I Quit Classroom Management Strategies and Started Teaching. Here’s How.
Also, everyone has chilled out.
I think back on the confidence I walked away with as I finished a professional development session, my first year in the classroom, where we learned specific classroom management strategies and (get ready) role played them. I can’t help but grin with pity. I’d mastered waiting for 100%, attention getters, tone changes, wait time, the whole package. What could go wrong?
Then, I started teaching.
It all works. At least, for a while. These strategies have merit, especially with younger student groups. And for the record, those practices laid a foundation for classroom management that made me a stronger teacher even today. But every teacher comes across different challenges in the classroom each year including class sizes, classroom layout issues or class groups. These challenges can counteract the promises of classroom management strategies, which leads teachers to reassess their methods.
For me, the question of authenticity was unavoidable. Strategies are there for a reason, but teachers must maintain authenticity in their humanness. I quit a lot of the strategies, and to my surprise, learning improved. Granted, students were mid-to-upper secondary level, and this was during what we call “the COVID year”, so class size was smaller and students were, in a way, open to anything. But overall, this, I would argue, more “natural” approach, has stuck. Here’s what I did.
I quit using attention getters, and just started instructing when it’s time.
I remember the days of clap backs. My hands were red a few times. I’m haunted by memories of being in a hallway of elementary-level students, trying to establish silence and realizing that the clap back had lost its power, and so had I. Anyone who teaches elementary school has a sacred strength. The persistence, patience, energy, and straight up power it takes to lead that age group is god-like. As I moved into upper middle school where I felt more comfortable, I questioned things like the clap back or call-and-response methods. It’s easy and mostly works, but it just wasn’t for me. I stopped doing it.
When transitioning into instruction, I just start instructing, with a dropped tone and eye contact. I keep a smile as students finish conversations, and stop on words until students finish. I may even back up and repeat part of my sentence before moving on, and within 5–10 seconds, they’re all listening. This may not be the best approach with younger kiddos, but older students actually kind of appreciate this. They like not needing attention getters, and so do I.
I quit requiring raised hands, and started conversational learning.
Teachers should be the leaders, the facilitators, and “in control” of a class, and authority should never lose its place. But for students moving upwards to the end of the K-12 system, it can be helpful to hand over some of the lifting, if done well. If mutual respect is established, students should feel interested enough in the content, comfortable enough, and even driven to openly ask questions.
I removed the hand-raising rule, and kept it simple.
“Just speak up if you have ideas or questions, and let’s be careful not to talk over each other.”
This was scary, and yes, they struggled at first. But with enough firmness, consistency with reminders, and enough praise for their verbal contributions to our content, it’s made the biggest difference. It’s also sweet when students still raise their hand out of courtesy, for the right reasons. They’ve developed social skills and respect that comes from a place of genuineness, and they’re more engaged with the content.
I quit obsessing about being clear, and actually became more clear.
Scripting lessons can be helpful, and it’s important to not over-instruct during the explicit teaching part of a lesson. But I came to a point where I was overthinking my economy of language and timing, and more energy went into trying to say it right than actually saying it right. So I stopped planning how I was going to teach things. I felt the energy of the classroom each time I did a direct teach. For some classes, I used a targeted question technique to get them to actually arrive at the goal. For other classes, I maintained the more narrative think-aloud method. Basically, an organic approach actually worked.
I quit greeting every student at the door, and started greeting them as a class.
I remember the days of fist bumps, and actually recall being told that students should never enter a classroom without the teacher making some sort of physical contact at the door, like a fist bump or handshake. There’s merit there, but classrooms are all different. A uniform greeting to every student, every day can feel rigid and calculated as students become older. Regardless of if each student is greeted at the door, I started greeting students as a class, usually after our warm up. Sometimes I get crickets, which is awkward, and sometimes they all start talking at the same time when I ask how we’re doing, which raises my blood pressure, but overall, there’s a sense of community. Urgency for content and bell-to-bell teaching is important, but sometimes it’s nice (and even necessary) to just sit and talk for a while. I’ve even pulled up the Doppler radar. Talk about the weather.
I quit helping, and started expecting.
I started not having an extra pencil. I started guiding students towards answers, not giving them. I started remaining silent when students pushed back on expectations.
With missing materials, it sounds harsh, but students actually started either asking each other to borrow items or bringing their own pencils. They’re also eternally grateful when I have to give them one of my two pens to use. I don’t get asked too much about materials anymore, and students seem to come prepared. Overall, they take care of themselves when the expectation is there.
With over-guiding students, many teachers can relate. It’s so easy to hand-hold too much with academic content. It’s a hard line to draw (and that feeling doesn’t really go away) between explicit teaching and facilitated guidance. Students are thinkers, and teachers must expect that. If lessons are taught well, students shouldn’t need too much guidance. There’s a difference between misconception and hesitation in students. Misconceptions need to be addressed, but hesitation should be treated with opportunities for academic empowerment.
With over-explaining and justifying expectations, it’s just exhausting, and actually welcomes more push-back. I simply stopped, and so did the push-back. Students, overall, meet basic classroom expectations, and there’s an unspoken understanding about them. We’re all over it, and that feels nice for everyone.
All in all, classroom management strategies have their place, especially with students in primary and lower-secondary grade levels, and do provide a firm foundation for how to manage a room of learners. But as students grow, so should the expectation of social skills, preparedness, and academic thinking. Sometimes, it helps when teachers move out of this box of management strategies and move into a realm of authentic collaboration with their own style. This can be especially rewarding to upper-secondary grade level students, as they will soon be expected to do the same, and need this space to practice.