It’s been a little over a month that we’ve been back at school and I wanted to check in.
How are both you and your students feeling during the school day?
Is your classroom gaining energy and momentum or do you see it going the other way?
Do you need some ideas to re-engage your students?
Now is the time to make a few slight adjustments that could make your life just a bit easier the rest of the school year.
Let me get real with you for a minute. As teachers, we often forget that we have the power to transform the classroom if we see the momentum in our classrooms draining. Right now is the perfect time to do this- if needed. The second half of the school year can be the most engaging and stimulating for these reasons.
- We already know the students. The honeymoon phase is thankfully over. We know their strengths, their goals, and even their endearing quirks. This is the time you can get stimulating conversation, increase our teacher: student connections as well as student: student connections, and your class can come together as a community of learners.
- The students know us. By now they know our sense of humor, they know our strengths, they know our expectations, and they probably know our triggers. The real learning can happen now. True learning happens when students break outside of their comfort zone. They are now ready to do this.
It took me a few years to realize that the second half of the school year can be the most exciting part of the school year with the deepest learning.
In my first few years teaching, the second half of the school year was mostly about counting down the days until spring break, then until June.
I thought unengaged, tired, lethargic classes were the norm from February until June.
Once I flipped the script and adjusted just a few things, the second half of the school year quickly became the most exhilarating part of the school year.
It’s never a wrong time to do some reflection and make a few adjustments if needed. Here are three simple ways to re-engage your students or simply to keep the momentum going once your students come back from break:
- Plan Curriculum that is Rigorous, Engaging, Collaborative, and Connected to the Real World
I mention this point first because spicing up your curriculum is the mothership of proactive classroom management. Deep down, all students want to learn. When we take the time to plan curriculum that is engaging, rigorous, and collaborative, and connected to the real world students will not only bring your curriculum to life and have fewer behavior issues, but your students will also gain a deeper appreciation for you as a teacher. Why? Your students will notice that you took the time to make learning real and meaningful for them. The classroom management benefit to planning units like this is that this type of teaching and learning extinguishes most minor behavior issues and disruptions. So what is curriculum that would minimize behavior issues? This type of curriculum is:
- An element of collaboration
- Connects to the real world
- Possibly includes a guest speaker or community members
- Possibly includes an authentic audience
- Includes an element of creativity
- Fun for students
We often don’t think of powerful learning as fun or somehow think that if a unit is too fun then it isn’t challenging enough. There also may be that thought in the back of our head that if administration or a colleague walks by our classes and our students are laughing and giggling then they they’ll think that our students are off task. This actually isn’t the case.
Learning should be fun. The units we plan should be fun as well as rigorous. Think of this type of curriculum for students as a new toy room for toddlers. If you put a group of fighting toddlers in a room with new shiny toys that are interesting and engaging, they most likely will stop fighting because they are too distracted by the shiny new toys. If you pitch a unit that is real, relevant, and engaging, you will see the same effect. Your chatty Kathy will most likely be engaged, stimulated, and too engaged to steal Jamina’s pencil or bop Javier on the head. Most importantly, your students will be learning concepts at a deeper level. This is where the magic happens.
- Revamp Your Seating Charts (if needed)
You could switch up the seats in one class or perhaps all of your classes. I suggest if you are switching up the seats, you do it a little differently. Before I learned this strategy of making seating charts based primarily on academic needs, I used to split up the students who couldn’t sit next to each other, sprinkle the rest out and hope for the best.
What if we actually make a seating chart that puts student’s cognitive and learning needs before their misbehaving tendencies?
In my bestselling 2018 book, Real Talk About Classroom Management: 50 Best Practices That Work and Show You Believe In Your Students, I go deep into how to revamp seating charts. Basically, you look at the students that have IEP’s and spread them around. Then, do the same with your English Language Learners, then with your Gifted and Talented students. Now, you sprinkle around the general education students. The point of making a heterogeneous seating chart like this is that every student has access to someone that can help them if needed. Also, you don’t have a group of struggling students sitting and “sinking” together. It turns the focus of your classroom seating to academics rather than behavior.
Every student has access to academic success.
An additional good rule of thumb is to place a happy student in the center or your classroom. Positive energy spreads fast, especially in a classroom. You may quickly notice that the energy of this student will spread throughout the classroom.
If you are going to have students sit in groups, desks clumped together in groups of 4-6 work best and the desks should be positioned so everybody can see the teacher easily when needed.
If you happen to have a period or two that is a little difficult, it’s the perfect time to change a seating chart or change up the lessons. Most likely, the students will be thankful for the change and an opportunity to turn it around.
Remember that deep down every student wants to learn and do well in your classroom.
- Keeping Working on that Good Old Fashioned Student Connection
Do you have a student that has been giving you a few more gray hairs this year? Find out what he/she is interested in besides academics. Ask questions or notice the stickers on Amy’s binder or the doodles that Xavier makes on his notebook. These clues will lead you to discover what they like to do outside of school.
Teachers that have strong teacher-student connection have 31 percent fewer behavior issues (Marzano et al., 2003). That’s really powerful data. We have the power right now to mend severed relationships with students or strengthen ones that already exist.
So how do we build connection when we have limited time and many students?
Efficient activities like group writing or check in conferences instead of 1:1 conferences, team building activities, quick personal writing/discussion prompts or debate questions can help you check in with your students more regularly in smaller groups. Even simple strategies like hanging student pictures in your classroom shows your students that you value them. It is all about taking an interest in them as human beings as much as a student.
Let’s challenge the traditional way of thinking about classroom management: Why can’t our classrooms end with more energy and increased engagement than the first half of the school year? Not only will our students benefit, you’ll be happier and more energized in those weeks and months when you need it the most. Teachers, we deserve that. Happy Teaching!
Marzano, R. J., Marzano, J. S., & Pickering. D. J. (2003). Classroom management that works. Alexandra, VA: ASCD.
Pariser, S. (2018). Real talk about classroom management. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.