Classroom Management Strategies
I LOVE classroom management. I am good at it, and my class typically excels with few behavioral problems that are not tier 3. I’m not perfect at classroom management. I make mistakes, but I learn from my mistakes and grow from them. As I reflect on my time as a teacher, I am wondering how classroom management is going to look in the COVID era. In about one month I will be back in the classroom with a hybrid model. Teaching online and face-to-face at the same time. Below are the top strategies I am thinking about when it comes to this new type of classroom management.
1. Rules & Procedures
Let me first identify the difference between a rule and a procedure. A rule is for behaviors that are not desirable and have a set of consequences. A procedure is a classroom behavior that is expected to be followed (how to turn in work, when to unmute and mute, etc) that doesn’t have a consequence attached. The first step will be to establish rules and procedures with both sets of my students. The students who are staying online need to have procedures about when it is okay to unmute, use the chat bar and ask questions. Since we are 8 months into virtual learning, my students understand these procedures already and usually do well. My students in the actual classroom with me are the students who are going to need to establish new sets of rules and learn new procedures. I feel this is going to be a tricky set of students, many of them are my tier 3 students, who haven’t participated in school since we left last year. I am going to have to be strict about rules and procedures and make sure that I have listened to student voices and include their thoughts and opinions when setting the face-to-face classroom rules. Rules & procedures are one of the most important aspects of classroom management and it is part of classroom management that I am still thinking about as far as returning to the classroom.
2. Positive to negative ratios
From the countless trainings that I have been to from “Safe and Civil Schools”, I learned that the ideal ratio of positive to negative interactions is 3 to 1. However, as I researched the topic, it seems to be that a lot of newer research states it is a 5 to 1 ratio. If you are asking yourself what exactly is a positive to negative ratio, I would encourage you to check out “Safe and Civil Schools” as well as “PBIS”. My interpretation of the positive to negative ratio is that for every negative interaction you have with a student, you must provide 5 positive interactions to balance it out. A positive interaction can be complimenting the student, praise, nonverbal feedback, etc. A negative interaction would include criticism, scolding, etc.
I was skeptical when I first heard of this idea. I was a first-year teacher, who honestly didn’t know much about classroom management and tier 2 and 3 behavioral issues. However, I leaned in and worked hard on my positivity in the classroom. One thing I discovered is that greeting a student at the door and noticing small things or asking them a question every morning made a HUGE impact on my day and automatically gave each student a positive interaction. I also started to keep a journal about my positive to negative interactions with my tier 2 and 3 students and realized there was a gap. I provided some positivity after a bad interaction, but not at a 5 to 1 ratio. I soon realized that to increase this ratio, I was going to have to be very mindful of each interaction with my student. I took this quote away from training (I tried to find the author but have not been able to) “The teacher sets the temperature for the classroom”. No, I do not mean the iteral temperature, I mean the positivity and negativity that is in a classroom. If I am negative all the time, then that affects the temperature and my students. Flip that around to a teacher who is positive, and that also affects the temperature and my students.
3. Rewarding student improvement and engagement
I am a HUGE fan of rewarding students for hard work. In a virtual environment, this looks different than it did in person. I am currently using Class Dojo as a reward system and have it up constantly. I use it to call on random students, to award group points and individual points. I track both good and bad behaviors and use it as a talking piece when I need to contact my parents. At the end of the week, the top 5 students are entered into a raffle (using the wheel of names) and whoever wins gets their choice of a $10 gift card. Additionally, if I have a student whose behavior and/or engagement has improved dramatically that week, they are also entered into the drawing. I can already tell you what you are thinking. “A $10 gift card every week??? That is too much!” Here is how I look at it, when I was teaching in a “normal” classroom I would hit the Starbucks down the street from the school 3 or 4 times a week, which was easily over $10 a week. Now that I am home, I make my coffee and don’t have that added expense, so I can cover $10 a week. I’m not saying this is mandatory, just something I have chosen to do.
I do daily awards as well, these are free. Daily rewards include positive phone calls or messages home. Most of my students love it when I call home and don’t say bad things to their families (in fairness, some don’t care, but that is a different story). Another reward is a quick brain break. Brain breaks for 6th graders in the virtual environment are tricky. They don’t want to turn their cameras on to dance, so we typically will turn on music and have a GIF dance battle in the chat. We also just take a break and tell some jokes in the chat, play "Would you rather" or share our pets for a couple of minutes. If the class has done well for the week, we have “Fun Friday” for the last 15 minutes of class and draw something from a YouTube video, play Scattergories, or have scavenger hunts.
My district is going back to face-to-face instruction on April 13th. As of today, most of my students who are coming back are students who haven’t done much this school year. They are also my tier 3 behavioral students, who have always struggled with school. Rewarding their engagement and improvement is going to be exceptionally important in the last quarter of school. One way I have rewarded my students in a “normal” classroom setting is by playing “Teacher vs Students”. It is a whole-brain teaching strategy and I have always found it successful. If you haven’t used it before, check it out. At the end of the month, if my students have won, then they earn a quick party (I am not sure how this will look in a post-COVID classroom).
4. Laugh- have fun!
School cannot just be lecturing and working all day. A school day needs to have a good mix of education and enjoyment. That doesn’t mean my class just has fun all day, but it does mean that they need time to blow off steam and just be kids. I have breakout rooms every morning, where students answer a question on Padlet, do a google forms check-in, and then can just chat with their friends for a few minutes in their rooms. If it’s a Monday or a Friday, I have them share something that they are looking forward to or something that they did over the weekend. This gets some of their excitement out and allows them to focus on learning. We have brain breaks, and “Fun Fridays” because we need to laugh and have fun. I also make it a point to not take myself so seriously. Students need to know that I am a human being, with thoughts and emotions just like them. I make sure to answer the morning meeting question with them and share my life (to an extent) and my thoughts with them.
5. Connections & Boundaries
This probably should be listed first, because in my eyes this is the most important aspect of classroom management. I work hard the first few weeks of school to build a community in my classroom, with myself being part of that community. I learn the names of my students quickly (because names are IMPORTANT), I find out if they have siblings, their living situation, their interests, and if they have pets (virtual teaching has made me realize how important pets are to my students). I take notes in a notebook with this information and make sure I have some information on each of my students. When I need to make a connection with them, I refer to this notebook so I know what things we can talk about. I also make sure to build a community between my students. They need to know that our classroom is our family for 9 months of the year. We are in it together and need to work together to learn and have fun. One of the best ways I learned to build a community is to do lunch bunches. I know a lot of teachers use them, and there is a reason for that. Each month I hold several different lunch bunches (not sure how this will look when we go back).
Working from home has been hard for me as far as establishing boundaries. When I say boundaries, I mean different types of boundaries. Boundaries between work and home life as well as boundaries between myself and my students. As far as work and home life, I feel that after a year of working from home, I finally (thanks to Atomic Habits) have a good mix of working and being home without work. For a while, I felt like I never left work because I wasn’t setting boundaries. I left my computer on, I worked while watching tv with my kids, I worked when I was bored. I had Teams, Talking Points (an app we use to communicate with parents) as well as Outlook on my phone, and had all my notifications turned on. I would respond immediately to each parent, student, or email. This is a quick way to lead to burnout, so I uninstalled all apps from my phone, created a home office (which I love), and turn off my computer when I am done with work. It feels AMAZING! I’m not a bad teacher for having boundaries between my career and my family. If anything, it has made me a better teacher, because now I have more time for myself and my loved ones.
The other set of boundaries I am referring to are the boundaries you need to set between yourself and students. It is so easy to get tied up in our students' lives and our careers. We care SO much about our students and working at a Title I school, we worry about them when they are home. We worry that they will have enough to eat, that there won’t be police at their house that night, that their guardians aren’t fighting, the list goes on and on. The stories I have heard from my students, just this year alone, are heartbreaking. I honestly don’t have a good answer as to how to keep boundaries from our students. I thought about it a lot, and this is a skill I have not mastered yet. I worry about them a lot, and I think that is the marker of many teachers.
There are many more aspects to classroom management. I am working on an eBook that outlines more ideas and tips on how to run your classroom, especially now that we are in a hybrid model. Classroom management is not a perfect science, and it can vary from year to year. Try some ideas and see if they work for your class. My best suggestion is to READ. Read (or listen to) any book you can get your hands on that has to do with classroom management. Need suggestions? Try these out for starters.