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Classroom Management

It's Back to School time.  It's the time for hope, renewal, new challenges, and joy.  We, as teachers, begin to create plans for our class and what we want to happen. 
I doubt this would be part of our dreams for the upcoming year:


But it happens. 



What you do on the first day, during the first weeks, will determine your school year.


That is a bold statement.


But it is also true.


back to school; first grade; classroom culture


I am not a self-proclaimed expert on classroom management but I do have 20 years of teaching experience in a variety of settings and those experiences have shaped the teacher I am. 

 It doesn’t matter where you work because I have worked there, too.  I’ve worked in highly impacted, impoverished, and transient schools all the way to schools that want for nothing.  I’ve worked with children who only speak a language other than English to those that speak just as well, if not better, than I do.  I’ve worked with children whose parents who appear to be uninvolved (which I do not believe is really the case) to those who are so involved I’ve wished they had a full time job.

I’ve come to the conclusion none of that matters. 

 It is the culture you grow and nurture that matters.  I call it your Classroom Culture.
Classroom Culture is part classroom management.  But it is also how you decide to go about managing behaviors.  It is the emphasis you place on systems rather than emphasis on growing and learning and acceptance.
There are no secrets about classroom management.  You need to be consistent and predictable.  You have to be firm in your beliefs.  You can’t be loosey-goosey with your expectations.  You must be fair. For some of us this is easy and for others it is hard.  I think this has to do more with how much thought we put into the culture of our class and what we believe rather than just implementing a system because everyone else does.


I do not use a behavior management system.  We expect children to behave a certain way and they should not be rewarded {or punished} for behavior.  When you manage behavior using a system there are problems.  What about the student who is always good? Do they get rewarded every day?  Or do they even get noticed?  And, why?  Because they are acting like we EXPECT them to??

 If we really expect it, why would we reward it? If the culture of our classroom is that everyone behaves a certain way so we feel safe and can get the important work of learning done, then there is no need to.  If we believe that we are all learning and there will be days we make mistakes and that's ok, we foster that safe, caring, community.  If we say,  "We spend a lot of time at school and we want to look forward to and actually enjoy being in our classroom", then we must all be a part of creating that place.  If we agree we all want to fit in and be accepted, then we work together to create that place.  This is our classroom culture.

Consider the student who got into trouble the first five minutes of school.  Perhaps he wanted attention and negative attention is better than none.  If you use a behavior management system, she now has no way to redeem herself so she may as well be naughty the entire day. If you deal with the behavior privately and move on, the student's self-esteem is left in tact and they can have a positive day.
Behavior  management systems call attention to negative behaviors.  EVEN IF YOU REWARD THE POSITIVE.  You are also publicizing behaviors that are not anyone else’s business.  EVEN IF YOU SPEAK TO THE STUDENT IN PRIVATE.  If everyone understands the behavior system then everyone knows who is “good” and who is not.   When parents come into the room they will know, too. 
 

Here is my key question: Why should we reward something we expect? 

  Do adults get a special reward for being a law-abiding citizen? 

Why should we punish when we get less than what we expect?  Do we punish kids for reading below grade level? 

NO.

It is our job to teach them how to become a better reader.   Likewise, it is our job to teach positive school behaviors.  Students are learning how to do this.  There will be hiccups and bumps in the road.  There will be that one student who hasn’t a clue how to behave.  A behavior management system is not going to teach them how to behave.  You are. 
These are the children who need us the most but probably push us away the hardest.  They push so hard we may even want to turn our backs on them.  But then nothing happens.  We all lose in a situation like that.  We need to break down those walls and get to know them.  Build a relationship with them.  I guarantee that you will find at least one redeeming quality if you take the time.  Go in with that mindset.  Do not go in thinking that this student was place in your classroom to make your hair turn gray.  That won’t work.

 In my years of teaching I’ve had a few students whom I swore were put in my class to punish me.  {I’ve even thought that about my own children through certain seasons}.  I had to dig deep to build relationships.  But by the end of the year, I loved that student as much as the others.  They are the ones who come back to visit me year after year.  They were the ones I knew I made a difference with.  And that is why I do this work and, I believe, is why we all are teachers. 

I didn’t write this post to say I’m a great teacher and you are not if you use a system to manage behavior. I implemented classroom management systems when I first started teaching. When my children began school I started reflecting about it.  My oldest is a people pleaser and has never been in trouble at school.  My son is …well, let’s just say he is the opposite.  My daughter never got noticed for being a role model.  My son, on the other hand, got A LOT of attention.  They were even jealous of one another for a while.  My son knew the principal very well.  My daughter had never been in her office {but wanted to}.

Reflecting on my own children’s experiences made me think about my classroom. What kind of culture did I want?  How did I want my students to feel about themselves and their classmates?  What could I live with and what could I ignore?  What were the non-negotiables?  How would I deal with less than stellar behavior? What would make me get out of bed everyday without hesitation wanting, actually looking forward to, going to work?

When I really thought about it, I realized I didn’t like what I was doing.  I decided to look at the whole child and the root of the behavior. I decided to create a classroom that I loved going to.  I got to know all of my students.  I built relationships with them, and their families.   I decided not to get mad at students who misbehaved but love them.  I fostered relationships among students where everyone felt as if they belonged and they were an integral part of our "school family".   It hasn’t been an easy road.  There are times, very few, I thought it would be easier to have Class Dojo than have to call parents or meet with them. But it’s not my philosophy.   

So, sit down and really think about what you want from your classroom and for your students before school starts.  When you are firm in your beliefs it is so much easier to follow through, no matter what you teammates or the teacher next door is doing.  What works for someone else may not work for you.  You have to decide for yourself what outcomes you want.  Then, do it!  You won’t look back either.
I'd love to hear your stories and what worked for you {or didn't}.  I truly believe that together we are better and the sharing of all experiences, both positive and negative, creates change.

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