The 5 R’s (and an M) Recipe for Classroom Management

Rigor: When students are over challenged and feel unsuccessful, or are under challenged, and get bored, misbehavior happens. Keeping the material just above their current thinking structures, but still at an obtainable level, curves that misbehavior because they are busy learning and not busy thinking of what picture to draw on the desk or how to annoy their neighbor.

For my dancers, I always carried the philosophy that, if I only raise the bar a small bit, it is likely that they will meet it, but they won’t exceed it. If I, raise the bar to a high, yet still obtainable, level, then they will push themselves and challenge themselves more–they may not all necessarily get to that top skill, but they will push themselves further, and more of them will progress, than if I just set the bar at a mediocre level. The same thing is true with teaching. The students want to learn. They want to be challenged. They love it when you give them new things to consider, different topics to discuss, new material that they’ve never heard of before. So, maintaining the rigor keeps them interested, keeps them invested, and keeps them on task.

Relevance: Teenagers in today’s world want to know WHY they are learning what they are learning. As a teacher, we are always battling their phones, so we have to sell our content to them that THIS is WAY MORE IMPORTANT than building up your social status on SnapChat. Let’s face it–learning about MLA format is definitely not the most exciting thing in the world, but explaining to the students WHY you learn MLA format will encourage them to pay attention. When introducing the purpose of formatting, I always bring in real world examples (Ward Churchill, Taylor Swift, Milli Vanilli, Justin Bieber) and we see what happens in real life when people don’t cite their sources and get caught plagiarizing–it ends badly. When I’m explaining the header, I always say, “you include the page number because I might be in a situation in which I’m walking to the parking lot with your stack of papers and boom! I get hit by a tornado and I have to spend fifteen minutes, chasing your papers around–I need to know to whom the pages belong to and in which order I should resettle them. Again, not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world to teach/learn, but when you explain the relevance to them, and how this might translate to their own lives, they are more likely to buy into your lesson.

Relationships: When a student feels like you, as the teacher, are invested in their learning and development as a person and genuinely care about their success as a student, they will do almost anything you ask them to do–write with their opposite hand, stand on one foot and pat their stomach, work in groups of those who aren’t their friends…When they know you are passionate about what you are teaching, they’ll be more inclined to learn–because they see your passion and don’t want to crush that.

With high schoolers (and particularly seniors), they want to feel like they have autonomy in the classroom and that they have a say in their learning. They don’t like you to be the dictator–they like to have choices and they like to know that you, as the curator of all grading, are listening to their wishes. So, when you build a mentor-student relationship (rather than a dictator–you poor pheasant people) relationship, the students will buy into you.

Restore: We have to remember that we are teaching kids, and that kids are still learning, growing individuals who are bound to make mistakes. Rather than crushing their hopes and dreams and punishing them for their misbehaviors, it is always important first to figure out (a) what encouraged the behavior and (b) if they were aware of their behavior (honestly, sometimes the kids are in their own little world and don’t realize that walking across the classroom, smacking their gum whilst someone else is presenting is disrespectful, but it also doesn’t do much good to punish them for a behavior that they are unaware of).

This process of restore means asking the student to reflect on his/her behavior. I one time had a class that received a not so stellar substitute report when I was out sick one day. Rather than going off on a tirade, I decided to use this as a teaching moment to have the students reflect on their behaviors in class. In our journals, we wrote about (a) what happened in class, (b) how each individual student participated in the outcome of the class, and (c) what the expectations are as a student when there is a substitute in the classroom. This was an excellent teaching moment. I learned that the students do, in fact, know what their expected behavior is when a substitute is in the classroom. Then, we discussed how the classroom kind of runs like a team, and that each of us participates in the outcome. If we were bystanders or were not helpful to the substitute, even if we were not the ones enacting the bad behavior, we were also not the ones speaking up and trying to resolve the situation.

Kids respond so much better to positive reinforcement than to negative reinforcement. Much like wanting to be autonomous, they don’t respond well when you say, “don’t”–because, as teenagers who are rebellious and defiant, “don’t” stands as a challenge to them to continue doing the behavior to see how far they can go before they push the boundary. They want to hear, “that was an excellent idea! where did you get that?”, and, “I’m so impressed that you turned in your work early!”, and, “I love this sentence–it is so artful!”

Readiness: The kids are masters of smelling out those days you went to bed too late, didn’t have enough time to complete your lesson plan, are feeling a little under the weather (of course, when you have positive relationships with your students, they will totally support you in these situations). I make an attempt to greet my students at the door and to hand them some kind of reading or paper that we will be going over in class that day. This serves many purposes. For one, it gives the students, from the beginning, an outline of what to expect that day. Two, it prepares them to know that we are going to be doing academic stuff. And three, it gives them something to start working on before class starts (so then they aren’t loitering in the middle of the room, causing problems).

And, having a solid, structured lesson plan, and knowing where you are going next is crucial to classroom management. They totally smell it when you don’t know what you are doing. When there is down time, students see opportunities for misbehavior, so keeping them on their toes and moving through the lesson eliminates those opportunities. I always over plan and keep something in my back pocket in the event we finish early–whether it is a couple discussion questions, another reading, a vocabulary activity, a character profile, etc. Being structured, setting clear expectations, and eliminating downtown is crucial to run this well oiled machine.

Movement: (there was no appropriate ‘R’ synonym for this one…) When was the last time you sat in a desk and stared at someone talking for eight hours straight? It’s hard! As a teacher, I think we sometimes lose sight of what it’s like to be a student–any opportunity that I get to sit in a desk and see the classroom from the student perspective, or to do one of their assignments, I take because it reminds me of their experiences. We expect them to be on their best behavior all the time, but the students all need opportunities to get up out of their desks and move around (especially at the end of the day). Obviously, sometimes there are days in which we just have to sit and listen to instruction, but in my lesson plans, I try to build in as much movement as possible. This could be small struts of movement–walking up to turn in an educational learning tool or grab a journal–or longer spurts–copying information down from a gallery walk or moving across the room for a class discussion. When students have opportunities to expend their excess energy, they are less likely to have side conversations, less likely to kick their neighbor’s desk, and less likely to damage the pages of their textbooks.

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