Classroom Management: The First Step is a Plan

There is so much planning to do for the school year in order to start on the right foot.  Teachers have to plan out the design of their classroom.  They have to plan out the curriculum for the year.  They have to plan for the diverse learners they will be acquiring in the fall.  They have to plan out their schedules.  They have to plan to plan.  

Time is a finite resource and one plan that is often overlooked is in the area of classroom management.  We all know that behavior is a cornerstone to a healthy learning environment.  So why, of all things, would we put off planning for something that can be critical to maintaining our own sanity?  Here are a few misconceptions that might be to blame.

Misconception #1: It can wait.

With all the things we have to juggle, inevitably something always gets put off until later.  There is a misconception that developing a plan can wait because teachers feel they should know their students before figuring out how to manage their classroom.  However, by the time you establish rapport with each of your students the truth is many bad habits have likely already set in.  Not knowing the story behind a student’s trauma yet, doesn’t mean you should not have proactively thought about how you want to cultivate an emotionally safe learning environment.  You may not know the volume of kids who are going to have limited attention or impulsive tendencies, but that does not mean you shouldn’t consider how you will structure transitions, relay expectations, and respond to students who don’t meet those expectations.  Developing a classroom management plan can wait, but it will create a larger headache for you if you do.   

Misconception #2: It’s going to change anyway.

There is also a misconception that plans are set or fixed.  People think once revisions need to be made to an original plan, that writing that plan down in the first place was merely a waste of time.  As with any plan, the only guarantee we can make is that it will require changes.  Every seasoned teacher can also tell you that as the year progresses our learners require different things to be successful.  What a student needs in September will look far different than what they need in February.  The plan you create before the seats in your room are filled is the foundation for which future decisions will be based on for the entirety of the school year.  It’s never too late to make changes, but those changes become easier when you have something to work off of that identifies what has or has not worked thus far.   

Misconception #3: I just do what the administration tells me to do.

There are many companies out there that sell their approach or process to school districts to improve student behavior.  Administration will roll it out to staff and offer professional development on how it is supposed to work in your classroom.  However, do you notice how a behavioral plan works for one teacher, but not their colleague next door?  That is because every human being is unique and interprets behavior differently.  Research can tell us what fundamentally must be present for success, such as positive reinforcement, but how we bring that to life is entirely up to us.  The lesson here is to not rely solely on your school’s preferred program or social emotional curriculum it has adopted.  Those programs are a starting point.  Reflect and take time to plan out how you will adhere to the fundamentals, while mapping out what it will look, sound, and feel like for kids in your classroom.  

Misconception #4: It doesn’t matter.

Teachers are so often put in situations in which they invest their time and energy into work that gets discarded, that they can suffer from investment trauma.  When directed to do something outside of planning for their day-to-day learning, they often feel like they are being set up to do work that doesn’t matter.  If I can persuade you of anything, let it be that it DOES matter.  Do not waste time making a classroom management plan that pleases your administrator or looks good on paper; do it for yourself.  Give yourself the gift of generating action steps for how you will form the unique learning community in your room.  If you struggle to bring your vision to life then reach out in a way that works  for you as an individual learner, whether it is through reading, reaching out to a trusted colleague, or watching Youtube videos.  Establishing an environment you do not dread coming to every day is a priority.  It will set the tone for mental health in your room not just for your students, but also for you.

Classroom management and responding to behavior is extremely difficult.  If it was easy, everyone would have a classroom of engaged learners who always follow expectations.  The key is to avoid thinking of classroom management as a skill you learn.  That is a deceiving, unrealistic expectation.  Truly managing dozens of unpredictable children and your own emotionality is a muscle.  It will get tired, but through practice and a whole lot of grace it will get stronger over time.  The first step is the hardest, but trust that everything done well begins with a plan.

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