I was given my Long Observation the week before Christmas break and I was expecting the worst! I was one of the last teachers observed and the gossip wasn’t good. I checked Standards For Success continuously for the week after my observation to see how I had been evaluated; and, one week later, I finally got my results. I had been rated Highly Effective! A huge weight rolled off my shoulders and I felt like I could breathe again! After the classroom observation, at least in Indiana, is The Follow-Up Meeting and one of the things he wanted to discuss with me was my Classroom Management and Culture. He wanted to know how I managed to get almost all my students engaged and involved.
I was glad I had that question ahead of time because it’s difficult to put into words. I’ve always had excellent classroom management but never had anyone ask me what I do to establish it. I decided to break it down and; hopefully, help out any teachers who are struggling.
- It’s not me vs them; it’s ‘us’. We are in this journey together; and my students will sometimes tell me that I’m one of the few teachers they feel who respects them. They say most teachers just tell them what to do instead of engaging in a conversation.
- I use the words “I hear what you are saying.” For example, if a student doesn’t turn in an assignment we’ve spent a week working on, and they are telling me why, I will say, “I hear what you are saying, however, If we break it down, you had a choice and you chose to work on something else. You felt that was your best choice at the time but you can’t walk away from the consequences.” (If I think they'll understand, I sometimes tell them about the phrase Opportunity Cost!)
- I tell them I appreciate them and I tell them as often as I can without sounding creepy. I don’t make it a whole class announcement but, instead, when they are working on an assignment, I will walk around and say to a handful of students, “Thank you for working quietly on your assignment and always doing the right thing. I appreciate you.”
- I let them be mad at me. Sometimes, I require my students to do something they think is unfair (like present to the class). I let them be mad at me, I acknowledge their emotions, I tell them, “I hear you,” and offer them limited choices which usually include not doing it and take the 0 or go up and present with an Emotional Support Friend.
- I take nothing they say personally (That's Just Their Face!). For instance, there is a student right now who actively dislikes me. I’m her least favorite teacher and least favorite class. I acknowledged that in a fun way, “Hey! I totally understand you don’t like me. I wanted to let you know that I respect you and I’m thankful that even though you don’t like me or the class, I appreciate that you don’t cause any trouble and you get your work turned in on time. I think you’re amazing.”
- I don’t judge in any way. I often have students tell me that I’m the first adult that has treated them as adults with adult issues. Again, it’s the magic of the phrase, “I hear you.”
- I randomly walk around the room and check in on everyone with a quiet “How are you? You doing ok?” In the moment, everyone will reply they are fine but sometimes I’ll get a student that has an issue and wants to talk about it.
And, this may sound odd, but I feel the website Class Dojo also help with my classroom culture. My students accused once of having favorites. I denied it but they told me that my face isn’t quiet about who I like and dislike. LOL I was told that I only ever called on people that I liked. It wasn’t intentional! After learning that about myself, I researched ways to randomly call on students and found Classdojo.com. This free website will randomly show a student name and now I don’t have to worry about whether I’m playing favorites!
If I look at what I do, everything is aimed at respecting the student and treating them as an adult. I respect their feelings, the choices they make regarding school, and the demands on their time after school, but I still hold them accountable. Didn’t do your homework? I respect that you chose to spend your limited time on something else but that choice brought consequences. Basically, I think that’s why my classroom culture is, 90% of the time, where I want it to be. The students know I see them as adults, with adult choices who earn adult consequences.
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