Effective classroom management allows for maximum time for learning in a positive, supportive, and well structured environment. In an effective classroom the teacher and the students look forward to each day of learning. In the Fred Jones text, read chapters 1 and 2 to complete a 1 page reflective response to the following: What "aha" did you have as a result of this reading? Describe how you will implement concepts learned from these chapters to establish a classroom management system for your classroom. Provide an example of a motivating activity. Chapter One Learning From the “Natural” Teachers Preview • All of our efforts to improve education come down to the classroom. Whether or not lessons come alive and students learn depends upon the teacher’s skill. …
Effective classroom management allows for maximum time for learning in a positive, supportive, and well structured environment. In an effective classroom the teacher and the students look forward to each day of learning.
In the Fred Jones text, read chapters 1 and 2 to complete a 1 page reflective response to the following:
What "aha" did you have as a result of this reading?
Describe how you will implement concepts learned from these chapters to establish a classroom management system for your classroom.
Provide an example of a motivating activity.
Learning From the “Natural” Teachers
• All of our efforts to improve education come down to the classroom. Whether or not lessons come alive and students learn depends upon the teacher’s skill.
• In some fortunate classrooms, both the teacher and the students look forward to getting to school in the morning. This book describes how to produce such classrooms.
• Many of the lessons in this book were learned in the classrooms of gifted or “natural” teachers. As a result, the procedures described are practical and down to earth.
• Natural teachers do not work themselves to death. Instead, they put the students to work.
• Effective management saves you time and effort. As a result, you have more time for teaching in the classroom, and more energy for living after you get home.
Succeeding in the Classroom
Focus on Teachers
This book is for teachers. I want teachers to feel successful at the end of the day. I want them to go home with enough energy for the rest of their lives. I want them to enjoy teaching.
I know teachers like this – who thrive in the classroom and are energized by teaching. I have heard them say, “I can’t wait for school to begin.” These teachers, however, are a distinct minority.
Most teachers are exhausted by the end of the day. Almost a third of new teachers quit by the end of their second year on the job. Many who stay suffer from burnout.
Most of the stress of teaching comes from getting students to do things. Managing the behavior of young people is no easy job, as any parent can tell you. Managing a whole classroom full of young people is the subject of this book.
Focus on Principals
This book is for principals. I want them to be able to do their job without constantly being interrupted by office referrals. And I want their after school meetings to be with teachers rather than with parents who are upset about a child who is in trouble.
There has been a recent flood of research indicating that teacher quality is the single most important in-school factor influencing student learning and achievement. But teacher quality is also the single most important in-school factor that determines how much of the administrator’s time goes to damage control rather than instructional leadership.
Focus on Students
This book is for students. For students to learn, they must enjoy learning. They must look forward to entering the classroom in the morning.
Some teachers create just such classrooms. They make learning an adventure. There is excitement in the air.
Students like being active. But even more, they like being interactive. They enjoy learning when it engages all of their senses – when it comes alive.
Whether or not lessons come alive depends upon the teacher’s skill. This book describes the skills of exceptional teachers – the “how to” of effective instruction.
Parenting Is Hard
Parents not only juggle schedules and meals and errands all day long, but they are also teachers. How do you teach your kids to do what you want them to do the first time you ask? How do you teach your kids to stop doing what you don’t want them to do – now? How do you teach them to be nice to each other, to be respectful, to cooperate?
Every parent knows that raising children is one of the most challenging jobs on earth. It takes all of the intelligence and energy that you can muster. It takes never ending love and patience even when you are exhausted.
Can you think of anything more challenging than being a good parent? I can.
Teaching Is Harder
Being a parent is a piece of cake compared to managing a classroom. In the classroom you don’t have your own children – the ones who love you – the ones who have been carefully taught right from wrong.
In the classroom you have other people’s kids. These “other people” will send you a room full of youngsters whose personality traits range from exemplary to highly inappropriate.
In the classroom you have other people’s kids.
Some parents teach their children that no means no, but not all of them do. Some parents teach their children that if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right, but not all of them do. Rather, some people raise kids who don’t make their beds, don’t clean their rooms, don’t set the table, and don’t pick up their clothes.
It’s not that these parents don’t want their kids to be responsible and well behaved. They just don’t know how to make it happen. They lack the necessary skills.
As a result, these parents make a lot of “rookie errors” as their kids are growing up. They are inconsistent when dealing with misbehavior. They nag instead of teach. They tell their kids to do something without following through to make sure it gets done. Over time these kids often learn to avoid work by being contrary while mastering the art of heel dragging and procrastination.
To these students add the usual assortment of characters who show up to any classroom on the first day of school – a handful of helpless handraisers, a couple of kids who can’t stop talking, a bully, a social isolate, several students with learning disabilities, and a few who are hyperactive. You will juggle the individual needs of this motley crew every hour of the day.
You don’t just teach the curriculum. You teach civilization. In addition to teaching responsibility and kindness and fair play, you must also teach the value of achievement based upon hard work.
In fact, you will ask your students to do more hard work in one day than their parents may ask them to do at home in a month. And you will expect it to be:
• done correctly
• written legibly
• finished on time
• with a good attitude
Lots of luck!
How will you succeed – by “winging it” – like their parents did? Are you kidding? You will need some serious, high-tech, industrial strength classroom management skills.
You will juggle the individual needs of this motley crew all day.
But very few of us enter the classroom with a detailed understanding of classroom management. So we do “wing it.” We wing it because we have little choice. “On the job training” in education typically means being thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool to sink or swim.
During our first few years on the job we accept the long evenings and the days fueled by adrenaline as the price of mastering a new profession. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Some teachers make teaching a room full of kids look easy. How do they do it?
Observing Two “Naturals”
We Have a Problem
The year was 1969, and I was asked to consult at a private school for emotionally, behaviorally, and learning handicapped junior-high-age students. All of them had been “removed” from the Los Angeles Unified School District. I had just been given a free ticket to the all-star game of classroom goof-offs.
On my first visit I observed four classrooms, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. The two I observed in the morning were a shock.
As I approached the first classroom, I could hear yelling. As I entered, I saw empty chairs. I looked to my left and saw a kid standing on a desk. Nine kids were crouched on top of the coat closet staring at me.
Suddenly, a half-dozen other kids poured out of the coat closet. They were armed with items of clothing with which they began pelting the students above. One student leapt from on top of the coat closet to wrestle a classmate to the floor.
In front of this scene was a male teacher who was donating his body to the betterment of young people – his stomach lining, his dental work, his blood pressure – as many of us do. With arms folded, teeth clenched, and a look of grim desperation he shouted,
This worried me. I am a clinical psychologist by training, and I had spent years working with groups – group dynamics, group communication, group problem-solving. I didn’t see any group.
Then, the teacher said,
“I am simply going to wait until you all settle down!”
I didn’t know how long he had been waiting. It was November.
“I am simply going to wait until you all settle down!”
The second classroom I visited that morning was almost as bad. A young female teacher was leading a class discussion. I could tell because everyone was talking at the same time. Who do you think was talking louder than any of the students?
“Class. There is absolutely no excuse for all of this noise!... Class!...”
By the end of the morning, I desperately wanted to leave. But, since I had promised, I stuck it out past lunch.
Bringing Order Out of Chaos
After lunch I observed the students who had been on top of the coat closet as they entered another teacher’s classroom. This teacher greeted them warmly at the door. The students took their seats as they entered, looked at the chalkboard where a math assignment was posted, and went to work.
When the bell to begin class rang, only a few looked up. The students worked on the assignment for about ten minutes. Then there was a lesson transition. The teacher said,
“Class, before any of you get out of your seats, let me tell you what I want. First, place your papers here on the corner of my desk. Then, if you need to sharpen pencils, now is the time to do it. If you need to get a drink of water, now is the time to do it. When you return to your seats, would you please get out your social studies books.”
I thought, “Oh no! Don’t let them out of their seats!” But, the students did as the teacher asked and were back in their seats ready to go in 41 seconds.
The teacher then conducted a group discussion in which the students were respectful and actually took turns. Throughout the class period these students behaved like any well-mannered group of kids.
I might have written this experience off as a fluke had not the second teacher of the afternoon gotten similar results with the refugees from that morning’s group discussion. I had no idea how these two teachers got the results they did, but I observed three characteristics of their teaching that I will never forget.
• They were not working hard at discipline management. In fact, they were not working very hard at all.
• They were relaxed.
• They were emotionally warm.
At the very least I learned that managing a classroom does not have to be stressful, and discipline does not have to be stern and humorless. These teachers enjoyed teaching.
How could two classes that were so out of control with one teacher look so normal with another teacher? I had to find out.
They Didn’t Have a Clue
I returned to these classrooms for several days hoping to discover “the secret.” Instead, all I saw was two “naturals” making it look easy.
On Thursday after having observed their classrooms for four days, I held a meeting with my two “naturals.” I told them that I simply wanted to understand how they could have such good classroom control with such difficult students.
The “naturals” could not have been more generous with their time. One of the reasons they participated so eagerly was that they were curious about the same question. As one of them said, “I don’t have any discipline problems, but I can hear the other classrooms with my door shut.”
Yet, while my natural teachers tried to be helpful, they didn’t help all that much. I said, “How do you get the kids to behave so well?”
They both said, “Well, you have to mean business.”
I said, “Right! But exactly how do you mean business?”
They said, “On the first day of school the classroom will either belong to you or it will belong to them. God help you if it belongs to them.”
I said, “Right! But how do you do it?”
They said, “Frankly, a lot of it has to do with expectations. Their behavior will not exceed your expectations. If you don’t expect them to behave themselves, they won’t.”
I said, “Right! But, how do you get them to do that?”
They said, “Well, a lot of it has to do with your values. If you value every child as a learner...”
I said, “Wait! Give me credit for good values and high expectations. I want to know what to do. Imagine that I am a substitute teacher taking over your class tomorrow morning. You obviously have the students in a groove. I don’t want to lose it. I’m standing in front of your class. Now, tell me. What do I do?”
“Oh.” they said. “I see... Hmm... Well... I can tell you this much. You had better mean business.”
On that day I learned something remarkable about these natural teachers. They had great instincts, but, for the most part, they could not describe what they were doing in specific terms. Why?
Choose Your Parents Very Carefully
My best guess is that my natural teachers lacked any language to describe their classroom management skills because they learned these skills in early childhood. Chances are, their parents were also naturals.
Consequently, to a natural teacher effective management seems like nothing more than common sense. “How else would you do it?” they often asked. As the saying goes, “Choose your parents very carefully.”
But how will the rest of us learn these management skills? Before we can even describe the skills of discipline management, we must first understand the nature of the problems we are trying to address. Don’t expect it to be obvious.
If you were to sit in the back of a dysfunctional classroom, you would see behavior problems galore. But, if you were to sit in the back of a typical classroom, you would just see kids doing interesting things while a dedicated teacher orchestrated the activity. What could possibly be wrong?
Wasting Time During Transitions
Let’s start at the beginning of class. “It takes a while to get started,” teachers will say. “We spend the first few minutes just settling in.”
In fact, this characterization is highly accurate. It is rare that any lesson begins before five minutes after the bell rings. Students chit chat as they sharpen pencils, collect their materials, and get into their work groups.
During this time the teacher takes roll, deals with tardies, and answers a few urgent questions from students. It all seems so normal.
That’s the problem. It is normal. Now suspend the pleasure you feel from watching those young faces, and engage your analytic faculties.
Out of a fifty minute class period, five minutes represents one-tenth of the teacher’s total contact time with those students during the semester. If the school has a ten million dollar annual budget, one million dollars has just been spent on “settling in.” Did anything productive take place? Was anything learned?
Next, let’s take the lesson transition – the “black hole” of lost learning time. A typical lesson transition takes five minutes. If the kids were to hustle, it would take thirty seconds. But they have no vested interest in hustling. They know that as soon as the lesson transition is over, the teacher will put them to work.
So, students make dawdling into an art form. They amble to the pencil sharpener and lackadaisically turn the handle as they laugh and talk with the next person in line. They stand around the drinking fountain and chit chat while patiently waiting their turn. They amble to their seats and slowly get out their materials with absolutely no sense of urgency.
“Settling in” plus one lesson transition has now consumed nearly ten minutes of our fifty minute class period – 20% of our total contact time for the semester. And nothing has yet been learned.
Learning Time Lost During Instruction
During the teaching of a lesson, learning time simply evaporates. It doesn’t make a big scene like a discipline problem. Rather, it slips away quietly. However, the way in which it slips away looks different at the elementary and secondary levels.
In high school the vast majority of lesson formats are still dominated by lecturing in spite of reform efforts. During the lecture the teacher is active, and the students are passive.
Some students take notes, but many don’t. Instead, they zone out or, if they are in the back of the room where they can get away with it, they chit-chat or text their friends.
At the elementary level learning time slips away after the lesson has been taught. As soon as the teacher asks the students to work independently, hands start waving in the air. They are the same students every day.
The teacher goes to the first handraiser to offer help. As the teacher tutors this student, the classroom quickly becomes noisy. In five seconds the chit-chat has spread across the room. In ten seconds it is getting loud. In a futile attempt to deal with the noise, the teacher announces to the class that they are to “quit talking and get back to work.” But as soon as the teacher resumes instruction, the chit-chat begins as before.
This pattern is repeated with a series of handraisers for the remainder of the lesson. “Working independently” is a euphemism for a little work, a lot of chit-chat, and a rate of time-on-task that hovers below fifty percent.
With the advent of cooperative learning, however, a new pattern has emerged. Now students are put into groups where they are expected to talk. The result is what you might expect – a lot of chit-chat without anybody working too hard – except for the high achiever of the group who does the assignment for everyone else.
Time Squandered by “Goofing Off”
Now, let’s move on to classroom discipline. This is where we deal with provocative behavior, right? Well... not really.
You can find plenty of provocative behavior in an out-of-control classroom, of course. But you could sit in the back of a typical classroom for weeks without seeing a kid being sent to the office. Who wants to get sent to the office?
So what form do discipline problems take in our typical classroom? Look around. They are right in front of you.
While large discipline problems are rare in our typical classroom, small discipline problems are very common. The discipline problems that I count over and over during any class period might be considered innocuous. But they add up. I will refer to them collectively as “goofing off.”
Eighty percent of goofing off is simply students talking to their neighbors or texting friends – scored talking to neighbors on our data sheet. It makes no difference whether we are observing elementary or high school classrooms, and it makes no difference whether the subject is math, social studies, or English. It doesn’t even make any difference whether the class is Regular Ed. or Special Ed.
Statistically speaking, when it comes to defining discipline management within the classrooms, talking to neighbors is “the ball game.” It accounts for 80% of lost learning time when kids are supposed to be on task – that crucial time between settling in and the first lesson transition.
Eighty percent of the goofing off in any classroom is “talking to neighbors.”
Fifteen percent of goofing off is scored out of seat. And I don’t even count the kid at the pencil sharpener. Some teachers let their students go at will. I only count the second kid at the pencil sharpener. Or, more often, I count the kid (we call him or her “the wanderer”) who is always wandering around the classroom five minutes after the lesson has begun.
Between talking to neighbors and out of seat we have counted 95% of goofing off in a typical classroom. You might think that the remaining 5% are comprised of big problems that might cause a kid to be sent to the office. Wrong! They are just nickel and dime behaviors that aren’t worth scoring – like passing notes, drawing cartoons, and tying shoelaces around the leg of the chair.
A Pattern Emerges
A pattern emerges if you spend enough hours in the back of a classroom observing. The teacher works hard all day long. But the students don’t work any harder than they have to. They would rather chit-chat.
The students aren’t being defiant or provocative. They are just being kids. Kids love to socialize. Working diligently on a classroom assignment, in contrast, might be considered an unnatural act.
One of the teacher’s most pressing jobs during any lesson is to replace socializing with hard work. This is quite a trick. It requires some serious classroom management skills. Without these skills, learning time will simply evaporate due to the teacher’s inefficiency.
The Stages We All Go Through
If talking to neighbors is the most common classroom discipline problem, the logical question for any teacher is, “What am I going to do about it?” Answering this question over and over all day long is something we were not prepared for when we entered the teaching profession. Instead, we must figure it out for ourselves.
As we progress along the learning curve, we all pass through the same four stages. These stages account for much of our exhaustion during our first year of teaching.
Stage 1: As Green as Grass
Imagine that it is the first day of your teaching career. As the saying goes, you are as green as grass.
It is the undying hope of the green teacher that if you just love your students and are nice to them, they will be nice to you in return and everything will turn out fine. This is the sweet dream of the uninitiated. It will get a weary smile from your more experienced colleagues.
You are, however, crystal clear about what you are not going to do.
“I am not going to nag my students. I hate it when teachers do that!”
Thus, with a smile on your face and love in your heart, the ball game begins.
As you begin to help a student, you look up to see two kids on the far side of the room talking instead of working. Can you believe it? Green teachers, not wanting to nag, say to themselves:
“I’ll just wait. Maybe the students will get back to work.”
Stop! You just declared “open season” on yourself! If you don’t do anything about the disruption, the rest of the students will conclude, “If they can talk, so can I.”
Not surprisingly, as you continue helping the student, the noise level rises. Soon a student begins to wander around the room. You are beginning to lose control of the class!
Finally, you say to yourself, “I have to really do something!” We will refer to this realization as losing your innocence.
But what will you do? In all of your teacher training were you ever prepared for this moment?
Stage 2: Do Something!
You swing into action. You stand, turn toward the offending students and say their names.
They respond with that look of mild surprise and total innocence that I call “smiley face.” Green teachers often mistake smiley face for repentance. If you wait long enough, you may observe all four stages of pseudo-compliance.
• Smiley face: They give you the look of the repentant angel, as if asking, “Who, me?”
• Book posing: They open their books and look back at you as though to ask, “Does this fulfill the requirements of formal education?”
• Pencil posing: They get out a pencil and touch it to paper while looking at you as though to say, “Look, I’m writing.”
• Pseudo-scholarship: They start to write but look up periodically to see if you are still tracking them.
It certainly looks like compliance from where you stand. But as soon as you turn your back, Larry and Roberta resume their conversation. What will you do now?
Stage 3: Nag, Nag, Nag
Students can tell when you are beginning to lose your patience. You turn with a look of grim determination, put your hands on your hips, cock your head forward, raise an eyebrow, draw in a deep breath, and address the students in question:
“Larry! Roberta! I am sick and tired of looking up only to see the two of you talking. You have just as much work to do as anyone else blah, blah, blah...”
Sometimes you address the group:
“All right class, there is absolutely no excuse for all of this noise! When I look up, I expect to see people working! There is an assignment on the board, and blah, blah, blah...”
Sometimes you address the lone wanderer:
“Phillip! Where are you going? I have not given you permission to wander aimlessly around the room. Would you please take your seat and blah, blah, blah...”
I have just given three examples of the most widespread “management technique” on earth – Nag, Nag, Nag! No job is more suited to making a nag out of an idealistic young person than trying to get a room full of kids to do one thing after another all day long.
But students know exactly how to get you to quit nagging. They look contrite and get back to work. You start helping the next student. In five seconds Larry and Roberta resume their conversation.
When you see them disrupting one time too many, something in your soul finally snaps. Enough is enough! This brings us to phase four: Laying Down the Law!
Stage 4: Laying Down the Law
You stand slowly, square up, give your best sick and tired look, say the students names, and march over to Larry and Roberta. It is time to deal with this nonsense once and for all. Of course, as you walk across the room, you pull the entire class off task as all eyes follow you. Then, after you arrive, you get to have one of the most silly conversations in all of education.
“Larry! Roberta! I am sick and tired of looking up to see nothing but talking over here.”
“I want you to turn around in your seats right now and get some work done. Do you understand?”
“And, when I come back, I want to see that something has been accomplished.”
Having taken a firm stand for all that is right and good, you trudge back across the classroom with all eyes following. With one last sick and tired look at Larry and Roberta, you resume helping the poor student who has been patiently waiting. What do you think Larry and Roberta will be doing in fifteen seconds?
Right Back Where You Started
When you look up the next time to see Larry and Roberta talking again, it may dawn on you that, after having gone to all of the trouble of laying down the law, you are right back where you started. Of course, the kids know this.
Occasionally a frustrated teacher will bounce a student to the office at this juncture for “insubordination” or some such thing. But this looks weak, especially when done repeatedly.
Instead, most teachers will be looking for a “labor saving device.” The two most common are:
• Save the trip and just nag: There is a certain logic to support this move. If you are going to fail, fail cheap. The trip across the room is a lot of work for nothing.
• Give up: When a teacher finally decides to throw in the towel, they often make a self-justifying pronouncement in the teachers’ lounge. I will call it the “Policeman Speech.” Have you ever heard words like these?
“I did not go into teaching to be a policeman. I am not going to spend all of my time and energy dealing with one little disruption after another all day long. I will deal with any situation that is serious, of course, but I am not going to stop my lesson every thirty seconds in order to blah, blah, blah...”
Both of these responses belong to well-intentioned teachers who have finally accepted the fact that they cannot win. It costs them an arm and a leg to deal with the disruption. In contrast, the students only have to smile, face forward, and return to work in order to be in compliance. Unfortunately, if you are working harder at discipline management than the students, you will eventually lose.
Dying by Inches
Students know that you will wear out before they do. Some students even enjoy watching it happen.
If you think that you can bring “law and order” to the frontier by chasing after every bandito in the territory, let me bring to mind some basic realities that might add a note of sobriety to your calculations: 1) There are many of them, and only one of you, 2) You are older, and you tire more easily, and finally 3) They send in “fresh troops” every year.
Going through the four stages of the learning curve like previous generations of teachers will start you down the road to burnout. The following stages represent a well-worn path from initial frustration to “throwing in the towel.”
Exhaustion – You are constantly dealing with discipline.
Futility – It doesn’t get any better no matter how hard you try.
Cynicism – You can’t do anything with these kids.
Resentment – It finally becomes them against you.
Rationalization – Here come the self-justifications.
• It’s just the way kids are at this age (i.e., the hormone hypothesis favored by junior high teachers).
• It’s the homes these kids come from.
• It’s the television and the video games. They have the attention span of gnats.
• I don’t have major problems.
• The noise doesn’t really bother me that much.
• It’s my job to teach. It’s their job to learn.
The Price We Pay
You are on your toes all day long teaching lessons while constantly juggling the needs of individual students. After school you have parent conferences and committee meetings.
When you get home you have paper grading and lesson planning. You are on your toes all day long, and then you keep working into the evening. You can run yourself ragged!
Everybody knows that teaching is a stressful job. So, part of the job is managing stress.
You can run yourself ragged!
But stress management, to be successful, must be proactive. You cannot allow yourself to be stressed all day long and then somehow undo it once you get home. You can try, of course. Some of the more common prescriptions are: 1) Rest – lots of luck if you have kids, 2) Exercise – lots if luck if you have kids, and 3) A glass of chardonnay – or two.
But stress management after you get home is not really stress management at all. It is damage control. And the damage has already been done.
The bottom line in stress management is simple. You have to prevent stress while you are teaching – moment by moment, class period by class period. You have to work smart, not hard.
Lost Learning Time
As we watch our typical classroom day after day, the price we pay for our lack of preparation in classroom management becomes more and more apparent. Teachers work themselves to death. But, in spite of these efforts, the learning time continues to slip away – before class, during class and at every transition. When learning time goes, achievement goes with it.
How do you prevent learning time from simply evaporating? Don’t look for a simple answer.
The methods you would use to get kids on task as soon as the bell rings are completely different from the methods you would use to train kids to hustle during a lesson transition. And neither of these procedures bear any relationship to the skills needed to prevent goofing off. Prevention will require that we redesign the entire process of instruction to that end.
In addition, the prevention of goofing off is completely different from the remediation of goofing off. Remediation will require meaning business. Handle the situation effectively and the class period progresses smoothly as though nothing had happened. Mishandle a situation and you have a stressful, time-consuming problem to deal with.
And then there is motivation, hardly a simple topic. There are two different types of motivation. One is academic – getting kids to work hard while being conscientious. The other is behavioral – getting kids to hustle during lesson transitions in order to replace wasted time with learning time. Both motivational programs will operate simultaneously.
In a Tools for Teaching workshop new teachers come up to me during the break and ask, “Why didn’t we get this in college?” Older teachers will say, “Where were you twenty years ago?”
I will ask the new teachers, “In your teacher training program did you ever have a course in discipline management or classroom management?” For decades, the answer was, “No.” More recently they will say, “We had a course, but it was mainly theory. We learned what we were supposed to do, but we never learned how to do it.”
“Did you ever get up on your feet and practice any skills,” I will ask. The answer, of course, is “No.”
Without classroom management training, teachers are left to figure it out for themselves as best they can once they enter the classroom. The result will be what you might expect.
You Can Do This
To manage the classroom efficiently, you will need a repertoire of sophisticated management skills that cover all of the tasks that you must deal with each day in the classroom. It is not enough to simply know about these skills. You must be able to execute them – quickly – under pressure.
But have hope. Being a natural teacher isn’t magic. It’s a matter of skill. And skills can be taught. You can do this.
The Primary Prevention of Discipline Problems
• This chapter is an overview of the topics described in the book.
• This book focuses on the fundamental skills of classroom management. These skills replace working hard with working smart.
• Instructional practices focus on making learning interactive while replacing helpless handraising with independent learning.
• The management of motivation focuses on helping students to internalize values of hard work and conscientiousness. Incentives for productivity combine enjoyment with accountability.
• Discipline management focuses on 1) making cooperation and responsible behavior a matter of routine, and 2) setting limits in a nonadversarial fashion through mobility, proximity, and the body language of meaning business.
Anatomy of Classroom Management
My “natural” teachers were naturals at classroom management. But, as I mentioned in the previous chapter, they had a hard time describing what they did. If we want to train teachers to have a similar ability, we must first gain a detailed understanding of classroom management.
Classroom management is an umbrella term for the skills and procedures that define a teacher’s job in the classroom. Classroom management integrates discipline, instruction, and motivation. These three are so intertwined that success in one requires success in the other two.
Since time and energy are finite, all of the time and energy that go into discipline management come right out of instruction. If we want to help teachers teach, one of our first objectives must be to drive the cost of discipline management as close to zero as possible.
Focus on Prevention
If discipline management is remedial – always dealing with problems after they occur – discipline management will always be expensive. For discipline management to be affordable, discipline problems must be prevented.
Yet prevention is far more complex and subtle than remediation. Prevention requires dealing with root causes, not just delivering consequences. It requires intervention early in the chain of causation, not after the fact. It will ultimately define the critical elements of both instruction and motivation.
Therefore, discipline management, when viewed in the light of prevention, becomes synonymous with classroom management. In this book the two terms will be used interchangeably, with “discipline management” coming to the fore in discussions of student misbehavior.
Skills of the Natural Teachers
Brainstorming with the Naturals
While my natural teachers could not describe what they did in any real detail, the management skills obviously existed in their minds and bodies. I just had to draw these skills out so I could see them.
As before, my natural teachers were more than generous with their time. We began our exploration with what the teachers called “meaning business.” The teachers were adamant that you had to mean business before you could ever be successful in the classroom. But what is it? Meaning business seemed to be as intangible as it was critical.
I met with my natural teachers each day after school. We brainstormed. We role played. I would set up examples of misbehavior and say, “What would you do now? Show me!” Then I would experiment by having the teacher respond to the situation in several different ways. Finally, we would put our heads together to decide which worked best.
The teachers would say things like, “Oh, the second time was better. When you turned all the way around toward me, I could tell that you were more serious.”
Decoding Body Language
Over time it became clear that the core of meaning business was body language. We were decoding a new language – yet one that is understood by everybody.
As we came to understand body language more fully, we realized that the kids were “reading” the teacher like a book. They knew what they could or couldn’t get away with at any moment of the day. They knew because the teacher was telling them.
Body language is a continuous dialogue without words between people. It is ongoing and unavoidable. It signals your mood, your intentions, your resolve. With goofing off in the classroom, it is a conversation not unlike a poker game in which students read you in order to know whether to raise or fold.
Sometimes after decoding a critical piece of body language in our after school sessions, teachers would take it home to use with their own kids. They would often report the next day, “You know that thing we did yesterday? It really works!”
Untangling Classroom Management
Every time we solved a problem, the next problem came into view. Once we got a handle on meaning business, I said to them, “Why do kids goof off so much during a lesson? If we could cut down on that, we wouldn’t have to mean business so often.”