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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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In my mind, the first and most basic obligation of a teacher is to see the beauty that exists within every student. Every child is infinitely precious. Period.

When we start from this vantage point, classroom management -- and its flip side, student engagement -- comes more easily. It's an outgrowth of students feeling loved and respected.

This video, shot in the first few days of my classroom in 2010, and the seven tips below will show how I try to put these ideas into practice.

1. Love your Students

Love them -- and stand firmly against behavior that doesn't meet your expectations or reflect their inner greatness. Too many students have internalized a profound sense of their own inadequacy, and it is incumbent upon us to remind them of their infinite value and counteract the many messages that they receive to the contrary. By loving our students unconditionally, we remind them of their true worth.

Our students know how we feel about them. If we don't like them -- or if we see them as a behavior problem -- they know it. Even if we don't say it, they will know it. And then that student is justified in resenting us, for we have failed to see the beauty that exists within that child. Maya Angelou said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

2. Assume the Best in Your Students

If a student chose not to meet one of my classroom expectations, they needed to know that I loved them but not their misbehavior. They needed to know that I cared for them and would not accept their poor choice because it would ultimately hurt them and didn't reflect how wonderful they truly are.

For instance, a minute and a half into the first day, I gave one student a verbal warning for whispering to another student as he was searching for his seat. Assuming the best in this young man, I told him, “I know you were probably talking about your seat, but you can't even talk about that, so that's your verbal warning. Go back to your seat and silently start your work." By assuming that he was trying to do the right thing -- find his assigned seat -- I affirmed that he wanted to meet the expectations. And yet I was firm with him that his choice to whisper after he had been told to silently begin his work was not OK. Similarly, at the end of class, I kept behind a student who was sighing to herself over the course of the period. By letting her know that I wouldn’t accept her subtle expressions of boredom or frustration, I also let her know that I thought she was great and her expressions of negativity wouldn't fly because they'd hurt our collective learning environment -- and because they didn’t square with the wonderful person I knew her to be.

3. Praise What and When You Can

Call attention to the things your students are doing that meet your expectations. The power of this is stunning for a number of reasons. Here are two:

  • It enables you to restate and reinforce the expectations for student behavior in a non-negative way. By narrating on-task behavior, you enable students who may have misheard you the first time to hear exactly what you expect of them. It's easier for students to meet your expectations when it's amply clear what those expectations are.
  • It shows your students that you're with it, that you're very aware of what's happening in the classroom. When they see and hear that you see and hear pretty much everything, they know that you mean business and that even their smallest actions matter.

4. Do Sweat the Small Stuff

In those first few minutes, hours and days in the classroom, you are essentially creating a world. And you want a world in which students do things that will keep them or put them on a path to a life replete with meaningful opportunities. Behaviors or actions that will detract from that world should be nipped in the bud. If you only "sweat" major misbehaviors, students will get the sense that minor misbehaviors are OK. If, on the other hand, you lovingly confront even the smallest misbehaviors, then it will be clear to students that, inside the four walls of your classroom, things that detract from what you're trying to achieve – even in small ways – just don’t fly.

5. Identify Yourself

Tell your students about who you are and why you're there. A classroom where each student deeply trusts the teacher has the potential to be a great environment for learning. To build that trust, tell your students who you are and why you chose to be a teacher. Tell them about your background, what you did when you were their age, and why you want to be their teacher. The more your students know about you and your intentions, the more they'll trust you to lead them.

6. Forge a Class Identity

Begin the year by forging a positive, collective identity as a class. During the first few days, I often complimented my classes as a collective. For instance, I'd say something like, "Period 3, everyone I’m looking at is meeting expectations." In many instances, I praised the entire class so that they began to feel they were part of something special in that room. They began feeling a sense of pride at being members of Period 3.

Conversely, I often chose to redirect individual students rather than the whole class. Instead of saying, “Period 3, I'm tired of hearing you talking when you shouldn’t be" -- which would introduce an oppositional tone, creating a divide between teacher and students -- I found more success correcting students individually.

7. Have a Plan

Your lesson plans need to be crystal clear. You need to begin each day with clarity about what students should know and be able to do by the end of the class period, and every second of your day should be purposefully moving you toward that end.

In addition to clarity about student knowledge and achievement, you should have a clear sense of the behavior you expect at each point in the class period. When you see them making the choice to behave as you expect them to, narrate it. And when you don't see it, confront those misbehaviors clearly, directly and with love.

I'm glad to know that the videos of my first few days in the classroom have been helpful. I'm also hyper aware that my lessons and my execution of them are far from perfect. I look forward to hearing how others create a strong classroom culture. Please share in the comments area below.

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Hi Amelia! I've used stations in my own teaching and have found that it works better if I separate my station time from my instructional time. We might do 10 minutes of lecture/ instructions to start off., then move into station work (during which time I was free to move around and check in with groups that needed me) then back into the large group for clarification/ reflection/ debrief/ new content, then back to stations, etc. I also used a checklist of behaviors and skills to assess not only the content they were working with, but also the process skills I needed to see demonstrated. Those grades counted and I was able to give immediate feedback (via sticky note) to individuals who were losing points or gaining bonus points. (I'm a big fan of sticky-note coaching. You can see one of my teachers using this technique here, http://tinyurl.com/Vinton-Universe at about the 4 minute mark. He uses notecards instead of stickies.)

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

Amelia... That's a tough one. Maybe almost impossible to manage that with one teacher and 25 students. In math, I often implement stations with one station being the teacher station doing review/direct instruction. I find that in this type of environment, you need to have a certain mindset and level of volume that is acceptable. Also, the centers should move quickly. I have one hour for math, so I usually do ten minutes each. I also give a ten second warning (organize your center) and also a ten second settle down period. If you plan to be successful with this type of teaching, you need to be really persistent in the beginning. It might take 4-5 station type lessons for the students to "get it". However, when they "get it" it's a beautiful thing.

You also have to keep in mind certain students that have trouble working together/getting along. This is definitely have an impact on how smoothly the centers work.

Your hybrid classroom is a great idea and can work. Maybe start off with only two types of learning at a time... then expand when students really understand expectations for different settings.

Just a few ideas.


Scott Bedley @scotteach's picture
Scott Bedley @scotteach
Teacher, Creator, Un-Maker, Foodie, Global School Play Day

Hey Amelia,
I can totally understand where you are coming from on this and learned a great way recently. Was the whole process of the stations introduced at the same time? Was the focus on volume and rotation rather than what you expect as on-task behavior? Or did you break down the each expected task and practice those individually for a while, then introduce the next of the three, then practice for a while? I learned that prior to ever giving direct instruction at the same time that other students are working in small groups and/or independently, we work on stamina and focus on each area individually and we work on it a lot, every day for weeks actually, before putting all the moving parts in place. Although this may seem like a lot of time to spend, it creates an environment where learning occurs at a deeper level after the routines are established and I'm able to better focus on the group I'm working with rather than me wasting a great deal of time in class management. We practice each individual task for many many weeks that follow establishing good routines and focus on the behavior, but also on what my students should be getting from the task I have them working on. I hope this makes sense and helps you. It really helped my classroom run better. Teaching really is an incrediblly challenging job and I think it shows so much that you are trying to learn how to better your craft. We all have so much to learn. You may consider getting the book Daily 5 as it outlines this process.

Julie Hawley's picture

Wonderful! I completely agree with your philosophy in classroom management, and I love that you think that the "most basic obligation of a teacher is to see the beauty that exists within every student." It is so important that our students know that we care about them and want them to succeed. I also use positive behavior management strategies in my classroom and have had great success with them. It creates an openness in the classroom and allows students to feel nurtured and supported. Great work! :)

Tamara Yeghiayan's picture

Thank you for sharing these 7 classroom management tips! I'm a second-year teacher and classroom management is something that can be a struggle when it comes to certain students in my class. Our district just started incorporating the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports as a behavior management system, so tip #3 is definitely something I've been using in my classroom with my students. Tip 1 and 2 are a great way to keep the students on my side and building a sense of trust where they feel comfortable enough to make mistakes and learn from them.

After watching your video, I saw many different classroom strategies that I would want to use in my own classroom. Even though I teach elementary school, I can still think of ways to incorporate your ideas with the younger students.

Thank you!

Clark Goldentyer's picture

I found your video almost hypnotic. Relaxing to watch, almost boring, but strangely enjoyable. I feel like I profoundly disagree with your style, the creation of an artificial and ultimately oppresive power system, the focus on minutia and obedience rather than originality and expression. Still I'm left reflecting on your style, lost in thought.

Inga's picture

An excellent technique, a good management of a class and an individual student, clearly explained expectations but... successful management of a class also depends on meeting students' expectations. From what I've seen I'd like to highlight 2 mistakes 1. Time management: the teacher was using timing for completing the tasks at the same time giving the tudents an impression of his professionalism in the time management. Unfortunately, the lesson didn't end with the bell because the teacher had forgotten to set time for his own performance. 2. It is highly unprofessional to address some of the students by names and some like "you two in white and purple". We all struggle to remember the names of all our new students at the very beginning but there are plenty of ways how to be reminded and remember the names faster in order to avoid this mistake. Conclusion: If you expect students to respect your time, respect theirs. If you want students to honour you, hounor them. The first and most important tool to do this is referring to a person by his/her name.

Amber Johnson's picture

Yes, yes and yes again! Than you for these ideas. It can sometimes be very difficult year to year with management since students are constantly changing, but I will be using these tips in the classroom and will be sharing this article with my friends. This article and http://www.ingredientsofoutliers.com/setting-up-your-classroom-for-succe... and http://www.ingredientsofoutliers.com/controlling-the-classroom-with-reac... have been the most helpful by far! Thank you for these tips!

Joshua P.'s picture

Amelia, Try flipping your classroom. You'll have much more time to spend with students doing independent work and collaborative work. You could replace the station you used for direct instruction with something else.

PS I just realized how old that comment is, so.

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