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Classroom Management - The Big Three

In my last post we discussed rules and I shared my rules and a rhyme that help with classroom management.  Be sure to read that post to catch up with our discussion.  This week we are going to talk about the three elements that I think are the backbone of good classroom management:  consistency, routine and organization.

If you’ve been teaching for very long, you know that being “organized” looks different in each classroom.  In my music classroom organized means there’s a place for everything, but that doesn’t always mean that everything is in that place.  In my music classroom I have an organized plan for seating students, getting supplies, returning papers, etc. but that doesn’t look like what it does in a regular classroom setting.  The week before concert time my room looks like a sparkly, rainbow unicorn just threw up all over every corner of the room.  It does NOT look organized, but…well… it is!  The apple and banana costumes are hanging on the back wall.  The glittered letter posters are stacked on the piano.  Coffee can drums and stacked neatly near the windows and extra copies of lyrics and lines are in folders clipped to the walls.  Everything is organized for functionality, not necessarily for beauty.

I can’t teach you the intricacies of organizing your supplies or your classroom.  Everyone’s needs are different.  My advice is to take some time to think about how things work in your classroom and arrange them accordingly.  Have a plan for everything. Make lists.  Be proactive.

 Just as it is important for everything to have a place, everything you want students to do in your classroom needs a protocol or routine.  How do you want students to find a seat?  Teach them how to do it.  Practice it.  (I recommend a seating chart for all classes, but that’s more for being consistent.)  How will your kiddos get supplies?  Teach them. Practice it.  How will they line up?  Teach them.  Practice it.

I have experimented with different routines in my classroom for lesson time.  I often plan the same sequence of events for the first 5 minutes of class.  This is how my K-2 classes start:

1. Sing a good morning song.
2.  Attendance with a purpose.  (This means that I will have them clap one of the three rhythms I have on the board, answer a question on the board or sing an answer.  I may sing “Good morning, Joey!” (sol mi mi, sol mi) and Joey echoes back “Good morning, Mrs. King”.)
3.  Songs We Know (2-4 short songs that we know well)
4.  Beat or Rhythm activity. 

This works well for me and students know what to expect.  Experiment with ways to create a routine with your classes.  This is often a time that I assess students ability to match pitch, keep a steady beat or read rhythmic notation.  I just note it as I am taking attendance.  Done!

Routines like this won’t work every class period (Hello, fire drill.) but you may find that having one helps your students behave better and helps you focus more. 

This one is tough.  I’ve been teaching for twenty years and every year I feel like I’m trying out something new.  There are still ways to be consistent even when trying out a new strategy or philosophy in your classroom.  What I have learned those is quite simple.  Never, ever create a rule that you are not willing to enforce every time.  EVERY TIME.

Let me say that again and put it in another paragraph because it is that important.  Don’t make a rule that you are not willing to enforce every single time it is broken.  It is the key to being consistent in your classroom.  It is also the key to not going stark raving mad in your classroom.  

It’s fine to let kids know that when you are teaching, lecturing or conducting that they should not be out of their seats to sharpen their pencils.  It is a general expectation.  For me, it falls under classroom rule 2, respect others.  I know teachers that take 5 minutes off of recess each time a student does this.  Seriously?  Isn’t that exhausting?  For music teachers with limited class time with students, how do you keep up with that and enforce it?  Bleh.

It’s okay to let students know that you expect them to be quiet when leaving the music room, but having a rule that says “If you talk in the hall, you get this specific punishment.” might be more work than you have considered.  Are you willing to discipline every single time someone talks in the hall every single day the same way for every single student?  Overwhelming.

When considering classroom management and how to be consistent, you need to be realistic.  Some things are a matter of safety, other things are a matter of sanity.  Choose wisely or your sanity may not be safe!  Consistency is one of the reasons I have only three broad classroom rules.  See them here.  Create rules that focus on creating a safe, functional learning environment. 

So how does all of this play out in my classroom?  Let’s go back to little Joey who finished up his echo singing and has now moved on to annoying his neighbor by putting his finger in her ear.

Me (stopping what we are doing and staring quietly but intensely at Joey for a full ten seconds): Joey, you are not being respectful of Mariah’s personal space.  Stop. 

I continue with my awesome, well-prepared, practically perfect lesson plan.  Joey continues.

Me (stopping, staring quietly and intensely again):  Joey, please move back to the empty carpet square on the back row.  I’m very disappointed that you are being disrespectful to your neighbors.  If you are not going to be respectful so the rest of can learn you may have to leave music class.  I would hate that.
Back to my awesome, well-prepared, practically perfect lesson plan.  I’m being consistent by reminding Joey and the rest of the class of our rules and that we have them so that everyone has a chance to learn.  I’m also using my very best, no-nonsense, I-mean-business voice.  It can be very convincing!

Me:  It is time to get crayons, paper, clipboard and return to our carpet square.  Please say “Crayons, paper, clipboard, carpet.”  (Students repeat and are reminded of the procedure they have been taught for getting supplies.)  Back row, you may go.  Joey, can we talk at my desk while your row gets started?
While I direct each row to get supplies and get back to the carpet square, Joey stands by my desk and we chat about what is going on.   This part doesn’t always go well, but it does let me know if Joey needs to leave class, if he can be separated and still complete his work or if he can go back to his regular seat.

The keys to good classroom management and good discipline are being consistent, having routines and being organized.  Plan, prepare and put stuff in a place that makes sense.  That’s organization.  Teach them what you want them to do, how you want them to do it and then do it.  Create a routine or a rhythm for how learning activities flow in your classroom.  Make rules that you can follow through on.  Do it every time.  Every single time.  That’s being consistent.  You can do it!

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  1. Great guidelines. I totally agree with all you have said. I do find it frustrating that the things I do not necessarily have a consequence for are always broken over and over again, even though I will explain/remind them not to do it. For example, I don't always give a consequence for calling out the answer. But then it seems like students keep doing it, even when I ask them not to every time and explain why they shouldn't. But I hate to give a consequence for every little thing! I would much rather focus on other things that are more off-task. Any advice?

    1. I use positive reinforcement for students are doing exactly the opposite. For example, Joey keeps calling out or blurting out stuff even after I've asked him not too. The next time it happens I may give Suzy a tiny award (little paper certificates) for being such a good listener. As I give it to her I'll say "Suzy! I've noticed that you are being a great listener. Thanks for raising your hand and waiting to be called on too. I appreciate your kindness and that you are showing respect to others." Imagine this in a dramatic, but sincere voice and imagine Suzy beaming with pride. Joey sees this and it is reinforced. Sometimes it takes a while, but being consistent is key.

      In the same way I may need a volunteer for something and if the blurter raises their hand (or yells "pick me!" which is usually the case) I'll take that opportunity to say "I'm sorry Joey, but I've noticed that you keep blurting things out even after I have reminded you not to. I need a helper that will follow my directions."

  2. I am definitely enjoying your website. You definitely have some great insight and great stories.
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