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The class is taking a weekly math test. Everyone is working quietly when a fly buzzes across the room. Suddenly, Bingo says in a clear voice, “Here’s my friend, Tony the Fly.” A few people twitter but most just keep working. I go stand near Bingo ready to whisper in his ear to help him get back to task. Another fly joins the class. Bonzo, Bingo’s partner in crime, shouts, “Look! It’s Tony’s dad!” The entire class’ self control flies out the window with Tony and his dad. I have to bypass my urge to join in the laughter to refocus the class.
Most teachers have said to a parent, “Bingo would be an exemplary student if he would only exercise some self control.” Or “Suzy will be a fantastic student once she masters self control.” Self control is the bugaboo of many students and, let’s be honest, teachers, as well. It is a rare person who has perfect self control. Everyone has something they seem to have no control over. Also, when one or two people in a group lose their center then the rest of the group follows suit pretty quickly.
Getting twenty-something students to simultaneously regulate their behavior is a trick that isn’t taught in education programs (Don’t even get me going on the alternative programs that put teachers in a classroom with less than two months training.) For some students, having great self control is part of their make-up. For others it is like trying to catch a star: something they can see and want but is simply out of reach no matter how hard they try. For most of us, it is somewhere in between. We have control over most things, although there are a few things that cause it to evaporate.
I believe one of the most important classroom management tools, is finding a way to help the class gain self control, maintain it, and know what to do when Tony the Fly and his dad join the room and all self restraint is gone.
Here are some ways to help teach, maintain, and regain self control.
1. Set up rules about fairness, safety, and taking care of your environment. Class rules help build the structure and expectations of behavior. Keep them simple. Three or four general rules can cover nearly every expectation. Here is my article on writing class rules.
2. Make consequences based on fixing it rather than shame. It is so easy to call Bingo and Bonzo out in front of the class. That almost never solves a problem In fact, I knew both of the boys had a hard time sitting still for long. Instead, talk to the boys after the test about how they can make it up to the class for disrupting the test. They may choose to apologize or offer to tutor someone who is struggling on the math concepts.
3. Create a quiet time/out or thinking area. Set this up, teach the use of this to the class. Let everyone practice it. Keep it in your line of vision so it doesn’t become a place to goof off. Here is a great article on how to use time out in the classroom.
4. Build strategies to regroup. I like call and response, or spelling a common word. I might say “George” The class replies with “Washington.” I also would spell “quiet” aloud with the class joining in. Some teachers clap, or use a chime. Whatever strategy you use, it should be age appropriate, appealing, and respectful.
5. Use the wonder phrase, “Show me…” I love this trick. I am amazed each and every time I use it because it always works. “Show me how you should be sitting.” “Show me what you should be doing right now.”
6. Practice deep breaths and counting. We tried a variety of ways to do breathing and short meditations. We began the beginning of instruction each morning by shutting our eyes and making a wish for the day. It helped the class disconnect with outside world and set an intention for the day.
7. Give movement or quiet breaks depending on the situation. If the class is restless, stretch, do a short dance, sing, or have them shake their hands rapidly. If they are wound up, have them breath, draw a quick picture in a journal, or rub their hands together and cover their eyes. If they can’t transition, have them do a task such as skip counting to 100 as fast as they can, then repeat it at a regular pace, then as slow as possible. You will have to be the pace setter.
I have been known to have my class put their heads down on their desks. I time it for one minute and do it only rarely when the class is wildly frenzied. We take deep breaths while we do it.
8. Play quiet music. I loved international lullabies, and classical music. This is especially good during time when you want quiet work and they are having a hard time not visiting.
9. Expect a “good try,” not perfection. For some kids this is all you can hope for. They will need a lot of support. Pick your battle carefully, gradually helping them to build restraint.
10. Give seating options. For my super wigglers, I often gave them the option of moving their desk away from the rest of the class. (Yes, most of them did this on their own.) I also would let them sit in my rocker, at my table, or stand at tall table or stool. When we sat at the rug, I often had kids in chairs if they thought it would help them focus. It helps maintain their self control especially as they made the choice.
11. Maintain your own self control. You are the role model for the room. Follow the class rules, be respectful, stretch. I’ve been known to say, “Ms. Meredith, show me what you should be doing right now.” The only thing a teacher can’t do is take a time out.
12. Remember tomorrow is another day. On those days when you think their must be a full moon, there is not one but two fire drills, and someone melts down in a such a major dramatic style they could be on Broadway, keep in mind that the day ends soon. Laugh or cry all the way home. You can start fresh in the morning.
How did I handle Tony the Fly and his dad? First I got the class quiet by saying “Macaroni and…” The class replied “Cheese.” This broke their frenzy and they stopped to hear what I was going to say.
“I hired Tony and his dad to spy on you to see who was doing their best work.” The class chuckled, calmer now. “Let’s close our eyes and count to ten silently. Then back to the test.” Everyone shut their eyes. The room grows silent for a few seconds then pencils are picked back up and the math test is resumed. Self control has returned.