As a volunteer Sunday School teacher, our children’s ministry director asked me if I would look over her sheet of classroom management techniques. “I am too wordy,” she said, “and I’d really like something simple and easy to remember. It should be three major points that would help those who aren’t teachers manage a group of kids.” My immediate thought was, You don’t want me helping, I’m about as wordy as you get. But then I thought about it. How would I simplify classroom management strategies into three major points? Managing an environment of fifteen to thirty (or more) people is tricky. There is no simple method. There is no “EASY” button for classroom management. However, I did think of a way to communicate the essence of managing students into three areas: Positive Environment, Procedures, and Productive Students. Over the next three weeks I’ll address each issue. This week we focus on positive environment and how it affects classroom management.
A positive classroom environment encourages participation and risk-taking because students know they will not be harassed or belittled by the teacher. Students do not have to shrink within themselves to survive the forty-five minutes, ninety minutes, or full day with teacher who yells, throws things, or makes hurtful comments. In a positive classroom environment students can make jokes, engage in their learning, banter with the teacher, and feel comfortable with the tasks given.
Why is this so important? Let me ask you – when do you feel most motivated to be on your best behavior? Is it for a person who constantly makes you feel small or for someone whom you respect and don’t want to let down? Most students will go out of their way to harass and frustrate a teacher who belittles through words and actions. “Let’s see how mad we can make her today,” becomes the goal. Conversely, those same students will go out of their way to behave for a teacher who encourages and lifts up.
What are some ways we can create a positive environment in our classroom? Read below.
· Welcome students each day with a smile. Take some time to talk to each person and find out how they are doing. I use the time when my students are copying homework and working on the focus assignment (the activity ready for students to begin as soon as they enter the classroom). While everyone is working I walk around the room and stop to talk to each student briefly. It doesn’t take that long and gives me a good idea of what is happening with each student. Those that need a little extra time get it.
· Interact with your students as human beings and as colleagues. Be respectful and it will come back to you in spades. Treat your students as you would the other faculty in the school. Yes, they are children, but they are also people. We adults can be childish ourselves at times. Children are simply that way more often. Yet, at the same time they can respond to you in very mature and appropriate ways as well – especially if we expect it of them.
· Focus on the positive rather than the negative. If you focus your discipline/behavior program on consequences, then you are constantly reacting to misbehaviors. Your focus is on the negative. Instead, create a program that encourages students to act appropriately. You might have a chart or map that students “travel” or advance to a goal of some sort through good deeds and behavior. Every time a student does something good for others, is helpful, turns in homework, etc., he/she gets a coupon or ticket. Collect “x” number of tickets to earn movement to the next point on the chart. No matter what type of system you create, the idea is that students earn their way to something good or fun through their positive actions. This type of program focuses on the positive behaviors of students.
· Redirect misbehaviors rather than always punishing the student. If you see a student getting ready to push another, catch his/her attention and silently shake your head. Smile and nod when they stop, then say a silent “thank you” to the student. If you notice a younger child misbehaving, redirect his/her attention to another activity. Distraction is an excellent tool to help manage students. Of course, this does not mean that you never have consequences. You will also have those students who deliberately set out to defy and misbehave. You begin with redirection, and the positive reinforcement, but be ready to use consequences when the action calls for it.
Teachers who focus on consequences and set up a discipline system that relies on punishment, or even losing potential rewards (which is also a punishment), set themselves up for disappointment. Students continue to behave immaturely because they are treated as immature. Misbehavior continues because it is assumed automatically that students will misbehave. The focus is entirely on the negative and not the positive. In many cases students will deliberately misbehave to see how many “marks” they can rack up in one week. A particularly bright student might say to himself, “Well, I’m always in trouble anyway, so let’s see how far I can push it.” It is goal setting – negative style. A negative focus almost always results in this type of negative thinking by students.
Our students will live up to our expectations, whatever they might be. When we expect students to fail, they fail. When we expect them to misbehave, they misbehave. When we expect them to act immaturely, they act immaturely. On the other hand, when we expect students to achieve high goals, they reach for high goals. When we expect them to behave, they behave. When we expect them to act more maturely, they act more maturely (well, most of the time. J ). You get the gist of what I’m saying. As the leader of the classroom, our focus sets the stage for student actions and behaviors. So, where does your focus center? How do you set the stage for your students? And what results do you get in return?