I was literally in kid heaven. Dad had removed the cobwebs and spiders in an old closet, that lay unused, hidden in our cold garage. He then transformed it into my very own classroom. My chalkboard, a desk mom found at a garage sale, a wobbly plastic table, and a few used random textbooks graced what would be the launch of a life Life Time career. And best of all, my little brother’s two best friends served as students. No, he didn’t like that piece at all. But I was thrilled.
I was only nine years old then but had developed a passion for teaching, and it still brews in my soul today. I graduated with a degree in Elementary Education a short decade later and soon stood in my very own real classroom daily amongst 150 loud, funny, challenging middle schoolers. I now had real desks, real students and real trials that came with the high calling of being an educator. I had the passion and the knowledge, but it would be the classroom management piece I would need to end the day with a win.
The books I had read and the lectures I had set under really didn’t prepare me for the behavioural challenges I faced. But through trial and error, teaching in the public school, charter school, private school, and even homeschool setting, I believe these five tips will help a homeschool mom, a new educator, and even a seasoned veteran teacher improve their success in the classroom.
1. Your Hello and Goodbye Matter
My first teaching assignment was split between two local middle schools. I would spend the morning on the east side of town and then during my lunch hour cross the tracks and teach at a very demanding middle school. I found that I set the tone for each class and that standing by the door and greeting each child by name and welcoming them into the classroom every day, started us all out on the right foot. But I didn’t stop there. I made sure when the bell rang each child individually shared something they learned and I found a way to say goodbye and encourage their exit. This provided safety and let them know they mattered. I especially saw the importance of this with my high need students. It’s easy, it’s important. Be there to say hello and wave goodbye.
2. Create a Rhythm
Our human nature enjoys routine. Students knew exactly what to do the first five minutes in class. And I always made sure it was an opportunity for them to be heard. It may be through their writing or sharing what they have learned from the lesson before or even a sketch of what they want to learn but it was a way for them to communicate. The routine and expectations were the same but the variety differed. This allowed them to have a place and meet my expectations.
3. Like Like and Like Again
Study after study shows that students are most successful when they feel liked. Let’s admit, we are all the same. We all love when someone likes our photo on social media. This can be challenging when you have students who are off task and who may not like you, but if you establish that you care for them and build a positive relationship with they will more easily allow you to redirect them when needed and that is when learning can really soar. This takes time, consistency and a positive attitude from you as the role model. Some kids we gravitate to more naturally but see your job as making each child feel special every day. And remember every day is a new day and they need to know you see them in a fresh new light. Each day must be a do-over day. It is an educators responsibility to let a child know you believe
4. Help Students Self-Manage
Most classrooms have a list of rules posted to the wall. While this may not be a bad idea, I found that having a classroom mission statement, created by the students, worked better. For example, we do our best for others, ourselves, and we never give up. I also allowed each student to set daily goals and then reflect upon them. This can be done verbally, in written form or through a chart. Allowing students to manage and own their learning and behaviour helps them grow. Clear expectations, goal setting and a mission to go back to will help students self-direct for a lifetime. This requires consistency and trust to launch and maintain.
5. Implement a Successful Environment
I love to sing but I have a terrible voice. But that didn’t stop me from making up rhyming songs that caused students to roll their eyes. I shared goofy daily jokes, I cruised around the room and found ways to keep the learning environment light. Students knew they needed to work hard but could also fail and still start over again. My crazy singing lightened the load and made it safe to ask questions or redirect an off-task student. Students we allowed to sit where they wanted and how they wanted as long as learning was taking place and they knew that was my call. Keep a light atmosphere where students feel free to work and thrive in a stable environment where you set a tone of success. Remind them they are practising and allow students to feel safe to try, laugh, and learn.
Now, twenty-five years later, after reaching hundreds of diverse students, I find my greatest strength is my classroom management. And while I don’t have the perfect golden key, I am confident these simple attitudes help you enjoy your role and help your students be able to learn. It works!
By Gretchen Bell
Gretchen Bell is a licensed educator in the state of Oregon and mom to seven zany children. She believes the tone of the classroom is dependent upon the educator and that tone will make all the difference in a student’s success. She specializes in reluctant learners and helping all teachers and students find success. When not teaching, she loves to travel with her husband and children to mountains and valleys alike.