I read many years ago about famous inventors and how they came up with their ideas. Time and time again, inventors of things such as the lightbulb, the paper clip and the sticky note would say something like: "I would think about a problem that people were experiencing and then I would come up with something to solve that problem." Nothing has changed since those days only now I suppose people and, in particular, companies like Apple are creating things or improving their products to help make people's lives easier. Teaching is no different. I used to ask myself "What is the problem in class and what can I do to solve it? Now I ask, "Can I do something that will ultimately empower the student/s to either problem solve or not create the problem in the first place?"
More and more, teachers and educational researchers are showing that building those connections with students is very important. Trust is probably key in developing a caring connection with a student. If they trust in you and know you will keep their self esteem in tact when you interact with them, deliver lessons and feedback with kindness and constructive suggestions to help them grow, and generally like them, their learning has no boundaries.
So while Pinterest and the new interest in flexible seating is starting to take shape in many classrooms around North America and beyond, we can't lose sight of the ultimate goal and that is to provide a learning environment that is conducive to learning for all.
Classroom management in today's classroom looks much different than it did 20+ years ago when I started teaching. If you have been teaching or parenting in the last 10+ years, you will undoubtedly have noticed that "kids have changed". Yes, and instead of fussing about it and trying to have students conform to yesterday's classroom methods, I decided to "come along for the ride" several years ago and allow the students to teach me a few things about how they think and interact now with the introduction of technology and social media and different lifestyles and parenting styles as well as have them learn some things from me about life and learning.
Classroom management is one part building connections, one part a positive learning environment and one part excellent planning and effective delivery of engaging lessons. It's this crucial mixture of elements that the strong teachers use and it enables them to enjoy their days without burnout because their classroom is running smoothly and everyone, kids and teacher, are getting their needs met.
Let's take a closer look at these 3 ingredients to running an effective classroom.
There's been a lot of talk and blog posts about building connections. Teachers know how important it is. There is no resource or true guide that one can buy to be able to build these connections. Every child is different just as every teacher is different. Building connections may start as an overall blanket approach by saying good morning to students as they arrive in the morning etc. but the real connection comes when the teacher knows the students very well. She/he knows their personality, what they like, what they don't like, what they are good at etc. Some of that information can come from All About Me types of activities but much of it comes from just plain old talking to the students and noticing. It is so hard to notice things when you are run off your feet and making a million decisions at the same time. Am I right? Part of building connections is being able to take a step back and be more mindful yourself of the interactions going on in the classroom. Being able to do this is part of the new recipe for classroom management and it goes hand in hand with students being able to manage themselves and become independent learners so that it frees you up to do some observations and interactions.
Positive Learning Environment
Much like Goldilocks said about the items in the 3 Bears' house, the classroom needs to be "just right". I remember as a student teacher learning about different learning styles and how as teachers we should not just teach in our own learning style as some kids will not respond to that. I've always tried to teach in a multi-modal fashion to reach all learners. The same goes for classrooms. What makes teachers happy doesn't necessarily make learning better for kids. Research is showing that classrooms that are too "busy" distract kids from learning or focussing. But classrooms with little up on the walls can also be ineffective. I know from experience that children regularly look up and use things like anchor charts and/or word walls to support their learning. A positive learning environment is not only a place where kids feel connected to their teachers and others. It is also a place where the physical environment is safe and comfortable to support that learning that is taking place. So while that might mean sitting on a beanbag chair for one student, it might mean sitting in a private desk in the corner for another and that is okay. It is not the flexible seating that makes the classroom, it is the TEACHER in that flexible seating classroom that creates a positive learning environment. That includes structure, routines, rules, logical consequences for poor choices just like "back in the day" but all implemented and reinforced with respect for the child and their dignity and the comfort level of the teacher.
Excellent Planning and Effective Delivery of Engaging Lessons
There is truly no substitution for effective planning for lessons. As a student teacher I can remember having to write extensive lesson plans and unit plans. It helped guide my thinking. Years later I don't need to write nearly as much to get my lesson gist across but it is still important to know WHY you will be teaching a particular lesson and what will be your expected outcome. You might be saying, "Of course I know WHY I am teaching something. It is part of the curriculum." But really, there are times we need to reteach something or take a different approach or even try something brand new to arrive at the same destination. Planning with a purpose is really important. Kids know when you are not effectively prepared for a lesson because you can get a bit frazzled if things do not go as planned. It's okay that your lesson takes a diversion or doesn't work the first time. We're all human. Sometimes the best plans do not work. However, having a strong plan really helps with classroom management and if the lesson is clearly thought out, it is often more engaging to students. That leads me to effective delivery. If your lesson is well thought out and YOU like it, often students will too. Some of the questions I ask myself before I plan a unit are: What is the big idea? Ultimately, what do I want my students to learn? Then I break the unit down into a series of lessons and ask that question again. All of the mini "what do I want them to learn?" pieces of knowledge that they gain synthesize into one big idea as students make learning connections along the way. Once I am able to answer that question, I create a "shell" of a lesson that will address that concept. I include an opener or attention getter, the gist of the lesson and a closing. I usually introduce with a great book and go from there. When I leave that plan on my desk, any sub can follow it. The difference is that we will both add our own pizzazz or finesse to that lesson that makes it uniquely ours. I already have all of the "basic routines and rules of the day" in the planning and I add the specific lessons to that. That way, anyone can come in and take over the day and the kids follow the same routines no matter who is in the room but appreciate the variety of lesson delivery methods from me or from a sub. Once the lesson is planned and thought out, it can be so much fun to add all the little details and ad lib new things as you go along because you just never know what your lesson will morph into with the students you have in your room.
Classroom management is a three part system that works together. When teachers really know their students well and have strong connections, routines and a positive learning environment, it creates a happy dynamic in the classroom where all kids benefit from and enjoy learning.
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