The basics of good classroom management part 1: Prevention

Ed Whittaker

Ed started his career in chemistry, working for ICI Organics Division in Blackley. Having decided that 21 days holiday a year was simply not enough, he left industry to take up teaching at the age of 30. He spent the next twenty odd years teaching chemistry to GCSE and A level - and learning about behaviour management the hard way. Early in his teaching career he became interested in classroom management techniques following some Keystone Kops style episodes in his Y9 lessons. For the last few years of his teaching career Ed was the behaviour lead in a large Manchester comprehensive and was responsible for the successful introduction of BFL into the school. In July 2008 Ed left teaching to form Schools Data Services Ltd, specifically to promote IRIS, an on-line behaviour and rewards management facility devised by Ed and ex school MIS manager Andrew Rose.

Ed lives in Rochdale with wife Helen, two boys and a dog of very small brain called Archie. His main ambition is to make a difference in education by providing an alternative low cost, high value MIS to schools.

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Website: www.iris.ac Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Everyone knows the old adage “prevention is better than cure”. This is as true of classroom management as it is of anything else. Preventing disruption from occurring in the first place is far better than struggling to regain control when things have all gone pear-shaped.

As staff mentor, I was once asked by a newly-qualified teacher if he could come and observe one of my lessons. He wanted, he said, to see “How you deal with confrontation”. I told him he was welcome to come and see my lesson, but he was unlikely to see any confrontation because I tried hard to make sure it didn’t happen. Of course, the question he should have asked is “How do I avoid confrontation in the first place?”.

So how do you prevent misbehaviour from happening in the first place? Well, the first thing to say is that you can’t alwaysprevent it. Children misbehave: it’s part of their job description. The trick is to reduce the occurrence and degree of misbehaviour and to know how to deal with it effectively when it does arise. Unless you are one of those born teachers with an intuitive skill for managing youngsters, good classroom management comes with experience; but there are some useful tips and hints to get you started.

Be at your room on time - before the students arrive, if possible. Don’t leave them standing in the corridor. By arriving on time, you send a subliminal message to your class that they are important to you. You will have time to supervise an orderly entry into the room, rather than there being a rushed effort to get them out of the corridor.

Have clear, established routines for putting bags and coats away, and having books out ready to start. Try to have something on the board for them to do or look at as they come in. The key objective is to reduce the amount of idle time during the initial settling-down period at the start of the lesson.

Make sure you have everyone’s attention before you start talking. Don’t be one of those teachers who sprays instructions around the room at the top of his voice while the class is in chaos. To gain attention, address individuals by name rather than the whole class: it is much more effective.

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Recap on the last lesson: Good classroom management and good teaching are two sides of the same coin. You can rarely have the one without the other. Put the day’s lesson in to context by relating it to what has gone before. What seems an obvious connection to you may not be so evident to the students.

Learning objectives: Some schools require teachers to put the learning objectives on the board. Though I agree that it is essential to put the lesson in to context, this practice can be rather like starting a joke with the punchline. Try to phrase your objectives in a way that leaves something to be discovered: “Today we’re going to find out why leaves are green” is more engaging than “To be able to state the role of chlorophyll in photosynthesis”.

Be prepared: You know - you absolutely know - that there will be at least one student in your class with no pen. Don’t waste time creating a fuss, just have a tray with spare pens rubbers, rulers, fresh exercise books, lined paper for those who’ve forgotten their books, etc. Of course, it would be nice if every pupil turned up to every lesson fully equipped; but - unless you teach in one of the newly fashionable “Zero Tolerance” schools - this isn't going to happen; so be prepared for the foreseeable eventualities. Try to avoid rushing out to the stock cupboard to get equipment: you’ll end up having to re-establish order when you get back.

Lesson preparation: There are those who will tell you that if you make your lessons engaging and entertaining, there will be no misbehaviour. This, of course, is complete nonsense and can lead to inexperienced teachers planning their lessons in greater and greater detail in the belief that lesson presentation and content are the only things that dictate pupil behaviour. They aren't. Clearly, a lesson presented in a boring and dull manner is likely to make behaviour management more difficult. But if a pupil intends to misbehave, it might be that no amount of lesson planning will stop him. Prepare your lessons well and make them as interesting as you can, but do not rely on that as a panacea for classroom misbehaviour. You need a behaviour plan as well.

Create a positive classroom climate: Is your classroom a place of dread for your students, or is it a place where they want to be; where they feel safe and secure? Is it a place of uncertainty where a detention could spring out of nowhere depending on your mood? Or is it a place where the rules are clear, known and understood and are applied consistently and fairly? Make no mistake: what you do, what you say and how you say it can have a profound effect on pupil behaviour – for good or bad. As Haim Ginott said, “It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous”. One of the fundamental prerequisites for effective classroom management is the creation of a positive climate in your classroom.

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Catch them being good: As teachers we are very good at catching kids misbehaving, but not so good at catching them being good. Don’t turn your lessons into moaning sessions: go out of your way to catch pupils being good. Try to average at least three positive comments to every negative one. Look at it this way: an animal trainer does not teach a dog a new trick by beating it every time it gets it wrong, but by rewarding it when it does the right thing. Punishment can produce short term compliance, but encouraging and rewarding positive behaviour is more effective in producing a lasting improvement.

Start each lesson with a clean slate: I knew a teacher who would go in to a lesson with a pupil exit slip pre-filled in, just waiting for the earliest opportunity to remove a particular pupil. Needless to say, that teacher did not have a particularly constructive relationship with his pupils. Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to forget and forgive the mayhem caused in the previous lesson; but unless we give each pupil a fresh start each week, we risk turning  misbehaviour into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Reminding pupils of past mistakes does not make for a positive and constructive relationship.

Rules: Classroom rules regarding communication, interaction with others, movement, safety and learning are essential for managing behaviour. Effective rules are few in number, positive in intent, discussed with the class, clearly displayed in the room, and taught to the students. The consequences for transgressions must be clear. Most importantly of all, the rules must be consistently applied. Consistency is a key component in the creation of a positive classroom environment. Children feel aggrieved if they are punished for something that was ignored in a previous lesson. When it comes to the effectiveness of sanctions, the certainty of a sanction is more important than its severity. Consistent and fair application of rules and consequences is a major factor in avoiding confrontation. Another major factor in creating a calm classroom is the use of positive correction and the least intrusive methods for dealing with off-task behaviour.

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