Classroom Management

It all starts with relationships.
Another school year is approaching. What’s on your classroom management “to-do” list?

For many educators, relationships is at the top of the list. According to educational researchers Jana and Robert Marzano, teachers who build “high-quality relationships” with students experience 31% fewer discipline issues. A study using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health found when adolescents feel “cared for” at school, they are less likely to use drugs/alcohol or engage in violence.

This sense of connectedness helps students connect with the curriculum. Educator Kevin Ewing says, “Without significant relationships there can be no significant learning.”

How will you build relationships with your students this fall? Here are four ideas to improve classroom management, gleaned from educators who use The FISH! Philosophy.

Classroom Management Tip 1. Be There
Your students may not need you all the time, but when they do, they need all of you.

Most people understand that to Be There you have to be physically present. But once you’re there, do your expressions and body language convey that you want to be there? Does the tone in your voice communicate you are concerned? Some call this “being in the game” and your students can tell if you’re not playing 100 percent.

No gesture is insignificant. Author Alfie Kohn tells of visiting a class where the teacher was about to clean the blackboard so the class could start a new lesson. The teacher asked a student if it was OK to erase something the child had scribbled on the board. Kohn says these small acts of respect, over time, create a classroom where students are respectful too.

There’s nothing magical about being there. When you find yourself distracted, you just recommit and refocus. When students see that you care about their needs and interests, it sends a powerful message that it is worthwhile for them to care too.     

Classroom Management Tip 2. Make Their Day
Schools do a good job of recognizing the high achievers. It’s a natural motivator be recognized for your accomplishments. But what if you’re not the best or brightest? You may get the message that something is worth doing only if you receive an award for it. So how do you show every student, every day, that you value them?

Start with the smallest things. Smile. Remember names. Ask students for their opinion and respect that opinion even if it’s different than yours. Compliment students for their effort, though they have a lot of work left reach their goal. It’s too easy, especially in larger schools, to be invisible. Students want to belong, and to belong you have to be noticed.

With everything you and your students have to get done each day, it’s not always easy to find time for Make Their Day moments. Call them out when they happen, like teacher Jason Pelowski. When one of his students complimented another for her creativity on a media project, Pelowski turned it into a lesson on learning from each other. Before long, he says, students started asking each other, “How did you do that?” That’s empowering.

Classroom Management Tip 3. Play
Of all the FISH! practices, Play usually concerns educators most. Play is fine, as long as it is  separate from work. This mindset assumes Play is simply an activity. But Play is really a mindset, one you can apply to any task. It’s a combination of a lighthearted spirit and trying new ideas. Tackling new concepts in math can be Play.

Work and Play are interdependent, necessary to create those magic moments when learning occurs. How do you encourage those moments? It starts with enthusiasm. Educators orchestrate the atmosphere of the classroom and the school. You can’t expect your students to be enthusiastic if you aren’t.

Second is making sure that the classroom is emotionally, not just physically, safe for everyone. Consistency is key. Do you crack down on behaviors that interfere with the lesson plan, but ignore other behaviors between students—sarcasm, putdowns—that may impede their learning even more?

One way to show students it’s OK to make mistakes is to be able to laugh at your own mistakes. As students understand that mistakes are necessary to learn, they will feel safer to take chances that lead to new discoveries.

Classroom Management Tip 4. Choose Your Attitude
Student attitudes clearly affect the classroom. But the teacher’s attitude has an even bigger impact. It starts with intention. What kind of day do you want to create? What kind of person do you want to be? Awareness comes next. What is your attitude right now? What is causing it? Is your attitude in line with your intention? 

Be aware of ingrained reactions. For example, if a student you like comes to school in a sour mood, you may ask what is wrong or offer to help. But if a student you perceive as troublesome is grumpy, do you respond in the same way or chalk it up to the personality you’ve seen before? What could happen if you set aside your past perceptions, no matter how justified, and approach each situation as if it were happening for the first time?

Want to help your students understand the importance of attitudes? Wear a name tag with your attitude. It could be “Enthusiastic”, “Curious”, or even “Tired.” Whatever you’ve chosen, own it. If you’ve chosen a positive attitude, ask students to tell you how consistently you are living it. If you’ve chosen a negative attitude, ask them to tell you how it affects the class. Invite students to wear their own attitudes. Point out that if a choice isn’t working, you can always change it. In time students will better understand the impact of their own attitudes.