Amarbeer Singh Gill
The start of the new academic year brings with it new classes and new students. Some of the the key challenges these present are:
How do we get these new students used to our way of working?
How do we get them to meet the expectations of our classrooms?
How do I ensure that I can focus my lesson time on the learning?
Whilst school culture and policies will play a part in some of these answers, incorporating some broad principles and specific practices can support building that culture, or reinforcing it, creating a symbiotic relationship. The tips are written in no particular order and, whilst they are helpful principles in general, where we place an emphasis will (and should!) vary depending on our own contexts.
Tip 1: Proactive approaches
Proactive approaches start by giving absolute clarity with what we expect and ensuring that our expectations are delivered in a way that’s actionable. Telling students the behaviour we don’t want them to engage in (e.g. don’t mess around as you’re coming in) is ambiguous – students are still unclear about what it is you want them to do. Telling them an overall goal (e.g. get working quickly) also falls into the same trap – are we okay if students are talking and “working”? These actions aren’t clear and actionable.
Let’s consider an example: we want students to get working as soon as they enter the class to
maximise the time spent learning. Whilst students are entering our classrooms we can:
Stand in the doorway so we can be seen
Speak loud enough so all can hear
Give them clear, concise instructions:
“When you enter the classroom, you need to, in silence:
Go straight to your chair
Get your learning equipment out
Start working through the task on the board”
Reinforce this by having the steps written on the board, visible as students enter.
Tip 2: Reactive Approaches
We can break reactive approaches down into two camps: reinforcement and corrective.
We can positively reinforce our expectations by acknowledging when pupils have met them. Continuing from the above example we might narrate the students who are meeting expectations, “Thank you Ella, I can see you’ve followed the instructions perfectly. Thank you to you too Sukhdev”. ‘Thank you’ implies that expectations have been met – it reinforces the norms of our classroom. If we were to use ‘well done’ or something equivalent we’re communicating something has gone beyond our expectations.
But what about when we need to correct behaviour? Initially we could use anonymous group nudges towards the expected behaviour, “check that you’ve followed the 3 instructions that were given as you entered”. If there’s a small number of students still not meeting expectations, we could make it a bit more targeted by adding “there are two more hands I need to see writing”. Finally, if we still need to intervene, we can use a small private interaction by approaching the student, getting to their level and quietly talking with them, “Philip, I can see you’ve gone straight to your desk, thank you. Now I’d like to see you working on the task from the board, otherwise you’re making the decision to go through the school’s behaviour system.” In doing so we’ve acknowledged when Philip has met expectations (reinforcing that norm), nudged towards the norm when he hasn’t, and avoided narrating (and so drawing attention to) the undesired behaviour whilst being clear about the consequences
of not meeting expectations.
Tip 3: Routines & Consistency
Routines are critical in the effectiveness of our approaches. Peps Mccrea provides an insight into their importance by explaining routines reduce the amount of irrelevant thinking that students must do – they aren’t having to think “what do I do now?” or “what’s going to happen next?” because it’s all routine, so more of their thinking can be directed towards the learning. Tom Bennett points out that since routines aren’t things that students will grasp intuitively, we need to explicitly model and explain the desired behaviour and then reinforce it over time as routines are underpinned by consistency. They only work if students know what to expect because they’ve seen it consistently again and again.
So, classroom management starts with being clear about your expectations of students, using proactive methods to set-up those expectations, and using reactive methods to reinforce them. We then make all this routine by using them consistently day in and day out. As Mccrea notes, this may mean we spend more time on them in the short-term. But we’ll gain it back as
they become the norms of our classroom because in developing these norms, we’re increasing the chances of being able to spend more time doing what we do best – teaching.