Central to quality classroom management is the teacher's ability to establish a clear set of boundaries. It’s easy to forget, though, that teachers must also have the willingness to be flexible, fair and open to negotiation. If you’re finding that some of your techniques could use a bit of a face lift, you might consider trying out 5 of these radically simple classroom management strategies:
5 Radically Simple Classroom Management Strategies
1. Ask students how you can be more of a help to them
Most of us spend a great deal of time telling our students what we expect of them. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when was the last time we asked students what they expected of us? Here’s something we recommend you try:
Have your students write or type an informal letter to you. Emphasize that the content will not be evaluated for spelling or punctuation. In it they should answer the following questions as honestly and constructively as possible:
- How is this class going so far for you? Why?
- What activities or classroom procedures are working best to help you learn?
- What activities or classroom procedures aren’t working so well for you? What could we do to make them better?
- How can I be more helpful to you during the rest of the quarter/semester/year/whichever applies?
This may be more effective if you provide students with a model, perhaps a letter that one of your previous students wrote. Explain to them that you want them to be as honest and thorough in their responses as possible.
2. Take note of each student’s strengths
When students misbehave or act out, see if there is any correlation between the behavior and the material you are teaching. Is it too difficult for the student? Is it too easy? Have you asked the student about her experience with the material? Oftentimes, acting-out behavior is the defense mechanism for students who cannot (or believe they cannot) successfully work through the material or meet our expectations. That’s why, as Curwin and Mendler, authors of Discipline With Dignity, argue, we must “adapt [our] teaching style to lower or higher academic levels based on the student’s needs…”
3. Listen to your students; don’t just hear them
One of my teachers used to say, “Hey, are you listening to me?” and the offending student would say, “Yes! I hear you.” My teacher would always respond with, “Yes, I know you heard me, but are you listening?” The same principal applies to teachers. We’ve all toiled over a lesson plan only to have a student (or students) groan, “This is boring.” This always stings a bit, especially since you were up until midnight planning for it.
Nonetheless, skip the knee-jerk reaction where you say, “Well, maybe if you’d have read the chapter it wouldn’t be so boring to you.” Instead, listen and acknowledge that you are listening to the student: “I’m listening to you, Jane, you don’t love this activity. I’m open to your ideas; maybe you have a few suggestions for how we might improve the activity next time. Hang out after class for a minute and we’ll talk about it.”
4. Don’t accept or give excuses
During an in-class discussion one day, one of my students claimed that her previous composition teacher didn’t return a single paper until they were exactly twelve weeks into the semester. I was skeptical until four or five other students (who were in the same class together) nearly bounded out of their seats to confirm the student’s claim. Things come up, we get overwhelmed; we get behind…but twelve weeks without returning a single paper? If we hold our students accountable to turn in their work by a specific date, it only seems fair that we give (and stick) to a return date. When we do this, students have more of a reason to buy in and hold themselves accountable, too.
5. Legitimize behavior that you can’t curb
Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? The thing is, though, when you legitimize “misbehavior,” the fun (and deviance) gets sucked out of it. Curwin and Mendler give the example of a group of students who continue to throw paper airplanes across the room when they think the teacher isn’t looking. Instead of wasting your time and energy getting repeatedly upset about it, make them a deal: They can take the last five minutes of class and throw paper airplanes all over the place without any penalty. Say students aren’t studying in study hall. Well, commit one study hall a week to a non-academic study hall and see what happens.