As an educator there is an endless amount of choices to make when thinking about instruction and classroom management. These choices can be made with your PLC, on your own, or using expert advice. There’s no shortage of places to look. Some choices are made over a short period of time and some over the course of your career. With good planning and luck you can make more decisions that upon reflection can be labeled as good and less of the bad kind.
When it comes to student interaction the teacher can do three things.
Planned interaction, when the teacher makes sound instructional decisions based on research and best practices.
Intuition and instinct, when the teacher uses his/her gut to produce a positive learning experience.
Reaction, when the teacher makes a rash decision at the spur of the moment and sometimes without clear thinking or good judgement.
Two usually end up being the good decisions after reflection and the third kind ends up in the goof category.
Before students enter my classroom each day I have a pretty good idea of the mood and tone I want to set with students. If I know we have a lot to accomplish that day I will cut a lot of the jokes short and keep students in line quickly. On the other hand, if I know today is a day in which students have earned a break I keep the mood light and tell an extra joke or two with students. Often when I have a student who is off task and the usual reminders aren’t showing much result I begin to carefully think about how I want to address the student at the right time. This keeps me from lashing out at a student and keeps me from distracting the rest of the class in some potential teacher vs. student showdown that no matter how much I flex my authority I will likely end up losing in the eyes of the students. The end of class is a perfect time to strike. The attention wandering student has lost their audience and I’ve had time to gather my own thoughts. At this moment I can calmly talk to the student and it usually ends up in a win-win situation rather than a pitting of wills and minds in front of the whole class.
Intuition and Instinct
While careful thinking and planning can make for a win-win for the teacher and student alike sometimes reality is much quicker to come to the point of needing to deal with a situation. In these moments I search for what’s worked in the past and go right to that. In seconds I have found myself talking fast to defuse a situation that looked the worst but suddenly the student finds that whatever they were doing was not the best choice. But even with fast talking to work with a difficult student I keep calm. I may even speak softly to the student.
Reaction (Worst Choice)
A teacher finds themselves in plenty of different situations just about every day. Dealing with a difficult student or failing lesson is par for course as a teacher. When a teacher gets into a pickle a spur of the moment decision can become a moment that has many more ripples then the teacher intended. The worst decisions I have ever made as a teacher was when I did something or said something without first thinking about what to do next. In life we see the same. Politicians say something which then becomes part of the news cycle, the next day an apology is issued or they end up resigning. A celebrity with what seems like unlimited power has a side-practice of questionable morality only to be put into the negative spotlight years later. While making a bad call likely won’t be a career ender for teachers it ends up costing the instructor the chance to make a positive impact on a student. So make each interaction count.
Teaching fads come and go. Some are more lasting and others quickly fade away. Something that has been moving into classrooms is the flexible seating environment. The research on these classrooms is short and relatively new. Though, one thing that is easy to see in these classrooms is that students are excited about a different classroom set up. The current generation of students have grown up behind screens and have known the world to always have had high speed internet with instant access to movies, games, and information. Perhaps having a fun classroom set up is just what they need.
If you are wanting to start flexible seating make just a few changes to get going. A few bean bags or a high top desk might be all you need. With these few items you can do a few things. First you can see how your students handle this new seating. You might discover something that all the experts didn’t mention. Second you can see what your students really want more of. Some classes want to have large exercise balls to sit on while others might want standing desks. I started out with just stand up desks but soon realized that more than one type of seating was really needed. In my first efforts I asked for a lot of these types of desks so it took a long time to complete and get the items in the classroom. That’s why I think its a good idea to just have one or two items to start. As soon as they show up in the classroom you can begin looking for more or better yet have several projects going at the same time to get what you are looking for.
Look for funding
A total classroom makeover is not cheap. Over the last four school years I’ve managed over $5000 in projects using DonorsChoose.org and have also got plenty of support from the PTSA at my school using grants. School districts will have grant resources as well. You will spend a lot of time looking for sources of funding but when you finally get some support it is satisfying. Some funding tips I have found helpful: contact local businesses that you frequent and inquire if they would like to support your classroom, post to Facebook your projects; friends and family are usually very happy to help out, email larger businesses in your area to ask about funding opportunities. A combination of these tips usually works. I’ve seen plenty of teachers post a project but with little follow through they often fail.
While students are enjoying the different set up you might find yourself picking up bean bags and putting chairs back where they belong at the end of each day. Every system needs rules to guide students. Flexible seating is no different. Once you have new desks and chairs have the students set things up in different ways to see what works. If they help you organize and arrange this will create ownership of the classroom. By placing chairs under certain desks students understand where they belong. Each year I mix up the classroom set up a few times to keep things new. When I do this I always get help from my classes. If new seating is limited in your classroom you will have to think of ways to share with everyone in the classroom. In my classroom I use a seating chart to start each class. This makes it easy to see who is present. After my own instruction is done I want students to move around and find a place that works for them. When this happens I am no longer in the front of the classroom but moving around the room seeing what each student is learning about.
Here’s a few good links to learn more about the subject:
The grand opening of every classroom takes place at the start of the school year. But the re-opening also takes place after the break in the middle of the year. This is your chance to show students that the new management is either the same as the old or that your classroom is under “new management.” Depending on how the first half of the year went you might not need to change much.
Say goodbye to your PowerPoints
I used to start the school year with a really long PowerPoint on my classroom procedures. I even once remarked to an administrator that I had a PowerPoint of almost 50 slides and she questioned me “how do you teach so many procedures?” That was the first sign that I needed to do something different. Now my beginning of the year and middle of the year presentation is filled with video which provide students time to reflect and give the class a great discussion. This discussion is practice for when you really want to talk to your class about content. Students get a chance to practice talking in front of each other in a classroom setting by raising hands, taking turns, listening. All skills you need your students to have.
Here’s one video short I love to share with students. Lots of meaningful discussion following this fun video short. https://vimeo.com/152985022
From this one simple video students are practicing many procedures which you can take time to model in short bursts rather than in a 50 slide Powerpoint.
Write the new rules before breaks and when the school year ends
In society rules keep us from sliding into chaos. In the classroom rules keep order too. No one knows this more than the students in your classroom. Although they seem like they hate rules, they appreciate order and they look to the teacher to help provide this stabilizing force. When I run into former students who have now become young adults and they give remarks about my classroom they usually tell me how I was “strict but not too strict.” This formula works for me but yours might be different. Some teachers might seek control at all times and while they might still be successful I like a balanced approach. This shows up in the “strict but not too strict” comments I hear from former students.
I keep lists of ideas all the time but the ones I like best are the ones where I jot down something that I think I should do differently in the classroom. Right before any breaks and especially right before the summer break I write down all the things I want to do differently. These notes end up becoming part of what the next group of students will see as the rules of my classroom. Students are a good source of these new rules too. Beginning of the year surveys that students complete have a lot more information on them than birth dates and favorite candy. Kids will let you know what they think the classroom should be like. A favorite question of mine is “what is one thing you would like to change about school?” Another one I like is “What is the perfect classroom like?” I will revisit these questions throughout the school year and question students again with surveys set up in Survey Monkey. If you make an effort to include the student’s ideas you are modeling how our society works with the input of the people. Skills we need student to have. And your classroom environment will likely get a nice boost with buy in from the students.