Classroom Management Strategies

Classroom Management Strategies
Do you feel like the time you spend on classroom management takes away from the time you have to teach?

In this interview, CPI’s Senior Training Advisor Dr. Randy Boardman talks with Rick Dahlgren of the Center for Teacher Effectiveness and Dr. Johnny Alvarado, a principal in Fresno, CA.

The veteran teachers, administrators, and Time To Teach!® trainers discuss tools to help you bring your focus back to teaching.

Interview Highlights

[5:07] To Calm a Challenging Moment
Rick: So here's an example. If I'm challenged and I hear, "This is boring," I might, rather than saying, "Oh, this certainly isn't boring, John Smith. This isn't boring. This is very important and you're going to need this." See, when a teacher does that, what's happened is teaching has stopped and now there's a dialogue between student and teacher and 27 minds are just sitting there waiting to see, when are we going to move on?

So here's where a diffuser comes in. Rather than taking that challenge, if I hear, "This is boring," I might say, "I understand." and I keep rolling. Here's another diffuser. If I hear, "This is boring," I might say, "Nevertheless," and I keep going. Now there's just two. We've got so many of them that you're going to share with the listeners but in both cases, what I just said is, I said, "I hear you," but I continue to teach. What I want to be really clear here is that diffuser is never said condescendingly. It's always said matter-of-factly, non-condescendingly. So the message you're sending the student is, as a teacher, I hear you, but I continue to teach.

[12:11] Turning the Shoulder
Rick (Another tactic for a teacher who’s been challenged by a student): So...let's say it comes from the middle of the room on the left.... And by showing the shoulder, what I mean is, I take that stance and I now engage with a student. I'm modeling the questions for her. I'm checking on her work and here we go. The quiet signal that I'm sending all the kids is, "Yes, I heard it. But Mr. Dahlgren doesn't engage in those petty arguments." Now a lot of people might be thinking, "Boy, you put up with that?" No, I'm not lowering my standards. All I'm doing is changing my timing. 

So folks, if this is a middle school student that says that to me, I show the shoulder. I continue to work with some other students. I continue to model, I continue to teach. But maybe during passing time now at the end of the period, I might be saying, "I'll see you tomorrow, Samantha. Jeff, I'll see you tomorrow. Tony, I need to see you for a moment. Stand over here please." "Well, what's it for, Mr. Dahlgren?" "Oh, we're going to go over the challenge that occurred in class. We're going to figure out a better way to get my attention." 

So Randy, what's going on here is I'm going to take care of the behavior but at a time that works for me and my students... So the bottom line is these kinds of events are easy to control and it's not, as one of my former students used to say, it's not rocket surgery. It's actually something that's very easy to do and that is, you just change your timing and don't take the debate bait.

[16:15] Set Up “Before” and “During” Structures 
Johnny: So when I think about changing the narrative, I think about this idea. Before we actually even get into the classroom, before our principals, maybe even our superintendents of the school district, before the school year starts, what have to done to ready everybody when a situation like this happens? Or a different situation occurs? And what I mean by that is, if we were to think about three different constructs of behavior...before, during, and after...and then we figure out what strategy and what preparations can we include in each of those constructs, then we begin to be better classroom managers in our classrooms. 

As an example, Rick talked about diffusers and he talked about staying away from the debate bait. So the question that I always pose to principals, administrators, is this, is that, "What structures, before school has even started, have we developed so that when we actually are in the during phase, when we're challenged with kids, that we readily know what to do?" So this idea of diffusers is a perfect one. 

Diffusers can be something that we engage in before school starts, before the year starts. Or maybe even at staff meetings because the school year may have already started. But now when the teacher's engaged in this behavior, they very readily can respond with a diffuser to eloquently remove themselves from that particular situation.
Classroom Management Strategies
Photo: Svetlana Braun / iStock

[20:31] Why Tallying Behaviors Doesn’t Work 
Rick: I think that it's a noble attempt, "That's one," then, "That's two." Or pulling cards or name on the board and checks. I understand what the teachers are trying to do. They're trying to move on in instruction, so I support them in that endeavor. But the trap they've fallen into...and I alluded to this earlier...good classroom management is just about timing. It's not about necessarily the strategies that we have, but when we use them. And so for example, when you say, "That's one," and then, "That's two," and of course the consequence comes after, "That's three," or the third check on the board, Randy, what you really just told the child is, "Go ahead and misbehave twice for free and on the third check or you know, the third number, then the consequence happens." 

So Randy, you've just told 28 kids, "Go ahead, misbehave 56 times." And we don't often think about that, but in these kinds of strategies, I call it giving multiple warnings and repeated requests. Now I can't go into it here...and you know it very well because it's a very robust response to this...we have a thing called re-focus. And what that does, it allows the teacher to ask and get what they want on question number one ninety percent of the time or more.

So instead of asking, asking yet again, threatening with, "That's one," "That's two," or name on the board and checks or all of the other things that we try and do to control behavior, folks, there's a more practical way to do it where you can give the student the ability to problem-solve and to have you not giving multiple warnings and repeated requests. So these kinds of things just lead to signaling to the student, "Go ahead, misbehave twice. And on the third try, you'll be in trouble."

[39:38] The Big Secret Is 
Rick: I would say the big secret is, and again, it's really not a secret, as you say, but that is not assuming that kids are coming to school ready to learn, and by that I mean we often make the assumption as teachers, when kids are misbehaving we make the assumption that all kids are coming ready to get under task and get to work. And what happens is we have a lot of teachers that get frustrated because the kids don't know how to maybe hang up their backpacks or how to greet a teacher or how to hand in papers to the paper tray or even how to sharpen their pencil. All of us have had that student that starts with a pencil that's nine inches long, and five minutes into your lesson plan it's now a nub. And it's not that it's a bad student. It's that they've not been taught that what we call a procedure or that skill. 

So one of the things that we talk about is teaching to expectations, and this is time well spent, Randy, time well spent if we all would not make the assumption that kids knew how to operate in that school environment. In other words, if we take it upon our self to help them be effective learners. Let's teach them, just like we teach arithmetic or reading or writing. We don't assume that they know that. We can assume that they know behaviors, so let's teach them all the rules and procedures that we have in our classroom so that we spend our entire year instead of saying, "What are you doing? That's not right. I told you to do it." 

Want more strategies?

“The training and take-away books were full of practical strategies that can help me as a Behavior Specialist, and any teacher.” —Jodi Chesman, Montgomery County Public Schools

Explore the books and resources that Jodi’s so excited about!

Schedule a Time To Teach!® training for your school! Email Randy Boardman or call 414.979.7084.

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