The best classroom management tool is a well-planned, engaging lesson. This statement is the answer to a test question everyone in my college class (myself included) answered incorrectly. But now that I’ve been in the classroom a while, I’m certain that it’s true. Well-planned, engaging lessons will prevent most classroom management issues, but MOST is not ALL. Sometimes I still have difficult students even when my lessons are top-notch. During my second year of teaching, I made a rule for myself about situations like these. I could feel frustrated. I could vent to a trusted friend about “these kids” who “just won’t listen”, or “just don’t try”. But before I allow myself to go to bed at night, I have to problem-solve. Sure, the students should have made better choices. Oftentimes their actions are inexcusable. But they are kids, and kids will always do kid things. I can only make choices for myself. So the question is, what kind of choices can I make that may influence “these kids” to be more successful and STOP GIVING ME HEADACHES!
Two tips that have helped me tremendously come from Rick Smith, author of the fabulous book Conscious Classroom Management.
1. Always assume the best of your students.
Students, even middle schoolers, really do want to learn and really do want to please their teachers. I wasn’t sure if I believed this idea at first. How could anyone think STUDENT X wants to learn? Or even more preposterous, that X wants to please me? But then I started noticing that X would, without fail, complete his warmup every single day. I realized that this was a simple task that X could complete without risk of failure. So my response had to be two-fold: (1) put some serious effort into making my classroom an emotionally safe place for taking risks and (2) provide much more scaffolding and support for X. Through this, I also noticed that when I praised him, he responded with just the slightest of grins. Maybe he was human after all.
I did not “save” Student X. His life didn’t turn around. He did not become the model middle schooler. But my life was easier for the rest of the school year, and I can only hope he remembers that someone believed in him. Always, always assume the best of your students, even if it seems unbelievable.
2. Two by Ten Strategy
Want to see an 85% improvement in the behavior of a challenging student? And as a result an improvement in the behavior of the class overall? This strategy is so incredibly simple that it’s hard to believe it’s that effective, but it is research-based and I’ve found it to work wonders.
Simply have a two minute personal conversation with a student about something s/he is interested in. Repeat this 10 school days in a row. It’s really that easy! I find this strategy works on the student and on me. I try to choose a student who isn’t all that endearing, but after 10 days, I find myself invested in the student just as much as s/he becomes invested in me and my class.
My 8th grade team uses this strategy with a lot of success. Each teacher chooses a different student every two weeks. We report back to each other on our students during our weekly meetings. You can truly feel the difference in the atmosphere in our hallways when we are consistent about this as opposed to the times we let our busy schedules take over and put Two By Ten on the back burner.
Rick Smith has all sorts of quick and easy tips any teacher could start on Monday. Some of my favorite are posted here. I’d really encourage you to check it out.