When Classroom Management Gets In the Way:  4 Questions to Ask

When Classroom Management Gets In the Way: 4 Questions to Ask

Laura Zamrok

Energetic and committed teachers spend days, hours and summer months preparing for exciting, authentic and meaningful lessons to engage their students.  From Teachers Pay Teachers, to a local dollar store, Michaels and Amazon, on average, teachers pay between $500 and $700 annually on classroom supplies, materials and more, according to the National Education Association.  In addition to the expense, teachers and staff spend vacations and off time preparing for instruction that helps their students succeed, beyond the texts and consumables.

Sometimes despite the time, talent and treasure, instruction goes awry due to student disengagement and social issues that arise in the classroom.  Frustrated teachers can often feel defeated and hopeless after investing so much time and energy into making their classrooms optimum for learning just to feel embattled with classroom management issues.  The classroom environment needs to be conducive to learning for all students.  Here is a checklist to use to evaluate your classroom environment and how to address shortcomings:

  1. Is the classroom safe for all learners?  

Safety looks much different than years past.  In addition to sturdy work surfaces, proper lighting, hazard free learning areas, appropriate air flow/ventilation and direct methods of egress, classroom safety had evolved into so much more than physical well being.  Accessibility is paramount for students to feel safe to participate in class regardless of their limitations.  Classroom safety includes health and hygiene.  Are the work surfaces clean?  Are proper cleaning protocols in place to prevent the spread of illness?

  1.  Is my classroom inclusive and risk free?

Another equally important area of classroom safety is being able to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment where all members feel safe to learn and express their thoughts freely without fear of judgment or bullying. Emotional safety is the key to a safe and risk-free classroom.  Does everyone feel valued regardless of differences?  Are students encouraged to express themselves freely? Is praise specific and immediate?  Are anti-bullying policies well known, followed and enforced?  Is there an appropriate amount of trust in relationships in the classroom?  Are teachers flexible enough to accept and build upon mistakes?  Is communication open, frequent and readily available to all students?  Are students’ privacy respected with confidentiality?

  1.  Do my students know what is expected of them?

Teacher expectations can often be assumed rather than explicitly stated.  In the book The Unwritten Rules of Friendship, author Natalie Madorsky encourages parents to identify what makes good social relationships and speak to their children about how to navigate the interactions they may encounter.  The same holds true for the classroom.  Consistent rules and expectations need to be clear and enforced regularly.  This comes in the form of an anchor/wall chart with the rules, may include what it looks like, feels like, sounds like, etc and proper modeling should occur followed by feedback and praise.  Too often we assume our students should know how to walk to the bathroom, walk around chairs, speak kindly…but how often do we address these explicitly?

  1.  Are my lessons engaging?

Lessons that are interactive and stimulating will minimize distractions and keep students engaged.  As the teacher “reads the room”, adjustments should be made to the lesson as needed rather than strictly adhering to a pre-planned lesson.  Students are humans with thoughts, attention boundaries and free-will.  Being able to adjust a lesson in the moment will allow students to continue to be engaged in order to accomplish the learning objective.

Classroom management is multi-faceted.  It is more than call outs, disrespect and inattention.  Education has evolved over the years, and our students have developed in ways that are not the same as even 20 years ago.  As our expectations for our students continue to grow, we too must grow our skills to assist our students in their journey.

There is a well accepted notion that “kids these days” lack attention, respect and the ability to sustain academic rigor. As adults who are trained in a profession that focuses solely on allowing our young learners to flourish academically and emotionally, we need to take a deep dive into how we are carrying out the reason we chose this profession in the first place, rather than place blame on our students.   True reflection on these four questions will allow a teacher to review their classroom environment and make adjustments as needed.  Administrators and staff may consider using this checklist during a faculty meeting with time to ponder their classroom environment, reflect on how explicitly their classroom expectations are and look deeply into how engaging their lessons are in order to increase student learning.  Peer to peer visits, ongoing support and constant reflection/journaling about the classroom environment will allow teachers to fully implement lessons despite challenges that may interfere with the process.

With a clear understanding of the factors in the classroom that may lead to a less than ideal environment for learning, teachers can reflect on their practices, make adjustments with explicit expectations and move forward with meaningful and engaging instruction.

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