What happens when classroom disruptions keep you from teaching?
Updated: Feb 12, 2020
An upcoming series of blogs (beginning January 6, 2020) is inspired and dedicated to the wonderful teachers and instructional specialists I work with in Dallas ISD. I come to you chock full of ideas for read-alouds, math centers, word work, and small group instruction. You look at me in bewilderment as children run around the classroom, pushing and shoving each other. You feel as if you have little to no support from parents and/or administrators. Yet you are expected to teach students to read, write, and other wonderful things.
You've made me realize that for most schools, the cart is in front of the horse. While you might want to teach and inspire and connect, and your administrator is breathing down your neck to do exactly that, you simply can't. When students are jumping off of chairs and screaming obscenities at you or their classmates, the intricacies of digraphs and diphthongs are the furthest thing from your mind.
You need to take charge of your classroom. You need tools to help you take charge of the moment.
Classroom Management is Teachable
Some adults can simply walk into a classroom of rambunctious eight-year-olds and command attention merely by their presence. Other adults beg and plead futilely for Marco to stop tearing up the papers and Sally to get out from under her desk. As an instructional coach, I've seen scads of different environments, classrooms, and teaching techniques. Between that and my 20+ years of experience, I've witnessed enough examples of good classroom management to find themes across the exemplars.
I truly believe there are a set of teachable principles and behaviors that educators can embrace to drastically improve the behavior and culture in their classrooms.
There are many classroom management programs that already exist. Plenty of speakers, trainers, and companies will train you and your school in their version of behavior management. Sometimes they even work! My issue comes, however, when a teacher wants to improve herself but doesn't have support from her principal. How can a teacher, all on her own, improve her classroom situation without rewriting the school discipline policy or working alongside a buddy teacher? If she can't attend an expensive conference or pay for a trainer to come to her school, is there still hope?
That's one of the main motivating factors for this blog series. I've been pondering it for over a year, trying to iron out all the details and ensuring that I haven't left a stone unturned or a rabbit unchased. I am convinced that a solitary teacher, with little to no previous success in classroom management, can truly take charge of her classroom by understanding a series of key ideas and actions.
In the last decade, social-emotional learning, mindfulness, empathy, and a host of other areas have exploded across classroom education. Teachers are learning how to provide practice in self-regulation to students and understanding how trauma affects the brain. How does this, however, mesh with classroom rules and procedures? Is it a case of either/or or both/and?
The answer lies in redefining classroom management. That term, alongside behavior management, are commonly used but are in themselves misleading. I use them because they are commonly understood by teachers everywhere as a system or environment that minimizes student misbehavior. While that is a desirable goal, the idea of managing students is in itself wrong. Management implies a top-down, heavy-handed reliance on rules, consequences, and compliance. You've tried that and it's been ineffective, or else you wouldn't need to be reading this blog.
Social-emotional learning holds a big part (but not the entire) answer in transforming your classroom. By teaching students to self-regulate, to identify and manage their emotions and responses, and take the perspective of others, you are giving them keys to a brighter future. A child's self-regulation ability is a better predictor of academic achievement than IQ is (Borba, 2016).
But if Marco is snatching crayons from Sally, is telling him to Just breathe going to help in the moment?
I've used the phrase take charge a few times already and it's purposeful. The breakthrough, for me at least, was in realizing that the key for teachers lies in utilizing two distinct lenses. Teachers need to take charge of the classroom, which means to set up their environment and daily interactions in a way that nurtures deep relationships, connectedness, and empowerment. At the same time, teachers need to take charge of the moment. They need assistance navigating the crises that pop up.
Taking charge of the classroom is a macro view, looking at the environment overall. Taking charge of the moment is a micro view, giving teachers tools to help with meltdowns, tantrums, defiance, and general disobedience. They both work synergistically and one does not succeed without the other.
This blog series will be rolled out over the course of six weeks. With a short post each weekday, including both educational theory and practical suggestions, you can slowly change your environment and put yourself and your students in a position to learn.
You can take charge. Join me on January 6th for a 30-day blog series about eliminating classroom disruptions
Borba, M. (2016). UnSelfie: Why empathetic kids succeed in our all-about-me world. Simon and Schuster.