About half of our nation’s schools are back in session and the rest will be joining in the next week or so. It is time for that fresh start when every student has a clean slate and every teacher has hope for his or her class. It is the time of year when expectations are motivating actions and the reality of the coming year is still being forged. In other words, it is the perfect time of the year to jump on classroom behaviors.
Classroom behaviors are like a snowball. In the beginning they will likely start off as something small. There will be a student who talks when he shouldn’t. There will be a student who acts mad and defiant when told to do something. Soon there will be a student who argues with his teacher. Next, there will be students arguing with each other. Before you know it, the classroom has descended into a downhill roll and the snowball is gaining steam-- getting larger each passing week.
Do you know when the best time to stop a snowball rolling downhill is? It is at the top of the hill. Now is the time to set the tone, expectation, and process for classroom behaviors. Let’s tackle these one at a time:
The tone of the class is set from the opening of your door the first day of school. Is the room organized? Is the teacher prepared? Is there a plan for the dead-space in between entry and the opening bell? Are there rules that are easily identifiable and quickly discerned? Does the teacher gain quick control of the class from the opening bell, or has a student already marked his territory as the class clown? Is the teacher confident? These are all questions that swirl through the mind of the students even if they do not realize it. The classroom by definition is a socialized environment because there are multiple students present. Almost all classrooms have at least 20 kids in them. When you get this many students in one room, whether 1st graders or 11th graders, they are going to have a group mentality in the beginning. They are going to observe to see who is in control, and then there will be leaders from the group that emerge and will respectfully lead-- and then there will be leaders that emerge that will test the boundaries. The socialized environment of the classroom will be quickly defined as either a controlled and regulated environment, a loosely controlled but pliable environment, or an environment that is easily manipulated. These types of discernments and decisions are typically made within the first week or so of classes. The tone of the classroom is completely dependent on the teacher, as the teacher’s confidence, presentation, organization, and system will all be scrutinized by the students; they will determine how much respect they are going to give this teacher and this classroom.
Set the tone early, teachers. This is your classroom. You are in charge. You are organized. You are prepared, and what you have to say is more important right now than what your students have to say – that is why you are the teacher. Set the tone early.
Similar to tone, expectations will become obvious very early on in the classroom process. A teacher that expects trouble or expects to struggle will have trouble and will struggle. The “self-fulfilling prophecy” is on steroids when you have 20 students there to witness the fall. Do yourself a huge favor: expect your classroom to be a learning environment. Expect your students to comply with your rules. Expect your students to complete their assignments. Expect your students to respect you. Expect your students to respect each other. Expect greatness from yourself as an educator and from your students as learners. If you expect these things and then set the tone early to accomplish these things, expectations can become reality. Along those same lines, do not have preconceived expectations that certain students will struggle or give you problems just because they did so last year. Give your students the benefit of starting over this year. Set the tone and expectations early with these students, but let them know that you expect great things from them. Let them know that this is your class and a new year, and you are going to guarantee them that they will be smarter and therefore better people for having been in your class. Expect all of your students to succeed. Remember that the “self-fulfilling prophecy” can be projected onto a student; when neither you nor the student expects them to succeed, it is pretty much guaranteed they won’t.
So how do you set the tone for the year, have and voice expectations, and create a learning environment that assures success? You do it purposefully. No teacher has ever backed into or lucked their way through a good school year. Success rewards the prepared. This means that you are not leaving anything to chance...
The process of the classroom is where a lot of our younger teachers struggle. It is also where we lose a lot of our younger teachers - as well as those teachers who burn out. If teaching were just about the academics and teaching the mastery of education, we would not have the turnover nationally that we do in the teaching profession. The dirty little secret of education is that teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic is the easy part of the job, but it is not the entire job. Getting 20 kids on the same page, getting them to sit down and be quiet, getting them to pay attention and listen and talk respectfully to you and each other is the bigger part of the job. Getting your students to be in class on time and turn their assignments in, line up when you tell them to line up and sit down when you tell them to sit down is a bigger part of the job. Having an environment that lets you teach is a bigger part of the job than actually teaching. Teaching cannot occur when the learning environment is not established. And the only way to establish a true learning environment is to do so purposefully through the planning and implementation of processes that allow you to define the learning environment of your classroom: the process for making those parameters clear to your students, the process of teaching compliance with those parameters, and then the consequence of non-compliance. In other words, it is everything that needs to be in place so that you can do what you do best – teach.
As an educator, do yourself a true favor and come to the quick conclusion that you are an adequate, if not outstanding, educator of academic skills. Now do yourself an even bigger favor and acknowledge that teaching just academic skills is not truly educating a child, much less a classroom full of students. The ability to teach students is completely predicated on your being able to create a learning environment where good teaching and true learning can occur. Therefore, this environment must be defined through tone, guarded by expectations, and operationalized through processes give that you the best opportunity to teach-- and your students the best opportunity to learn. Finally, as an educator, do yourself one more favor. Come to the quick conclusion that it is necessary for you to proactively invest time in creating the learning environment.
It is necessary to teach your students how to act so that you can teach them how to learn. Teach your students your expectations and teach your students the social and emotional skills necessary to successfully learn in your classroom. You set the tone. You set the expectations. You enact the processes. When you do these things, both you and your students will be the winners! As you begin the new year, do yourself a favor and check out some of the classroom management webinars, lesson plans, assessing tools, and other resources that can truly assist you in setting the tone, creating and managing real expectations, and most importantly putting into action your steps to achieving a learning environment. These resources and many others can be found at www.selforschools.com.