Classroom management is one of the key challenges facing many a teacher. In this excerpt from The New Teacher Survival Guide, learn about authority and the value of praise. Classroom management is not just something that falls into place; it is a learned and developable skill.
It’s not just a case of who can shout the loudest.
“If I shout you will do as I say!” is a classic mistake made by the nervous or (more often) arrogant teacher. In reality, such a “I’m the boss, so belt up and listen” approach is unsuited to any profession outside town crier, career interrogator and James Bond villain. The fact is that the classroom – when run well – rarely requires the voice to be raised. Authority is more than just turning up with a voice like a fog horn and an ugly attitude to match. Authority is a gestalt entity; it depends upon your audience, how you treat them, respect, listening, your level of interest, appearance and numerous other factors.
As a teacher, you have an immediate authority that comes with the position. Parents may disagree with you but they nonetheless recognise that you still play a large and important role in the life of their child/children. A similar status is conferred on you by the children too and the quickest way to undermine this is by shouting someone down. At best you’ll look to be losing control and, at worst, you’ll be seen to be treating someone unfairly. A costly error.
“First impressions count” is not only true of dating websites and impersonator’s conventions. Your appearance is clearly important – looking like a teacher gives you an immediate authority. Similarly your body language – how you conduct yourself – gives you an unspoken authority. If your manner is timid and uncertain then this suggests weakness that the more opportunist children may attempt to exploit. Of course, timid and uncertain may be your everyday character traits (you may well be nervous too) and this in no way prevents you from doing the job. All that is required is a little acting.
Opportunists usually attempt to exploit perceived weakness for two reasons:
– They may perceive you to be a challenge to the interest they crave from their peers.
– They may see themselves as the dominant force/leader of the group and will test your mettle. Such children have invariably been used to a relaxed approach to their dominance or a disproportionately high profile conferred upon them by your immediate predecessor.
There are numerous strategies to deal with challenges that come your way as some children will actively probe your authority to see what they can get away with. Your response to such situations will be watched closely. Here, techniques including having the last word, keeping calm and being fair will be crucial to maintaining an equilibrium.
While dealing with unacceptable behaviour amongst individuals, it is vital that you retain the sympathy of the majority and shouting is the quickest way to lose that. There are more subtle or humorous ways of dealing with the various challenges that could be thrown at you and these are discussed individually throughout this book (e.g. Echoing and “I know you are, you said you are…”). Humour is a winning strategy – when used correctly it can defuse tension, see off challenges and keep the majority entertained.
Remember that the reality is: you are in charge.
However, you are not the only person with a vested interest in having a smooth running class – there will be around thirty others whose education depends upon it. Ideally, you should be working together. Respect the children and they will respect you.
See also: Acting; Appearance; Calm; Enigma; Respect; Taking an interest
THE BOTTOM LINE: With classroom management, authority is important – but it’s best to avoid the Third Reich approach.
It costs little but it can mean a very great deal.
Most adults like praise (“My, you do look lovely!”). They like the reassurance of their peers (“That hairstyle takes years off you!”). They like to feel that their efforts have been recognised (“That dress is a brave choice. Not many with your build would have the confidence to carry it off!”). Think about when you’re driving and you very kindly allow another car out in front of you. A small wave or thumbs up from the other driver is all the recognition you need to make you feel good. You’re more likely to let other motorists out in the future too (However, if you don’t get an acknowledgement of your effort you’re likely to be affronted and vent this by not letting anyone else out for the rest of your journey or (depending on how vindictive you are) life).
Children are no different to adults.
Praise is an invaluable method of motivating people. It need not be direct either; children hearing you praise someone else for a particular aspect of work will attempt to emulate that success in their own work. Praise helps to maintain a positive atmosphere and it’s even possible to use it in a rebuke, as in: “Well done all those who didn’t run down the corridor screaming like banshees when the fire alarm went off.” Similarly, ending with a positive after a rebuke shows that things have moved on, as in: “And I’m surprised and disappointed that your playground games of British Bulldog have increased staff mortality by 27%, but those people who helped to pick up Miss X set a better example than Mr X of Year 1/2 who was too busy pointing and laughing. Well done.” You might even underline this with some sort of reward.
Rewards are useful ways of reinforcing a positive aspect, be it work, behaviour or social skills. Most schools will have a rewards system that runs through every class (stars or House points being popular examples) but there’s no reason why you cannot supplement this. Possible examples are:
– Certificates for a particular achievement (perhaps to support a high-profile school-wide focus on behaviour).
– A certificate for your class’ Worker of the Day.
– A Star of the Session.
– Stickers (a quick internet search will highlight cheap suppliers of sparkly and personalised rewards stickers. Some also feature popular characters such as the Mr Men and Wallace and Gromit).
– Ink stamps (usually available from the sticker suppliers).
– Novelty items for particularly outstanding work or behaviour (even the most hardened Year 6 child can be won over with the prospect of earning themselves a sparkly pencil).
Rewards are brilliant but keep in mind two things:
- Ensure that the children know why the reward was issued (ideally letting everyone else know as well to reinforce good practice).
- Don’t devalue their impact by overuse. Maybe have a sticker hierarchy? Sparkly stickers could be reserved for work that hits a personal target or is particularly outstanding.
THE BOTTOM LINE: With classroom management – Bribery works!
For many other hints, tips, and real-world advice on classroom management (and many other topics besides) – see the survival guide from Jamie Austin.