Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How have you set up your learning environment?

Many times we find ourselves coming and going from one class to another or one rehearsal to another.  Often taking the time to reflect on what is working or what is not working in our classrooms for our students.  Many days as I reflect on what I have done, some element of classroom management creeps in.  What would have happened if .....  What could I have done differently to engage.....

While preparing for my student teacher to take over my classrooms a year and a 1/2 ago, there was one prominent question that stood out while she was observing.  “How do you manage these kids?  What do you do if....... ?  How will I know......?”  From time to time, I believe we are all searching for new techniques for our tool box or suite case.

With that, I sent out the following email to get some “tried and true” techniques that have worked for teachers to share with my student teacher.   When bouncing from building to building or grade level to grade level as most of us do, the most important thing we can remember is that building relationships with our kids must be our top priority and then curriculum.  The old adage of “they don’t care what you know until they know you care” truly sums it up.  I have to admit, after 21 years in the classroom there were some pretty cool ideas shared and I would like to share them with you.

I first shared this poem from  Annette Breaux, 101 Answers for New Teachers and Their Mentors, 2nd ed. (Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education, 2011), p. 1.

How Does One Manage a Classroom?
by Annette Breaux

“How does one manage a classroom?   Is it really rocket science?  For I’ve been told that it’s difficult to control so much student defiance.”

Well, management is about the teacher, and what the teacher expects
Because everything about the teacher absolutely affects
How students will or won’t respond, how they will or will not act,
And with excellent classroom management, students behave well.
That’s a fact!

So set clear rules and procedures, and show how you want things done
And remember that on the scale of importance, being consistent is number one!
Consistent in how you treat each one, consistent in your preparation,
Consistent in being professional, regardless of your level of frustration,
Consistent in saying what you mean and meaning what you say,
Consistent in making every student feel special every day,
Consistent in your refusal to give up on anyone,
Consistent in helping students to see a task through ’til it’s done,
Consistent in having a good attitude, for your attitude sets the tone,
Consistent in being available, so that no student feels alone,
Consistent in helping every child to know he can succeed,
Yes, being consistent is the key to classroom management, indeed!

Being consistent is not difficult— just be consistent at being consistent— And soon your discipline problems will be a memory that is distant!

The following are a few of the responses that I received back from educators throughout our district.

Children and Puppies
Children are like puppies.  When they are learning something, the first time you do it they will shake their little heads and have to work themselves up to try it.  The second time you do it, they will give you the look that says, “OK, I’ll try this again.  It seemed to work pretty well the first time.”  The third time you do it they will sail right into it with confidence, knowing they have done this and done this.  After that, woe betide you if you try to change the procedure, because for them it is now carved in stone.
Teach them the procedure you want them to follow as soon as you get a hold of them, practice it the first three class periods, and revisit it every once in awhile when they need a reminder.

Tips and Tricks
-Have visible, clear, simple rules to follow that are fair for all
-Never raise your voice unless it’s an emergency
-Use positive reinforcement more often than negative
-Greet each student at the door with a smile
-Remember that each student carries baggage through the door, just like you do; be flexible with the daily assignment
-Always approach a student with a question first. Appearances on what is happening are often deceiving. If you want to know what is happing, simply ask “What are you doing?” or “What is going on?”
-Be 100% positive, meaning eliminate negatives from addressing what you want students to do. Instead of saying “don’t talk,” say, “please sit quietly.” Instead of saying “Do not touch your recorder,” say, “Please put your hands in your lap.” Start fixing things by telling students what they did well and then telling them how they can build on that.
-Reward good behavior frequently—acknowledge good listening, following directions, good singing.  Don’t get in the habit of talking over kids.  Use the school reward systems of tickets/coupons—if they have one in place.  Enlist the help of classroom teachers and principals for severe or disrespectful behavior problems.
-Set a high expectation and follow through.
-Be humble and willing to admit when you are wrong.  Being human is part of being humane and students respect an honest apology.  They learn so much more from an adult making it right than they ever will from an “It doesn’t matter, because what I say, goes.”

Class Tickets
My class earns tickets.  If I catch a student picking something up that isn't theirs, helping a friend, standing the correct way in line, setting a good example, answered a hard problem etc, etc., I will have the student get a ticket and put it in the "Compliment Box."  If a teacher in the hallway tells my class they are walking nicely that is worth 10 tickets for the class.  BUT, the students can also lose tickets.  If they are rude, not following directions, running in the hallway, talking out of turn, etc, they have to take a ticket out of the "Compliment Box."  (They hate doing that by the way, so it really helps with the good behaviors :))  As soon as the class has earned all 300 tickets, I then give them a class party.  Usually a "sound party,"  like a "K (k sound) Party"  and I bring Cookies, Capri Sun, and we play Kickball.  They all start with the "K sound."  It is simple, but effective with the class.

Management:  Path of Least Resistance!
1.  When behavior is acceptable, SAY IT. What you REINFORCE repeats itself. (This cuts down immeasurably on poor behaviors in the first place).

2.  When behaviors are very slightly going wrong, treat them seriously. JUMP ON IT, then get off it.  REINFORCE GOOD BEHAVIOR HAPPENING VERY NEARBY.

3.  When poor behaviors are just beginning to accelerate, use hypotheses, directed to the whole class. Voice soft and a little stern. (“My quietest classes will NOT owe me a recess.”  “Kids who give consistent good effort, oftentimes find the best grades on their report cards.”)  REINFORCE GOOD BEHAVIOR HAPPENING VERY NEARBY.

4. When unacceptable behaviors are getting serious, or habitual, direct your corrections to individuals. Use your TEACHER VOICE.  (“John,  I was thanking Dave for using his maturity in this situation because I WANTED YOU TO DO IT TOO- of course!”  “Susan, if it’s too difficult to keep from getting so EASILY DISTRACTED, you’ll be sitting away from the kids. I’ll see if I can TRUST you better before you can come back.”)  REINFORCE GOOD BEHAVIOR HAPPENING VERY NEARBY.

5.  When behavior looks like all-out mayhem, use the “P.A.” voice – a microphone is best – to choose a person or group for a privilege of some sort. (“ENOUGH. FIND YOUR SPOTS – NOW. Let’s get down to business of who goes on the Minneapolis trip, and who we would NEVER even let on the bus!” “FIND YOUR PLACES…No, I WILL TELL YOU. It looks like Mary will get to play her instrument first. Who knows WHY that is??” – proceed to honestly spell it out; this exposes evil-doers – “ONE: When I told this class to SIT DOWN, she was the first one there. TWO: her mouth was CLOSED. THREE: her eyes are WATCHING.”)

***At this point, to nip any planned bad behavior in the bud – particularly if the group is not quite subdued yet – it may be necessary to actually mention the negative here. (“Why didn’t I say ‘Anna’ just now? Did you catch it?” – let peers offer the negatives Anna was doing. YOU turn them around into positive statements as to what behavior Anna needs to do. End with a calm direction: “Anna, make your corrections. I expect this to improve right away.”)  REINFORCE GOOD BEHAVIOR HAPPENING VERY NEARBY.

6.  Behaviors any worse? Enlist the help of the office.
Good luck! No one has all the answers, all the time, and it’s OK to stumble; get back up and find what works best for you.

Many of us are finding ourselves in districts that are initiating PBIS ~ Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports, some are using CHAMPS and yet others have acronyms that fall in line with classroom management.  I was fortunate enough to be a team leader for our building PBIS team.  I highly encourage you to be a member of the team in your building if you are part of PBIS/RTI.

Below are a few resources that I have found to be of great use as I am continually filling my suitcase:

Behavioral Interventions - numerous ideas with sound advice. 
Dianna Browning Wright - Fabulous Consultant. 
Todd Whitaker - Fabulous Consultant.  Twitter - @ToddWhitaker 

Discipline with Dignity:  New Challenges, New Solutions by Richard L. Curwin, Allen N. Mendler and Brian Mendler
Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov
50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior:  Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker
Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
Teaching with Love and Logic:  Taking Control of the Classroom by Jim Fay

I hope that you will take the time to fill your toolbox or suitcase with a variety of  techniques.  It is my hope that not only will you benefit professionally from some of these ideas but that your students will benefit as well!

What techniques have you used and found successful?  Please share in the comments so we can all increase our capacity.

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