If there’s anything I wouldn’t change about my first year in the classroom, it’d be my sometimes epic failures in the areas of classroom management. I’m not sure why, but I’ve been hesitant to gleefully admit defeat in this area. However, after some careful reflection in this area (and re-reading some blog posts on this very topic from some of my favorite teachers, such as this one from The Meek Moose), I’m fine with it.
My classroom management needs a serious overhaul. I know that because of my epic failures, and I’m happy to do something about it because I know that failing is the first step to success as a teacher. Critical reflection and all that!
So here are the top three things I learned, sometimes the hard way last year — that I’m going to work to improve this year:
1) Start early and review often. I completely underestimated the need for procedures. I thought sure, I need them, but do I really need to write them down? Yes. Do I really need to explicitly teach them every day for the first month? Yes. Do I really need to review them multiple times a month — even after I think my kiddos have “mastered it”? Yes. Do I really need to re-write my procedures and re-teach them based upon the changing climate on my classroom? YES.
I could have saved myself so much grief and “managing” of behaviors if I did a better job of teaching procedures, modeling, correcting, and reviewing (until blue in the face). Front-loading those efforts could have made me more effective in the long run, and it 100% without a doubt (of the run out and buy a lottery-ticket variety!) could have reduced “negative” behaviors in my room.
2) Be. Consistent. Ohhhhhh. Oh. Just oh. If there’s anything I regret about my first year, it’s about not being consistent enough — in modeling and correcting procedures/expectations, in applying consequences, etc. If I’m being honest (and my goal here is to be honest), I was so overwhelmed at times by trying to get my sea legs in my own classroom that I lost sight of the importance of consistency.
And just like explicitly teaching and modeling, being consistent in absolutely every area of management could have made my year — and more importantly, my students’ year, so much better.
3) You really can just be positive. Or, as it’s otherwise known, ditch the clipchart and communicate better. (Disclaimer: Clipcharts just might be your thing and work wonderfully for you. No judgment here — this is really and truly about me and my classroom!) I must have gone through three or four clipchart iterations last year, trying to find one that worked. I never did. It’s pretty easy to see why — clipcharts worked well for my students that had excellent behavior because they were always reaping the benefits, but all it did for my students that struggled with making good choices is put them on the defensive and in a sour mood and — you guessed it! — led them to making even worse choices.
I don’t know why, but I was afraid that my classroom would become Lord of the Flies if I focused on the positive, didn’t “clip down to red” multiple students a day, but I was. I was terrified that without the threat of orange/yellow/red or whatever iteration it was that my students wouldn’t be motivated to perform. Boy was I wrong.
So — what does this translate to? This translates to balancing out the equation and sharing the responsibility with my students. I’ll be better equipped to start my students out on a level-playing field this year by being aware of explicitly teaching procedures and expectations, providing supports in consistent application of consequences (communicate, communicate, communicate), and most importantly, ditching the clipchart and learning to love the art (and it is an art!) of praise.
I’ve started this journey to improving my classroom management skill-set with something small — my “rewards” this year. Last year I tried classroom coupons, a treasure box, etc. and nothing felt quite right to me. Enter brag tags. You’ve seen them in various forms — necklaces with cards or tags that recognize a specific moment, trait, or success for students.
Above all this upcoming year, I want to recognize even the smallest of successes — because for some of my students, that small success may be the only success they have that day and building upon that is key. [We’re a PBIS school this year, so this is especially important.] I wanted to find something that could be a year-long “reward” and a source of pride for students, something beyond the five-minute joy of a trip to the prize box. That’s when I settled on Brag Tags.
Miss Nelson has a fabulous set of her version, Behavior Beads, which I’ll be using for sure. But I wanted something to fit my personality as teacher too, and something that goes along with the classroom theme I’ve already got in place.
So I started making these. I wanted to recognize both academic and behavioral successes, so the included tags do just that — in keeping with my Oz-Inspired classroom.
I plan on starting off my students with the “There’s No Place Like Second Grade” tag in a special ceremony the first Friday of school. Every Friday thereafter I plan on awarding additional brag tags to students, recognizing them in front of their peers (with specific praise!), and allowing them to wear their necklaces all day (with lots of pride!). My entire team is implementing Whole Brain Teaching this year, so specific WBT-themed brag tags are next on my to-do list (any requests?).
And if one of my kiddos has an off day? An off week? I won’t have to feel like clipping down is my only (or any, because I won’t have a clipchart) option; I’ll be able to point to their success in a tangible form on their necklace — and give them a “Dream BIG” tag for encouragement — communicate (again and again) my expectations, and work with the student to find a solution.
SO, if you managed to make it through all that (it was seriously cathartic, y’all) I’d like to give away three copies of these brag tags. What did you learn most about classroom management your first years as a teacher? Leave me a comment and I’ll pick three winners Sunday night.