Classroom management or dumb luck? One of my goals as a teacher was always to have one of those classrooms that could run on autopilot. You know the classroom- you walk in and hear a low hum of learning. Different students are engaged in different activities, in different groupings and you have to really scan the room to find the teacher. She’s conferencing with a student over by the window. It looks important. No one even notices you enter, because everyone is so engaged. Students move around the room freely, taking care of what they need on their own. Somehow that freedom does not lead to unfocused behavior.
First, if that seems crazy to you, you’re not alone. It may seem too far from reality to attain, but I promise you- it’s not! And, I can even help you get there.
In a well-run classroom, the teacher is not doing all the work. He or she creates the conditions for learning, plans the lessons, tracks student progress. These are major tasks, no question about it! Students though, take responsibility for managing themselves, their classroom and the people in their community. This does not happen overnight, or by accident. These community expectations are TAUGHT, practiced, retaught and reflected upon often. These lessons in the beginning of the school year are more important than any math or reading lessons, I promise. In fact, without mastery of these lessons, the math and reading lessons will suffer all year. So what does this mean?
This means that students need to be taught how to move around the room quietly. They need to be taught how they should get more paper, glue or tissue when they need it. They need to know what to do about a broken pencil- an academic confusion, a bathroom request. Students need to know when (and how) they should and should not interrupt the teacher- and how else to problem solve. When you take the time to teach students how to live in the classroom, you are demonstrating how much you truly value the instructional time you have together. As a result, students will value that instructional time- and expect the same from the other members of the classroom community. But, it has to start with you, their confident leader.
Blood, Puke or Fire
In some of my favorite classrooms, students can tell me very clearly (and with a very straight face) that the only reasons to interrupt a teacher who is conferencing with a student are blood, puke or fire. That’s a good rule of thumb… and in my classroom, it really needs to be enough blood to warrant a 911 call. If a bandage or tissue will do the trick, you should probably prioritize Emily’s writing conference… Teachers in well managed classrooms work smarter, not harder.