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September 2, 2010
Vol. 5
No. 24

Mastering Classroom Management

    <LINK URL="/ascd_express/vol5/524_sornson.aspx"><FIG NAME="http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/images/siteASCD/publications/ascdexpress/Express%205.24/5.24small.jpg" ALT="Mastering Classroom Management" ALIGN="right" /></LINK>In a well-managed classroom, students can focus more clearly on learning. Bob Sornson offers tips for creating a positive classroom environment that will enhance student achievement.

      Popular teacher movies such as To Sir With Love, Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, and countless others rely on the "superman" hero archetype, where teachers with the hardest challenges and greatest natural ability push their students to unprecedented levels of achievement. Fortunately, natural teachers do exist: men and women with such incredible talent for working with kids and dedication to their work that somehow they help students achieve beyond their expectations. No doubt we should look for ways to find and recruit more of these savants to work in our schools, but even with better incentives for great teaching, we will never fill every classroom with a "natural." There simply are not enough of them.
      For the rest of us who aspire to be great teachers, we have a lot of work to do. Teaching requires practice. Great teachers must master numerous skills, with one of the most important being effective classroom management. With the greater likelihood that classroom teachers will face students who seem uninspired by school, come from homes where clear behavior standards have not been set, or find amusement in challenging adult authority, success in the classroom hinges on whether good teachers find the time and support to build skills that help us become effective managers of behavior and classroom culture.
      1. Build Connections Daily. Greet students at the door. Use eye contact, smile, and call students by name. Show them you care enough to ask about their lives. Tell them your own story. Build the personal connection.
      2. Use Consistent Procedures and Routines. Developing and consistently using classroom procedures helps students feel secure, teaches them which behaviors are appropriate for the classroom, and supports a shared purpose in the classroom.
      3. Respond Quickly to Misbehavior. Nip misbehavior in the bud, not with anger and intimidation, but with a carefully honed set of responses that keep your classroom calm and safe. Children will not learn optimally in an unsafe environment. As teachers, it is our job to model calm, emotionally appropriate behaviors and to ensure that no child is afraid of physical or emotional harm in the school.
      4. Notice Specific Positive Behaviors. Spend five times more energy noticing good behavior than criticizing inappropriate behavior. Emphasize the use of specific positive noticing rather than general praise. Use phrases like, "I noticed you were really concentrating today, and that you were one of the first students to get your work done. How did you learn to stay so focused?"
      5. Use Instructional Design for Success. Be aware of the instructional levels and needs of your students, and make adjustments in your instructional design so students are working at their level of readiness as much as possible. Students learn optimally, stay motivated, give time to a task, and behave better when they are working with a high expectation of success.
      6. Neutralize Arguments. Avoid getting sucked into difficult arguments with students. Learn the skills of responding with empathy rather than anger when students try to argue.
      7. Sometimes Delay Consequences. When you are unsure how to respond, too angry to think straight, or working with a child who is emotionally distraught, recognize that you do not have to solve every problem right that minute. Take a breath, calm yourself and the student, and in some cases give yourself some time to consider options before dealing with a problem.
      8. Develop an Empathetic Classroom Culture. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand somebody else's feelings. It may be the most important skill in your repertoire of behavior management skills. Build a classroom in which students feel empathy for each other and from their teacher.
      9. Build Connections with Families. Be the teacher who sends home good news instead of only criticism and punishment. Reach out to parents and build connections that will help your students know that school and home are on the same team.
      10. Use Enforceable Statements. Avoid using threats. Learn to use words carefully, describing those things you are willing to do or allow in your classroom. "We'll be going out to recess as soon as all the tables are clean and the students are quiet."
      11. Offer Choices. Sometimes share control, especially over the little things. Ask students questions such as, "Would you like to do the odd-numbered questions or the even-numbered questions today?"
      12. Teach Problem-Solving Skills. As much as is reasonable, avoid telling students what they ought to do when they are capable of solving their own problems. Guide students to believe they have the capacity to think, learn, and solve problems on their own. Help students develop self-efficacy.
      Teaching requires hard work, dedication, and practice. But we are up for the challenge. Consider forming small groups of teachers with similar interests in improving these skills and read, study, and collaborate. Observe each other in the classroom setting to give constructive feedback. Set goals to improve one or two of these vital skills each school year.

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