Friday, July 31, 2015

Classroom Management Tips: Secondary Level

No matter how many years you have been teaching, be it just starting your first year, starting your last year or somewhere in-between there is one necessity that never goes away - Strong, Effective Classroom Management.  I have found over my years of teaching that regardless of the class, topic or even grade really, that there are few standard practices that will always hold true.

1.  Start day one with a clear set of expectations in your head.   
Spend some time before the first day thinking about what you want your classroom environment to be like.  Do you want to establish a routine where students know that as soon as they come they get started on warm-ups (bellwork/do-nows, etc.), then homework questions, lesson etc.?  Do you want to have students hand in work to a turn-in bin, do you want to collect it or perhaps you plan to walk around during the warm-ups to check it in and conference with students.  Do you plan to give bathroom/locker/hall passes?  If so, when in the class is it acceptable to ask?  What is your acceptable use policy for technology? These (and many more!) are questions that you need to have an idea about ahead of time.  By knowing what you want your classroom environment to be like, you can devise ways to make it happen!  The less that you have clear in your head before you start, the more likely you are to lose control of your classroom.

2.  Stick to your word.  If you say that doing "x" will result in "y" consequence, then do it!  The minute you let a behavior slide once, you are done.  You will start hearing "but you let so and so get away with it...".  On the flip side, if you express to students that they will get a reward of something for completing a task (i.e. the winning team gets a candy bar tomorrow), and then don't follow through, you will lose their trust.  One very powerful way to be able to stick to your word is to talk to your students about what you expect (see #1), what they expect and devise consequences (and rewards) together that everyone can find acceptable.  Students are far more likely to "buy-in" if they feel like they had a stake in creating something in the first place.

3.  Create an environment where students feel safe to make mistakes.  Math students, especially at the secondary level, are very afraid of failure as well as getting something and therefore tend towards not trying unless they are pretty sure of success.  When students aren't trying, they aren't engaged and therefore become behavior problems.  In order to combat this I employ two very powerful strategies.  First, when I make a mistake (especially if I am at the board teaching) I acknowledge it.  I don't try to cover it, I just go with it and use it as a teachable moment.  I will often ask students if they can help me find my mistake.  I even been known to make a mistake on purpose to further this goal.  The second thing I do is to talk to my students about what it feels like when you make a mistake in other situations, how you learn from them and then we discuss how that can be applied to our classroom.  This goes a long way to showing students that getting it wrong is part of the process of learning how to get it right!

4.  Establish norms for the different situations that will arise.  
Just as knowing how your want you classroom routine structured is important to effectively managing your classroom, so is knowing how you want the different situations that occur in a classroom to run.  The first situation that you may want to consider is group work settings.  What is your plan for when students work in groups?  Do you choose the groups or do the students?  Do you have limits on group size?  Are you going to assign roles within the groups?  Do you want a single paper turned in per group or do you want all the students to complete an activity and staple their papers together as a group?  The second situation which is crucially important to have a plan for is classroom discussions. Do you call on the students or can they call on each other?  Can students opt out of answering a question or must they give it an attempt?  Are you going to keep track of participation for points or is there not a need for that?  How are students allow to talk - to each other or just to you?  A great strategy to structure classroom is discussion is "Math Talk".  

5.  Enjoy your job and communicate that enjoyment to your students.  
Nobody wants to be around someone who is miserable and wishing they were somewhere else or doing something else.  I'm so sorry to be the one to say it, but its true.  If you hate what you are teaching or where you are teaching it, the students will know it and they feel rejected.  This attitude also bleeds through into your ability to teach you students and to help them to feel connected.  On the flip side, if you are pleasant and genuinely want to be doing what you are doing, it draws the students in and helps to make a connection and communicate that learning can be enjoyable.  The more you want to be there, the more your students will too!

I realize that there is a great deal more that goes into effective classroom management, but these are five things that I have found work for most anyone!  Do you have any other strategies that you have found work well?





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