Yesterday, I went to a presentation by the Classroom Management Gurus, Harry and Rosemary Wong. I have heard about them ever since I started my teaching degree and I have had their book, The First Days of School since my very first class in graduate school (which was classroom management). I have read through the book multiple times, as I’m sure most of the teachers reading this have, but it didn’t really resonate with me until I saw it live.
A confession: common sense is not my strong suit. Instead of coming up with easy solutions to problems, I over analyze and get anxious about the little problems. That being said, the information in this post might be completely obvious to anyone who has been in a classroom. If that’s the case, check back for the next post when I get back to talking about language instruction. If, on the other hand, classroom management has seemed elusive to you (as it has to me), you might want to read on because I learned a lot. I learned specific strategies for classroom management, but more than that, I learned a new way of thinking about management.
I’ll give you the TL;DR:
If kids know what you want them to do, they’ll do it. If you teach them how to do it and practice with them until it becomes a routine, your year will go more smoothly than it ever has before.
What are we planning for?
We get so caught up in getting plans exactly right and figuring out how we will assess proficiency levels of our new students and how we will improve upon last year’s curriculum and the kind of lesson we want to have the first day and a million other little things. Sometimes, the idea of a management plan gets completely left on the sidelines and we decide we will just wing it.
But winging it is the worst solution: it will lead to an entire year of the class managing the teacher rather than the other way around. The kids entering our classes are tabulas rasas. For some teachers, it is the first time they will meet you.
How do you want to be seen? As the fun teacher or as the teacher who means business? Do you want to wait until you have lost the kids to tell them what you expect or do you want to let them know what they are expected to do and then let the fun flow in the boundaries that you have set?
Ignoring the procedures for a few lessons will be the downfall of even the most fun teacher and here’s why: The kids won’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. Just like a chef wouldn’t go into the kitchen without a recipe and just like a coach wouldn’t go on the field without a game plan (that’s an example Harry and Rosemary Wong used), you shouldn’t go in without a plan for what you are going to do to manage class. And now I’m going to tell you a few secrets (they’re not much of a secret to any of you who have been teaching, but when I figured it out, it was like discovering fire or inventing the wheel):
Kids want to know what to do.
If you tell kids what they are expected to do, they’ll do it. It’s that simple. If they know what they are supposed to do, the vast majority will do exactly that. Your behavior problems will go away (mostly, not completely, no one is perfect—teachers or students).
“Procedures Empower Students”
If you give kids the opportunity to rise to an occasion, they will do it. Kids are wonderful little creatures and they want to be good. As my dad told me when I started teaching (he’s a 20+ year teaching veteran): “There is no kid who wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I want to get in trouble today.’” Knowing that kids, even the worst behaved in your classroom, are just kids and are not yet fully formed shifts the blame for behaviors away from them (not completely, they’re making a choice to act out) and onto the classroom procedures. In other words: Do your kids know what they should be doing at every moment of your class?
So how do you get kids to behave and follow procedures?
- Figure out what you want the kids to do
You’ll find as you read this post, that all of this seems like common sense, but as they say (and as I demonstrate by my total ignorance of how to do these things), common sense is not that common. Know what you want them to do. Don’t think kids will just know how to act in a class because they’re students. They won’t. If you don’t know what you want them to be doing, then you can’t teach them what to do and if you don’t teach them what to do, there will be chaos because when kids don’t know what to do, they do what they want. Then the yelling and the bad feelings happen and no one wants that.
- Teach and practice your procedures
Once you have figured out how you want the kids to do all the administrative things in your class (turning in papers, getting tissues, going to the bathroom, getting a tissue, sharpening a pencil, asking a question, entering and exiting the room), they have to practice. Practice each step until they get it right, then practice it some more. If they get it wrong, don’t get mad, don’t penalize them; just practice until they get it right.
You might say, “But that wastes valuable lesson time!” And, in a way, you’re right. This is valuable time that could be used to teach content. But what if you are teaching content and want to make a transition? If there is not a procedure in place for that transition, there will be confusion. Confusion = lost instruction time. If you spend time teaching how to transition early, then you will have the rest of the year to focus on content and not have that confusion. Think of teaching procedures as making an investment in your instruction time.
When you make an initial investment, you have to give up something (money, or in this case, teaching time) in order to get returns. If you pay a little upfront, you will get a lot in return. If you spend the time to teach the kids what you want them to do, they will know all year long and you won’t have to spend any time quieting them down (on a daily basis, there will, of course, be “those days” throughout the year) or telling them how to turn in papers or getting them settled. Being unsettled, as I intimated above, is a result of not know what to do. If they know what to do, they’ll do it.
- Stick to your procedures
Once you have gotten everything figured out and the kids have practiced, keep doing it. You want your procedures to turn into routines that the kids can do over and over again, even if you’re not there. On sub days, the kids should be able to tell the sub exactly what they are supposed to be doing (that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t leave a plan for the sub, but the kids should be that familiar with the procedures).
In Short: Make a plan and stick to it.
That’s all there is to it, really. (OK, it’s a lot more complicated than that because there is so much to plan for.)
When I went to my first (and at this point, only) TPRS instructor class in July 2014, the instructor, Donna Tatum-Johns, said something that has stuck with me and that I have read in other TPRS blogs. She said, “The worst TPRS lesson is better than the best straight grammar instruction lesson.”
I think that sentiment rings true with classroom management, too: As the year goes on, there will be new ideas you will encounter on how to manage the classroom and you’ll get down on yourself for not thinking about doing it that way. There will be mistakes and misfires and things will sometimes not go the way you expect them to go.
But, if you have a plan, the kids will know what you want them to do. If they know what you want them to do, they’ll do it. If they have routines and follow them, that frees up so much time for you to teach. Even if the routines are not perfectly efficient, you’ll be doing a much better than if you had none. Make the time investment to really think about and teach how you want the kids to do things in your class and you will be free to teach your content on your terms without getting caught up in the day-to-day little issues that we encounter.
You’ll be free because the students will know what to do in every situation and if they know what to do, they’ll do it.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
None of these ideas is new. None of these tips is an earth-shattering revelation in the world of education. They are are instead common-sense solutions. They are ways to work smart so that you can get the kids into routines that will allow you to teach content for every minute of every class period. No more yelling, no more frustration…
…and for that, I have to say,
THANK YOU SO MUCH DRS. HARRY AND ROSEMARY WONG!