Classroom Management, Part 1: Go Back to the Basics and Get More Done

WARNING! WARNING!! RED ALERT!!! Winter break is approaching. Be prepared for classroom parties, students missing your class, whole classes missing your class, quarantined students missing your class, and the inevitable rise in behavioral issues. 

In all seriousness, the holiday season is upon us. NOW is when your classroom management skills are put to the test. I often thought that classroom management was a skill that you either had or you didn’t. (Like it was some innate survival instinct that you were born with.) But notice that I keep using the word skill. According to Merriam-Webster, a skill is “a learned power of doing something competently: a developed aptitude or ability.” 

Boom. 

Classroom management is not an innate survival instinct. It is something that needs to be practiced and developed. 

Classroom management is a mixture of routine, expectations, environment, and personality. 

  • Routines and procedures allow the students to know when to perform particular tasks.
  • Expectations help students learn how to perform these tasks. 
  • Environment and teacher personality go hand-in-hand. You are responsible for creating a physically and emotionally safe environment for your students and how you do that is up to what fits your personality. 

Let’s take a look into how we can be successful by breaking down these classroom management principles into day-to-day practices.  

Routine:

Routines are an important part of a student’s day. Students come to school and expect structure and routine. Routines and procedures have to be taught and modeled for students—that way, students clearly understand what is expected of them. Here is a list of routines that you can easily implement into your classroom. 

  • Entering and Exiting Routines
  • Assigned Seats
  • Passing Out and Collecting Materials Routine
  • Transition Routines
  • Fast-Finisher Activities

Expectations:

“Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land amongst the stars.” Sound familiar?  Aim high when setting classroom expectations for your students: —even if they miss, they will still be on the right track. Teachers must model what they expect from their students: model how to come into the room and sit quietly; model how to sit; model how to quietly raise hands; model how to pass out and collect materials; model how to line up safely. Then PRACTICE. Students must develop the aptitude to perform each skill to meet your expectations.

For example, the specialty team at my school got together and created a list of five common classroom expectations. These five expectations are exactly the same for music, art, physical education, and computer classes. Each expectation is worth one point towards the “Golden Stinger Award.” Five points is the maximum amount of points a class can earn each time the class goes to specialty. The class with the most points at the end of their particular specialty rotation earns a treat and a trophy to display in their classroom until the next rotation is over and a new winner is announced. This helps create a common goal for all of the classes. More importantly, it creates a basic level of expectation in my classroom. My music-specific classroom expectations (or “rules”) are posted where all students can easily see and I can quickly reference them.

Environment and Personality:

Classroom environment is everything in a music classroom. We ask students to sing, dance, play, perform, and create in front of their peers. Being able to generate a safe space for all students to allow them to be themselves, be unique, creative, and  brave is a very challenging but beautiful thing. It all begins with you. Let it be known that your classroom is a safe place. Students are mirrors and will replicate your attitude and behaviors. (No pressure!) Creating a safe classroom starts with a  non-judgemental, inclusive atmosphere where all ideas are welcome and all students are given an opportunity to perform. A teacher’s personality also contributes to the overall environment in a classroom. Figure out your teaching persona and run with it. I have figured out that my teaching persona is a mixture of tender feelings, bubbly energy, sarcasm, and humor. 

If you feel that you are losing control of the classroom, evaluate yourself before blaming the students. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I prepared for this lesson? Sometimes a class is out of hand because the teacher is not prepared and the flow of the lesson is slow or disjointed. 
  • Am I engaging? Everyday doesn’t have to be a dog-and-pony show but the students need to buy in to what you are teaching. Make it fun and engaging and I guarantee that you will have fewer management distractions. 
  • Do the students know what I expect at this moment? Have you taught them how to act during the lesson, activity, or game? 

The book Teach like a Pirate by Dave Burgess changed my outlook on student engagement. (I am not endorsing Dave Burgess nor will I get any money for this Amazon affiliate link, but when a book changes your life, it needs to be recommended.) 

Lastly, I want to leave you with one piece of advice: read the room and read your students. Are the poor behaviors due to ignorance of the expectations, a cry for attention, or is the student just having a bad day? All three of those situations should be handled differently. Unfortunately, as specialty teachers, we do not get to spend as much time getting to know students like their classroom teachers do. Taking the time to get to the root of the behavior will help the student feel seen, supported, and reduces the likelihood that misbehavior will become a recurring problem. 

Katherine (Katie) Ross is a BTS music specialist in Alpine School District and taught elementary general music in Virginia before moving to Utah. She graduated from West Virginia University’s School of Music with a Bachelor of Music Education and received her Master of Music Education from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. When she is not teaching in school or serving on a committee, she enjoys teaching ukulele private and group lessons. Katie coaches Crossfit classes to adults and hopes to someday be certified to coach Crossfit kids classes. Katie can be reached at KatherineRoss@alpinedistrict.org or follow her on Instagram @hellomissmusicteacher.

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