Teaching Opinion

Response: Classroom Management Suggestions From My Colleagues

By Larry Ferlazzo — December 08, 2011 8 min read
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(Part Two Of A Three-Part Series)

Brittany Peppers asked:

I am excited to follow this blog and learn many things about it as I graduate from college and begin my teaching career. My question to you is “In your opinion, what is one thing to remember about classroom management if you don’t remember anything else you are taught about it?”

Brittany has asked a great question, and I’ve organized the response into a three-part series:

Part One appeared earlier this week and shared guest responses from several authors of books about classroom management and other education issues.

Today’s post is Part Two, and includes include answers from other educators who I know and, in most cases, with whom I have worked.

Next Wednesday, I’ll be wrapping-up the series and will share my own advice, along with comments left by readers and from some other guests, including advice from the best teacher I’ve ever seen....

Response From Jim Peterson

I consider Jim Peterson to be my classroom management mentor. He is a veteran assistant principal at the school where I have taught for nine years, Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. Jim is also a behavioral therapist. You can learn more about his work at Alpha Mind Coaching:

A passion for flying is what drives most pilots into aviation, and although “flying” remains the top motivation, pilots learn to make safety the most important priority. As a result, they protect their lives and those of their passengers. Every flight begins with a strict, safety focused routine, and this focus is maintained through all phases of the flight.

Educators become teachers because they have a passion for teaching, but just as pilots value safety first, teachers must make behavior management their top classroom priority. Although it may seem counterintuitive, to do so allows more time and energy to be placed on designing and delivering high quality instruction as opposed to managing student behavior.

If I were to make a specific recommendation, it would be to establish a management routine, one that will be consistently and thoughtfully implemented. With practice and time, your routine will become an effortless, established pattern of behavior. Consider the following suggestions:

• Scan the room for off-task “behavioral sparks.”
• Address “sparks” calmly and immediately with one of your tools (eye contact, voice, proximity, etc.)
• Give or post short, specific instructions.
• Circulate throughout room during student practice while continuing to scan and address off-task behavior. Never let the sparks become flames.

It would, perhaps, look like this in a math class:

“Class, I would like you to ... James.” (James is starting to turn to his neighbor. The teacher waits a moment for James to comply) ... “Thank you, James.” “I would like all of you to solve for X in this equation. You have ____ seconds/minutes before I call on one of you to work the problem. If you finish early check the problem I have on the board to see if you can find the mistake.”

The goal is to reach a level of automaticity in the execution of your routine that allows you to perform it almost unconsciously. This keeps the priority of management from distracting you from your passion for instruction. While not ignoring the other steps of your routine, pick a single step to focus on, and work at it until it becomes habit. Once you have mastered it, move on to the next.

Response From Renee Moore

Renee Moore is a National Board Certified Teacher who has taught high school and community college English for 21 years in Mississippi delta. She is a member of The Teacher Leaders Network.

The most successful classroom management tool I’ve found is showing students from day one that I am concerned about them as individuals, and that success in my English class is possible. Since an accurate, and detailed knowledge of the students is vital for all good teaching, I immediately involve students in pre-assessment, while establishing classroom protocols.

The pre-assessment activities, which I have re-designed over several years, include a motivational timed reading; a free writing response to the reading; a note-taking and oral response exercise using an equally motivational audio recording or podcast, and an I-Search essay that includes questions such as, “What goals would you like to accomplish in this course?”. All this usually takes a few days.

By the second week of school, we begin analyzing the results together and developing personal English plans (PEPs) which is part of the course portfolio. Several items in the portfolio are negotiable. The final pre-assessment step is to identify a significant adult of his/her choice who is willing to act as a mentor for the school year. Students must explain the portfolio to the mentors and get them to sign a contract. I contact the mentors to introduce myself, answer questions, take suggestions for adjustments in the PEP or portfolio, and open the door for communication throughout the year.

Most students start the school year with good intentions, like New Year’s Resolutions, of doing well, or at least better. We should meet them at that moment prepared to build on those intentions.

Response From Lara Hoekstra

Lara Hoekstra is a very talented English teacher at Luther Burbank High School:

When it looks like all is going to fall apart, I take a deep breath and remind myself that we are all human. I remind myself that I am most likely to blame for the break down and I should have planned the lesson better. If I can’t bring the class back together with a little humor about the situation, then I will pull a couple of the ringleaders outside to talk and refocus. I am then thankful that I took the time to connect with my students, and I’m also thankful the pain can only last for 59 minutes. That night I make sure I plan a better lesson for the next day.

Response From Kelly Kovacic

Kelly Kovacic, the 2010 California Teacher of the Year, teaches AP Government and AP U.S. History at The Preuss School UCSD, a research-based charter school serving students who live below the poverty line and will be the first in their family to attend college:

The summer before my first teaching assignment, I received the same classroom management advice from several experienced teachers: “Don’t smile until after winter break.” A decade later, my advice to new teachers is a bit different. After all, I finally gave in and smiled before winter break and was still able to create a dynamic, engaging, and learner focused classroom environment.

My advice about classroom management is much more positive: Be passionate about your students; be passionate about your subject matter, and be passionate in your belief that every child can learn.

The best teachers walk into their classrooms each day excited and energized about who and what they are teaching. They make the period go by fast. My students often ask at the start of the school year: “Why do you love history this much?” By the end of the second semester, they not only know the answer to that question but love history almost as much as I do.

Teaching students in poverty, I also encounter students who have been written-off by others as failures. I never waver in my belief in each student who enters my classroom. I don’t lower standards, but push for excellence. I don’t play it safe, but encourage intellectual risk-taking. In the end, it is important for teachers to model the dispositions they want to foster in their students. Students will respond to a passionate teacher who challenges them, listens to them, and is an advocate for their success.

Response From Sabrina Stevens

A classroom teacher by trade, Sabrina Stevens currently works as a writer and public education advocate:

Confidence is everything!

More than anything else, how you handle yourself will set the tone of your classroom, and lay the foundation for everything else you’re attempting to do. Working with kids in various settings over the years, I’ve observed that three of the biggest reasons children misbehave have to do with anxiety, boredom, and needing to test the boundaries of their social environment. Confidence speaks (at least partially) to all of these issues. Kids who feel anxious will feel more at ease if you seem in-control. And while it’s certainly not a replacement for engaging activities and content, confidence makes you watchable. (Ever notice how your attention is drawn to people who project an aura of security and comfort within themselves?), That ‘watchability’ undermines the impulse to tune out and do something else instead. Finally, if you exude confidence in what you’re doing, students will get the message that you mean what you say, reducing their need to figure out just how much they can get away with.

I find that the best way to cultivate this kind of confidence is to know your real purpose in the classroom. Your purpose in the classroom is the big picture ‘what I hope to accomplish with these learners’, as distinct from your particular lesson objective at any given time. Keep a firm grip on the objective, but hold tightest to your actual purpose. If your bottom line is “I HAVE to teach Skill V to meet Standard X for Y minutes on Z date,” you will probably come unglued if Johnny Troublemaker chooses that time slot on Z date to cause problems.

Please feel free to leave a comment sharing your reactions to this question and the ideas shared here.

Thanks to Jim, Renee, Lara, Kelly, and Sabrina for sharing their responses!

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a selection of twelve -- including my own -- published by Eye On Education.

I’ll be posting the next “question of the week” in a week. In the meantime, I hope you’ll consider sharing your own classroom management advice in the comments!

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.