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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

"I feel like I'm playing Whac-A-Mole every day," said the beginning teacher as she wiped the sweat from her brow.

I nodded and had flashbacks of my own first months teaching middle school. The class is settled, focused, and calm for two seconds, and then pop! On the other side of the room, a kid shouts, throws, reaches, jumps, and I dart over to "smash" him down. And then pop! I'm dashing to a distant corner, and smash, and pop! Pop! POP!

Some of us are good at Whac-A-Mole. In the early 1980s, I logged weeks in the arcade, smashing down the stuffed animals with the big padded mallet; oh, the adrenaline rush and the triumph of victory!

But be warned: If you are playing Whac-A-Mole in the classroom, it's unsustainable. You can't handle that kind of adrenaline day after day. And you're not teaching.

I promised practical tips in this blog, so let's review some classroom-management strategies. This is always the biggest issue of the fall -- more so for novice teachers, but also for veterans (although we're reluctant to admit it).

By now, you are probably figuring out that student behavior (or misbehavior) is going to stump all your brilliant plans and instructional fantasies. The good news is that in some ways, classroom management is the easy piece. You can learn to manage any group of kids.

My suggestions here, which I'll call the Four-Piece Plan to Peace (think a jigsaw puzzle), are by no means original. Hopefully, they're a refresher course in what you've already heard and learned. I believe that if you implement each piece, you won't have management problems.

But before I review them, I invite you to take a minute to reflect on why you think you are having classroom-management challenges. Why are your students misbehaving? When are they not doing what they're supposed to do? What do you do when they are misbehaving? What do you do when they're following the rules?

Bringing to the surface your assumptions about why your students are behaving the way they are is critical to making any changes in your classroom. Most likely, you are carrying around some powerful beliefs about your students' feelings, behaviors, and attitudes. Check out your assumptions; they're often quite revealing.

Please share your assumptions and your thoughts, and check back for the next part of this entry, in which I present the first piece of the peace plan.

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