If there’s one thing I’ve heard over and over throughout teaching, it’s that I have great classroom management (toot toot–that’s the sound of me tooting my own horn). Now, I don’t know how accurate that is, but I do know I’ll take any compliment I can get in this job. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty to learn and there are MANY other aspects of teaching that I am still growing in, as we all should be. But, I thought I’d be reflective and figure out exactly what I do that makes behavior management effective in my classroom. I’m not perfect by any means, and I’ve made a ton of mistakes, but that’s just part of the job–growing from those mistakes is what will make all of us the best educators we can possibly be! So, I’ve compiled a list of things I think make for an easier time teaching and learning.
I think a lot of a teacher’s frustration can be credited to the fact that we are adults. We KNOW it’s respectful to be quiet when others are working quietly. We KNOW running indoors isn’t safe. We KNOW it’s kind to give others a hand. We KNOW it’s responsible to throw away our garbage. But, not all students have learned these everyday ordinary life skills. Not all students have the same parents that have taught them how to behave in all the various situations that will happen in their day, let alone in the school environment. I can be silly in class sometimes, but not others? I couldn’t get up and throw my snack away until snack was over in 2nd grade, but this teacher wants me to throw it away as soon as I’m finished? We have to be quiet in library every day, but today there’s a guest speaker and we can be silly? It’s confusing, especially for young kids. So, the first step in managing behavior, is to remember that a kid might honestly have no idea how you expect them to behave. It’s your job to guide them into figuring it out.
The basic idea behind any effective classroom management is that you change your language and attention to a positive focus. If you are in a PBIS school, you are probably already doing this. Instead of saying, “Don’t run in the hall!” you say, “It’s safe to walk in the hall.” Basic, yet so effective. You really don’t have to be a PBIS school to implement that, and it’s not rocket science so I highly recommend it to any teacher. With that being said, PBIS really works best if your entire school is involved and the staff remains consistent with it (and by that I mean practicing what they preach). This is especially helpful as each student moves from grade to grade and teachers are using the same language and behavior management practices. A large, easy to read behavior matrix is also ideal in teaching students what the expectations are in each area and throughout different times of the day.
You can check out my Behavior Matrix by clicking here.
As you know, coming back from breaks, whether long or short or even the weekend, can be a difficult transition for many students. They can forget the expectations. They need constant reminders throughout the year. Make a point to schedule in going over your behavior expectations either right before you begin an activity (“We remain in our seats with a zero voice for the first five minutes of writing workshop”) or as a whole concept with your behavior matrix (“Who can tell me how to be respectful during in-between times?”–show how to find the answer on the matrix).
You probably already know that consistency is key. It’s one thing to say it, it’s another to actually do it. If you expect your students to be absolutely silent during math centers, then you can’t be okay with one student whispering to another and get upset when someone else starts talking. Your students push boundaries, right? If you expect them to be silent, then you have to show them it’s the expectation. Every time. Not just when you have a headache (guilty!). And because blurting out and telling me a “bellybutton statement” (as in, toddlers point out they have a bellybutton when you ask them their favorite color) when I ask what the main idea in the story was is one of my biggest teacher pet peeves, I made this reference tool (like I was just saying, you have to be consistent with making them raise their hand with the symbols though!). Grab it FREE here.
Another system I LOVE to use for keeping “small behaviors” (think blurting, getting up when you’re not supposed to be out of your seat, talking during independent work time, etc.) is Think Time. This is another component of PBIS. Usually, it’s done throughout your building or if need be, with a teaching partner nearby. Have you heard of it? I’ll give you a little run-down in case you don’t already know.
You know that student that is blurting out? Or doing some other minor thing that is disrespectful, unkind, irresponsible, or unsafe? Think Time is the perfect solution. Basically, you give Sassy Sara a warning (typically nonverbal, like an eye raise or touch of the shoulder). Still happens? Verbal warning, “Check your behavior.” Still? Hand her the Think Time pass (but there’s no time attached–it’s all based on how long a student chooses to “think” about their behavior), she goes to another teacher’s room, fills out a form, verbally answers the questions from the other teacher, returns to your classroom, and gets back on task. This, of course, is all sorted out ahead of time with the other teachers around you. It gives you, the instructor, a break from a situation that may be frustrating you and a moment to clear your thinking about how to handle a situation. It gives the student that’s making a bad choice time to do the same. And, equally important, it gives the other students in your class the opportunity to continue learning.
We do not call home to parents when students get a regular Think Time. Parents are informed that our school uses Think Time and what it is, so most of them understand that blurting out is not something we will call home for. However, if a student gets 4 Think Times in a 7 day period, we call home and students are given lunch detention. Students are made aware that parents will not be called unless they get an Admin Think Time.
So you might be thinking, “Yeah right. There’s no way I can hand a Think Time Pass to Sassy Sara and she’s going to actually leave the room, let alone fill out a stupid form.” You’re right, there is a Plan B. If a student is unable to complete these steps (let’s say they throw a tantrum, crawls under a table or slams the door on their way out), they get an “Admin Think Time.” You call the office (or counselor, or principal–they need to be familiar with the process already) and that person comes to retrieve the student (the student fills out an “Admin Think Time Form”) until they are ready to complete the original Think Time. The key to making it work and eventually minimizing those behaviors is to be consistent with it. In my experience over the last 7 years of Think Time, the majority of students that get a Think Time only need a few reminders before they “get” it. You can find Think Time sheets and a powerpoint to introduce it to your class here.
Let’s say you’re a teacher with a special treasure box full of goodies. Is your classroom management working? If so, great! If not, change it up! Get rid of the treasure box and try rewards that aren’t tangible (sit in the teacher’s chair, 5 extra minutes of recess, 10 minutes of GoNoodle time, lunch with the principal, etc.). Or maybe you have a rewards system that honors the whole class (marble jar, spelling out a word on the whiteboard for a party/award, etc.) and it’s lost its appeal. Don’t worry, you don’t always have to take it away. Maybe your class needs table group awards as well. Or more individual incentives. My point is this, if you remain stagnant and have an “idea” of the rewards system type of teacher you are, you may not enjoy teaching this year. Don’t get so stuck on how you’ve always done it that you are making yourself (and your kids) miserable.
In my own classroom, I’ve tried pretty much every reward/consequence system I’ve seen. I know what works for me (table group and whole class rewards) and what doesn’t (individual sticker/star charts–I always forget to do it). I also have these digital rewards to spice things up a bit. This can be displayed on a screen or even used with Google Classroom (I know some teachers are using it to show individual students when they’ve earned a piece). I have even added a few holiday specific ones (the build a turkey is my favorite!) to keep it fresh and new for your students.
If you have yet to try a table group reward system, here’s a FREE table group points chart (pop into a page protector to use a dry erase marker). I let my kids name their table group (I think it gives them ownership), but that’s up to you. I change up the goal amount as needed and when a group completes it, they get some sort of reward and the whole board gets erased so it’s a fresh start for everyone.
Kids thrive on routine. So, if you can help it at all, try to not change it as often. Yes, I know you have to go that assembly and yes, that field trip is a class favorite. But, there are other times when your routine doesn’t NEED to change. Weigh your risks and benefits. If you have the opportunity to keep your daily routine and not change things, do it. Or, if you don’t, think about any ways you can maintain as much of your routine as possible. That could mean instead of tying shoes in the classroom because the substitute gym teacher is late, you go with your class to the gym and spare 5 minutes of your prep tying shoes so they start off in the place they normally start off. Situations like that are all about thinking ahead and preventing. Which leads me to…
If you’ve been teaching long enough, you probably already do this. It’s all about anticipating what can happen (usually this is based on your past experiences). That one time Joker Jacob tried to de-pants Shy Suzie at the concert? Well, now you know which kid to stand next to and provide some extra behavior support. Think ahead. Teachers that excel at behavior and classroom management don’t assume the worst, they prepare for the best.
So, Cussing Cade has had 4 Think Times in one day. What can you do? If something has been tried (and you’ve documented all of your attempts–keep those Think Time Debriefing forms and anecdotal notes), you’re likely ready to seek out additional help. Your school probably has a system in place, but maybe not. Speak to your Principal. Find out your options. Maybe they aren’t supportive and start talking about how things were “back in the day” or you leave feeling just as lost, if not more, than you did when you walked in. Find out if your school or district has a psychologist or counselor you can talk to about your situation. See if you can schedule them to come in and do an observation of the student. Another set of eyes can be incredibly informative. Be prepared to receive feedback on what you can do to change the situation, and don’t be offended if you truly want things to change. If nobody seems to offer any solid advice, I highly recommend turning to an online community. Blog posts, websites, even Facebook groups that are specifically for teachers in your grade level (just search your grade level and “tribe” and you might find one to join). My point is: don’t give up. You aren’t alone.
I have always made it a point to be clear about my role in a student’s life. I am their teacher, not their friend. I am intentional in this. I don’t even refer to them as “friends,” when I’m asking them to do something (I say, “Class…” instead). You can make personal connections with students that are incredibly meaningful without being their friend. You can hug and be friendly without overdoing it and sending them conflicting ideas. If you’re always holding a hand in the hallway, think about how that child could perceive it. Are you supporting them to make sure they’re walking or are you doing it because it’s sweet? Be cautious in how you want to be perceived or it can really backfire (it’s confusing to kids when their “friends” tell them they have to come inside for math–what kind of friend bosses you around like that?! I’m just going to go play a bit more…).
And finally, this is the hardest one. Students may be looking for negative attention from you, but that doesn’t mean you need to take it personally yourself. Remind yourself that you are a professional and that this, although emotional and exhausting, is a career. Just because a student might try to get a rise out of you doesn’t mean they don’t like you or your cute shoes. When Bobby Blurtsalot interrupts your reading lesson for the 3rd time, he doesn’t know how much time you spent on it or that it was your favorite part of the story. He just knows he was excited about that frog and it reminded him of a frog he caught at this Grandpa’s house last summer with his cousin and they had s’mores and ….Think Time pass.
So, like I said in the beginning, I’m not perfect. I’m not an expert. These are just my own thoughts and not research based or anything. What works for you? What doesn’t? Feel free to comment or leave a question below!
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