lesson plans. For new material, however, they practice what they want to say. Rehearsal gives them the confidence to only look sparingly at their notes since reading from a script is a sure way to lose the attention of their students.
Finally, they think about the groupings they'll need for the day. Will students be working in their home groups or will they need a temporary group for a short-term activity? If the latter, will students be allowed to form their own groups? The wise teacher strategically guides students toward certain groups because, if allowed free reign, the two or three students they don't want together will inevitably run straight toward each other.
Human and anticipate
I truly believe that 90% of all behavioral problems can be eliminated from a classroom by paying close attention to the two areas discussed in the the last four days of this blog. By strengthening relationships with students, teachers form connections that build the foundation of a learning environment. Connectedness is the antithesis of disobedience. If students feel cared for, and care about the teacher and their classmates, they won't want to do anything to injure those relationships.
Also, well-run classrooms have clear, concise procedures that are practiced and adhered to consistently. Students who know what is expected of them feel in control of their environment. Rather than continually guessing as to what they should do next, solid classroom structures empower them to work autonomously. In addition, prepared teachers that think through their lessons and have all materials prepared greatly reduce the amount of idle time that invites misbehavior.
Action: Take a look at your lesson plan for tomorrow or next week and evaluate it through the lenses mentioned above. Consider the supplies your students will need, all the copies that should be made, and visualize what the day will look like. Think about how to minimize transitions.
Reflection questions: Do your students have knowledge of where they can access needed supplies and materials? Do they feel empowered to get what they need and use it responsibly? Are your transitions lasting longer than one minute? If so, how can you shorten them?
To read Day 6, click here.