As a new teacher, classroom management can be one of the most intimidating aspects of your day-to-day responsibilities. Even as a teacher of many years, when you get your new class each year, observations have to be made and strategies have to be put into place so you can figure out how the classroom dynamic will best work in a positive way. I like to think of my classroom as my home away from home. To that end, I think of my students as my extended family. I'd never try to manage my family members, so I don't try to manage my students. However, I do need to manage the structure of my classroom. I believe there is a big difference.
To manage people feels a bit controlling. To manage systems and structures seems to provide a layer of organization so that collaboration can occur without chaos. Some of my favorite classes in my university studies were those focused around educational psychology. I found this topic to be especially interesting and beneficial. In fact, when I was taking those courses, I was managing a business (education was a second career choice). Therefore, applying several of the strategies taught in those courses worked in my business as well. I learned a lot about myself as a learner and a leader.
Before studying the research, I thought that children would be influenced by rewards and goodies. After all, who doesn't enjoy being recognized by a job well done? To get the desired results from people, you simply have to offer them an incentive, right? That is what I often saw in the business sector. If we wanted our sales people to meet a certain goal, we might have offered them a bottle of nice wine or a weekend get-away trip. However, what I quickly learned was that individuals don't always perform better based on incentives but rather other driving forces such as autonomy and purpose. A few years ago, Scholastic blogger, Angela Bunyi wrote on this topic in "Effective Classroom Management, Drop the Tokens, Stickers, Stars, and Prizes."
If you haven't read Drive by Dan Pink, I highly recommend it. If you'd like the book summary in video form, I encourage you to watch this video. If you haven't seen it, be prepared to have a life-changing perspective on rewards and punishments. This is exactly why I do not have a marble jar or a chip jar in my room. I do not believe in behavioral conditioning in my classroom. I believe this video clip from the popular television show, The Office, sums it up best. Instead, we work as a team towards shared and individual goals that benefit the work we do.
What I find to work best in my classroom is to manage the organization of our room. If I provide clear direction of the expectations, students are more likely to follow the guidelines. Furthermore, if I involve the students in developing the expectations, they are more likely to value the guidelines. I also extend trust to my kids. If I want them to behave in a responsible manner, even at seven years old, I have to give them responsibility. They have to be trusted.
I have found that the more I trust my children, the more they work to maintain that level of trust. For example, if a child needs to use the restroom, they don't have to ask for permission. They simply take care of their business. Of course, for safety measures, I need to know where my students are, so they simply jot their name down and exit to the restroom. We have discussed, in length, what would happen if someone abuses this trust. Of course, there are times where I need to have additional conversations with certain students. These are conversations though, not punishing lectures.
This trusting approach, where the students have more responsibility, enables me to also be more of a facilitator in my classroom. The students are empowered to have their voice be heard because they know it matters. They enjoy listening to one another, adding on their ideas to extend discussions, and adjusting their thinking to accommodate new perspectives from peers. By giving up control, I actually gain more of an organized and structured classroom environment. Students know what is expected, and they rise to the occasion.
Belinda Kinney created an easy to use document of "attention grabbers." Anytime I need to bring my class back together to highlight a point a group made or to clarify a misunderstanding, I simply use an attention grabber rather than repeating the same words over and over. These work great in my classroom. I have a few that I use often.
I find that classroom timers and noise monitors help my students, especially in times of independent work time. During writing workshop, there is often a quiet buzz as children are at all stages of the writing process. Some children are peer conferencing, others are rehearsing their story with a friend, while others are working quietly on developing their ideas. So, there is a level of noise in the room. However, the volume needs to be at a respectable level in order for everyone to focus and do their best work. Instead of me constantly monitoring the noise level, if I put a tool on the board like a "calmness counter," the students can see that as the notice gets higher, the counter will reflect that by moving toward the other end of the dial.
Class Dojo is a tool that allows teachers to monitor student's behavioral patterns. I've used this tool in a variety of ways. First, I set up my class. The students love selecting their avatar. Then, as a class, we set up whole class avatars. We set up an avatar for certain content areas, such as math, reading, and writing. Throughout the first few weeks of school, we discuss what it should look like and sound like during these content area lessons. We add these behaviors to our whole class (content area) avatars. After a lesson, during our share time, or lesson closure, we reflect on how the lesson went. We use the expectations to guide us in our reflection and discussion. Over time, we can see where our areas of strength and weakness are. This helps us to improve together. You can read more about this on my post by clicking here.
I only use the individual student's avatars for tracking and monitoring behavior if the child's individual education plan requires that I track behavior. If it does, I track the behaviors the IEP specifies. I do this in a private manner. Class Dojo provides the data in an organized, time-stamped, user-friendly document. This is helpful for any meeting the school has with teams that support that learner or meetings we have with the parents.