Thursday, February 20, 2014

Managing the Chaos in the Classroom

 Most people will say that they love children but do you love them in groups?  Groups of children can make you think of their specie in a whole new way.  Depending on who makes up that group you may even be inclined to believe that they are aliens.  Managing children in a group setting can be very challenging and require some skills and different approaches than are not necessary with individual children.  I have been teaching classrooms of children now for 43 years and would like to discuss just a few of the tactics and techniques I have learned which has made the experience something to look forward to instead of something to dread.
First impressions
1.  The first thing with first impressions I would like to talk about is that YOU must be in the room first.  Recently I was watching the old classic movie "To Sir With Love".  Sydney Portier  would enter the classroom each morning to complete chaos.  Principle number 1 is: whoever is in the room first is the mood setter. As each child enters your hallowed portals you get the opportunity to direct their attention where you want it to go.  You cannot do that if you are late.
2.  Children need to feel respected and valued, therefore it is our number one priority to communicate grace, and acceptance to them as a person.  Children should be treated as persons with equal value to the most respected person you know.  Their faults and shortcomings are addressed with respect and as much privacy as possible.  When children feel that you truly value them as an individual they will be much more willing to do what you ask of them even if it does not make sense to them.
3.  On the flip side, as teachers we all want to be thought of as a fun, kind person and therefore we will often give the first impression to the children as an easy going, fun loving, anything goes person.  This leads children to the conclusion that they can behave in any manner they choose and you will be okay with it.  It is far better to create the first impression as a teacher who is a strict, no nonsense person who will not be messed with, (respectfully of course).  You can always lighten up later when they have developed appropriate habits.  Teachers and children who learn to respect each other will create a climate within the class room that fosters learning.
Keep and maintain control
If you have a large group of children in a classroom, control is a necessity for learning to take place. 1.   As the children come in to the room you gain control by directing their attention where you want it to be, for instance, you tell them there is an activity on the table for them to complete or a game they may engage in.  Always have an activity for those who arrive early.  If you have nothing for these children to do they will think of something to entertain themselves and their idea of entertainment may actually be a form of torture for you.
2.    Think through your transitions.  How will you transition your children from one activity to another and have them all be ready at the same time?  Begin by giving everyone a five minute warning.  You may devise a sound or visual to let them know that the time to move to another activity has arrived.  Make sure they understand that you wish for them to transition in an orderly fashion.
3.  Be clear about your rules.  Make them short and simple.  I have three favorite rules that I talk about every time I begin my lesson.  Favorite rule # 1 is: When I am talking you listen.  Favorite rule # 2 is:  Your chair is your space.  Keep all body parts in your space.  Favorite rule # 3 is during our lesson we remain in our seats.  My class can recite these rules rapidly because they are short, to the point and repeated every time we get together.
4.  Follow your rules.  Rules have no value at keeping order if they are not followed or there is no consequence.  Explain the why of your rules so the children understand your purpose and let them know that you expect them to follow them.  Give them a warning when they misbehave and let them know the consequences.  Consequences may include, separation from the person they chose to sit with since they are unable to confine their activity with their friend they do not get to sit next to him.  They must sit beside another adult leader.  Since they are unable to monitor their own behavior they must sit next to someone who will do it for them.  If they are not playing with the supplies respectfully they will not get to play with them etc.   Rarely do I ever have to remove a child from the room but I will do so if necessary because I refuse to allow one child to ruin the learning experience for the entire class.  A child who is removed is brought to their parent or designated adult and remains with them the entire class period.  I then take the time with the child present to discuss what happened with the parent.  The child is welcomed back into the class the next time our class is in session and I usually do not have repeat offenders.

There is much more to managing a classroom full of energetic youngsters.  Next week I want to talk about the important aspect of planning and how that impacts classroom management.

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