Now more than ever, teachers are battling to save their sanity and manage increasingly difficult classrooms. There are many companies out there that have professional development and resources to assist us, yet behavior continues to be the Achilles’ heel for many educators.
The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to classroom management woes. That is why two teachers could do the exact same thing and get completely different results. This discrepant outcome is due to the way our personality, belief system, and core values translate into our actions and reactions within our classroom.
Even though every room may look and feel different there are some common habits that every successful teacher employs.
- They operate with clarity. Teachers can decrease their stress levels by examining and dissecting all of the common routines that occur throughout their day. They should know what they expect from students and what students can expect from them. If you planned it, you should be clear about how you want it to look. This includes your whole group instruction, small group work, independent work times, and transitions. Consider simple things such as: How much and how loud can students be during activities? Where are students allowed to sit or stand? What materials should they have at their disposal and what should they set aside? How long will they have to complete the expected work and about how much should be completed? What can they do to access help if they need it? The more details you can plan out the less gray area will exist within your classroom expectations. The less gray you have, the less students will have to guess about what you expect from them and inadvertently frustrate you with their behavior.
- They are consistent. When students see that choices have predictable responses (good or bad) they will act accordingly. That is often why two teachers have very different experiences with the same student. Most students will adjust their behavior based on their knowledge of how the teacher will respond. If the teacher responds differently every time, then open up the casino doors and let the gambling begin. Students who feel there is a 50/50 chance of getting away with something or getting a preferred reaction will inevitably take the gamble. If you struggle with this, write down the preferred responses ahead of time and place them somewhere you can see. This can provide an anchor when you feel you are responding from a place of emotion rather than rationality.
- They make changes accordingly and can stick with it. They are not afraid to say something is not working, but also have made sure that they gave it a valiant effort. Teachers who know this balance well also have the habit of relying on some form of data or measurement for their decision making. Once they decide to make a change, they know that like the old saying goes, “It is going to get worse before it gets better.” That is always true when we re-establish limits. Kids want to make sure you are serious about the new parameters you are setting. During this time, it is common for teachers to give up and succumb to the idea that their efforts just didn’t work. However, part of establishing change is providing the time for that change to become a daily, accepted reality.
- They get curious before they get angry. Teachers who understand that behavior is a mode of communication are less likely to take it personally, which avoids them from feeling emotionally wounded by the behavior. They ask questions and find out the cause behind the behavior, so they can better respond or prevent it from occurring again in the future. The beautiful benefit to this is that you are simultaneously establishing trust and communicating respect. Students will learn that you care more about them as a person than your role as an authority figure.
- They know their triggers and have a plan. Being human means there are times you may potentially become upset by certain things that go against your values or belief system. If we are not carefully aware of our triggers we will respond before we have time to think, and any response without thought can be detrimental. So come up with a plan and know when you may need to tap out. Your plan can be as simple as taking a break from instruction to play a game with your students. Maybe you prefer to take a deep breath and visualize a reinforcing image. I have a picture of my own children when they were little and sleeping that I keep in my desk drawer (next to my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups). I look at it to remind myself that I want to make them proud and to remind me that my students are someone’s babies, so do what is right.
- They avoid the temptation of power struggles. Successful teachers know not to give difficult behavior a spotlight for other students to observe. They do not get into power struggles in front of the class. If the behavior is not an immediate threat, feel free to finish up a thought, get the others working, and then privately address the student. Repeated attention for misbehavior most often creates a victory for the student. It provides them a form of significance. If they cannot find a positive impact, they will settle for the negative. It is helpful to remind students that ultimately, they have the control. We cannot make them pay attention. We cannot make them follow expectations. We can however, set limits that will include consequences they may not like, but ultimately if they comply is up to them. The vast majority of students appreciate this choice even if their options feel like a lose-lose situation.
- They are proactive. Proactive means being prepared before you are put into an emotionally charged situation with your students. We certainly cannot prepare for every single altercation or infraction, but we can have a structure we operate within. Know and communicate your school policies. Know and communicate your classroom policies. Know which students may need more love and attention on a daily basis. Know the students who may need accommodations or support when planning activities. Know what activities may be difficult for students and how you will respond if they are not succeeding. There will be plenty of times when you will see something for the first time, so save yourself the energy and plan for those opportunities you know are going to occur.
- They put effort into making relationships and giving grace. Humanity is at the heart of life and schools are a great part of where that humanity is shaped. Be aware that all students have some form of emotional baggage and provide them grace that sometimes people have a bad day. It is our mission to show them what a community should look like and behave like. They should feel safe and accepted. That is why we ask them about more than their classwork. We ask them about what they are interested in and what they are proud of. We respect their talents and highlight their strengths. We do not use their grades or scores to define their potential or worth. Above all we treat them as we would want to be treated even on their worst days. Unconditional support and love is the best recipe for learning…the lesson plans come after.
Classroom management is difficult because human behavior is ever changing and can be overwhelmingly confusing. Teachers are required to manage the emotions of up to 30 kids at a time. Administration is required to manage the emotions of up to 100 or more adults at a time. Education is a dance with who we are and who we can help others to be, which is not an easy feat. Keep chipping away and providing yourself grace. Nothing is meant to be perfect so avoid setting your sights on the conditions, but rather on the loving values you help instill in your classroom and within the culture of your school.