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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

A thin line between soft or being firm in the classroom

A thin line between soft or being firm in the classroom

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Being a first year teacher, I face a challenge with my classroom management and might be able to get advice on here. I came into my current classroom at the end of September. School started in August, so therefore the student's were use to the other teacher’s rules. My question is when do I draw the line between coming off as too soft or too firm? I am having a hard time balancing the both. If I am too soft than my student's will run all over me. If I am too firm then I am coming across as mean. I am hoping I can find the balance soon as this is a current challenge in my classroom right now. If there are any insights or strategies that I can incorporate, I would greatly appreciate feedback. Thank you for taking the time to read my post.

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Sarah Smith's picture
Sarah Smith
2nd Grade Teacher

This is something that has been brought to my attention recently. I agree that you can't be too soft with your students, otherwise they won't take you seriously or respect your authority, but yet you don't want to be a disciplinarian all the time who can't smile and have fun. I have been teaching for 8 years, and have never had a complaint about my classroom management style by parents or my administrators, in fact I have been praised for how on-task and interested my students are in the lessons and work. However, my school recently switched to being a PBS (Positive Behavior Support) school, and our focus is now to give 5 positive comments for every 1 redirect (someone came up with this equation that is supposed to foster self-esteem, not sure who). I have a VERY difficult student in my classroom this year that is constantly off task unless I isolate him. I am unsure of how to get in 5 positive comments with this child before I have to redirect him again in the next few minutes (and with such off-task behavior, what can I possibly say that is positive, other than "thanks for breathing properly"). My prinicpal is serious that she wants to see me give him this 5:1 ratio of positive to negative ratios so that he doesn't feel like he's always doing something wrong. I'm curious to see what suggestions you receive from other teachers, and perhaps I can incorporate them into my classroom too!

Kim's picture

I have taught a variety of grade levels for about ten years, and classroom management is always a very important, albeit challenging part of our job. Every group of kids is different, and every day is different, which is partly why I love teaching - I am never bored! I try to utilize procedures as much as possible as I have discovered that the more structured and predictable certain aspects of the classroom are, the less disciplinary problems that I have. I teach the students everything from how to pass out papers, when it is acceptable to ask for a drink, how to line up, how to come to the rug, how to walk in the hall, etc. We practice throughout the year, and if a student "forgets" the procedure, s/he will get a warning and if s/he continues to disregard the procedure, then that student will need to give up a few minutes of recess to practice and review that procedure until they demonstrate understanding. Usually after the first time of this particular consequence, most students respond very quickly with just a reminder. An important component of this is to expect and insist that the students follow procedures correctly each time. For example, if you want your students to stand quietly in line before dismissal, and you let a few kids talk or goof around, the rest of the students will think that it's okay and they will also realize that you are not serious about your expectations. My students quickly become very proficient at reminding each other of correct procedures, since if they don't line up the right way, then everyone has to go back and try again. This is all done enthusiastically and kindly, of course, and they respond very well to having guidelines and expectations clearly outlined from the first day.
Another classroom management technique that I use every day is planning my lessons so that there is a variety in activities. If students have been sitting at their desks for a while, I will transition them to a partner/group activity or some type of learning game/movement activity. They are usually more willing to knuckle down and do the more focused work if they know that I have planned something fun as well. Keeping them engaged and moving around really eliminates a lot of behavior issues that result from boredom or being overwhelmed by too many seatwork assignments.
Using these strategies has really helped keep things moving smoothly in my classroom, and the bonus is that having these guidelines in place creates a classroom where I can have fun with my students, joke with them, and still maintain a learning environment without having to be the bad guy. That generally backfires, especially with older students.
Anyway, I hope this helps! Good luck as we move into the second half of the school year!
P.S. You might want to check out "Teach Like a Champion" - GREAT book!

brahim elouafi's picture
brahim elouafi
teacher of English at a high school Morocco

the best way to discilpenary / disruptive behaviors in class is to keep SS on task.this is a challenge which once lifted things would certainly go smoothly.Part of achieving this lies in the following:
1- prepare your lessons well
2- avoid boredom
3- motivate your SS
4- bring in varied activities
5- opt for a sense of humor.
and break a leg

Dale Miller's picture

As part of a college course on Classroom Management, I just completed reviewing an article by Marvin Marshall entitled "Discipline without stress, punishment or rewards."

The central theme of the article is that offering choices to students engenders ownership and personal responsibility where as attempting to control, coerce or manipulate student behavior produces a temporary solution at best and leads to feelings of student resentment. Superior teachers practice positive verbal communications, offer choices and raise questions inviting personal reflection. Superior teachers also create structure, procedures and routines which are taught, practiced and reinforced with students resulting in the foundation of classroom management.

According to Mr. Marshall, students like teachers make conscious decisions about their behavior. Student behavior can be influenced but not controlled and the opportunity to make choices empowers students and can lead to lasting changes in social development. By employing the three practices of superior teachers, the teacher promotes responsible student behavior and produces better outcomes than the traditional adversarial and negative approaches.

Is anyone successfully using this type model in their classroom?

Jennie's picture
High School Physics

I am not familiar with Marvin Marshall's work, so I googled it, bought a used copy on Amazon. Then it recommended Teach Like a Champion too, so I ordered that. To stop myself from going broke on books, I clicked back to Edutopia, and just then saw the recommendation above about Teach Like a Champion! I guess I've found the right discussion group!

I'v been teaching at a small urban school for almost 8 years, and the decription of this question is always the hardest issue. I am too lenient. I know this, it detracts from the learning of some of my students. I also know that I rarely get complaints from students about classroom management, and often get very positive feedback - at least 5x as much as negative, so there's your PBS! The feedback that I get is that I reach students, am successful with students, etc, that other teachers can't work with. Guidance knows this, and my classes are usually full, and often with some of the toughest kids. They may not pass my class (we teach physics at all levels), but I rarely kick anyone out.

Still, for the good of the other students, and for my sanity, I work very hard to modify the distracting behaviors. When possible, I follow the Positive Behavior Support model, and notice the good behaviors. I often use proximity, shoulder taps and scowls to reduce the not-so-good. I use seating plans, various groupings, and a huge mix of learning activities and teamwork to encourage successful work even by the toughest kids. I try very hard to make them succeed, then notice the hell out of it!

So, since I just bought two new books, you know I am still looking for ideas too. The more tools you put in your toolbox, the easier it is to fix all kinds of problems. The best advice I have is that if you can mix things up, find ways to get kids interested in activities, they'll be too busy learning to misbehave. Here's hoping!

Rachel Pickett's picture
Rachel Pickett
10th grade Social Studies

I'm a newer teacher, and am figuring this out, right along with you.

So far I've discovered that when my 'toughness' is about the work, it bypasses many power struggles.

My job is to give students thoughtful, high quality, interesting, collaborative, standards-based work (as other teachers describe above)... and when I focus conversations with kids around completing the work, it takes me out of the situation and them out of the situation. Power struggles become more obsolete because the 'issue' doesn't have to do with them or me, it has to do with the work. Then the work, and their education, become the authority (and as teachers we're just helping that authority along :) ).

We can be on the same side as students in this... as we find ways to work with students to help them succeed, and kids start perceiving that we care about them. It can build up trust and relationships. I'm quite lenient in other ways, (not ultimately where I want to be) and am still figuring management out. I'm liking the possibility that management can be a way of building relationships and a dynamic classroom...

Also, as I see management through this lens, I'm becoming more and more aware of my students' reactions to the work. Are they bored, engaged, etc. So their engagement level is an authority for me, in a way.

Good luck!

Ann Hyde's picture
Ann Hyde
Special Ed English teacher, Anchorage, Alaska

I teach English to High School kids with learning disabilities. I have found that staying firm, with VERY clear expectations is the key. My students know that they must be in their seats when the bell rings, or they are marked tardy. This may sound kind of picky, but if we don't do this, my kids take advantage and roam the halls. To use the restroom, they ask, and then must use their Ninja skills, which means they must be quiet and not attract attention. If one of the security guards catches them, the kids must do detention, because they aren't very good ninjas. We have a really good time in class, and there's a lot of laughter, because they don't cross the line when they know where it is. One of the absolute blessings is that if/when I have a migraine creep up on me, all I have to do is let the kids know, and they will read silently -- even on the days where we have 80 minute blocked periods. Have you ever seen kids with learning disabilities read silently for over an hour??? It is very rare, but we do trust each other. They also know that if there is a serious issue on their side, I will listen and extend deadlines if necessary, or be flexible.

Laura's picture
Special Education Administration

Probably the most important thing regarding discipline is CONSISTENCY. I found that having a short list of rules (no more than 5) was all I ever really needed in any classroom situation.
1. Listen to the Teacher or other adult
2. Always raise your hand
3. Keep hands, feet, and all other objects to yourself
4. Follow all directions
5. When someone else is talking, listen
These even fit into PBS because they are stated positively.
Some authors that I have found to be helpful would include William Glasser (Choice Theory) and Jim Fay (Love and Logic). You might want to look into what they have to say.
Overall, remember that students will live up to your expectations of them. Set your goals high and stand back and watch! Good luck!

Kay Butler's picture
Kay Butler
HS Mathematics and MS/HS Pre-Engineering teacher, from South Louisiana

Yes, indeed! As you have all pointed out . . . there are many ways to approach this topic! Showing our students that we care and enjoy being with them are top priorities, followed up by varied and engaging activities! Getting to know our students outside the classroom helps to develop an authentic, caring relationship. About the only thing I have to add is . . . I also let my students know I'm real. If I mess up, I apologize to them. I also tell my students that I love them . . . often! If students initiate hugs, I hug them back. When I catch myself in a negative mood that has infiltrated my teaching, I excuse myself, walk out the door and shut it. I immediately open the door and walk back in quickly, saying something like, "Good morning! My name is Ms. Butler. I have no idea who that crazy person was, but I hope she never comes back in here again!" Then I go back to my lesson with a smile and a positive attitude! This teaches my kids that I'm human and that people CAN choose their own attitudes! That's as important as any math lesson I have ever taught!

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