I’ve been teaching for 16 years now and the only tip I ever hear for effective classroom management is “build relationships”. Every time I hear that I must fight the urge to roll my eyes. It’s not the I don’t believe in building relationships, I do, but I’m also a realist and know that I teach over 500 students, and it is impossible to build a strong relationship with each and every student. I need advice that I can implement quickly, efficiently, and effectively. So here I offer three tips for effective classroom management that does not include building relationships.
1. Be Authentic
In elementary it is often easy to become condescending in your tone. Keep your tone authentic, they’re tiny humans not dogs. Use an authentic tone of voice even when speaking to kindergarteners. Kinder kids do not need the baby coo-ing, singsong, sickly sweet voice if that is not who you are. When you’re fake, the kids know. They know if you’re uncomfortable with your vocal tone, choice of words, and things like that and they will absolutely take advantage of that insecurity. If you are not a naturally silly person, that’s okay, you do not have to be. You do not have to adopt an entirely different personality. Think about the movie Kindergarten Cop, the lead character played to his strengths and the kids responded to that authenticity, that happens in real life, too.
2. Be Consistent
As specialists, we also inherit the classroom management flaws of our classroom teachers. It is important that we set boundaries with our students and be consistent in our routines and expectations to overcome some of those issues. Being consistent in your discipline and your content delivery will greatly impact the flow of your classroom. Do not give empty threats to the kids to get them to comply. If you say you’re going to do something, then do it. The worse feeling is when kids do not trust you or your word because you lack follow through. Own up to your mistakes and apologize if you make one.
Become a predictable, broken record, when delivering expectations and consequences.
Be consistent with your routines when handing out instruments, materials, playing games, making a circle, all the things! On my campus we use CHAMPS, which is a PBIS approach to behavior management. Not only does this build consistency in your classroom expectations, but it also allows the students to become independent learners.
When you try to change a routine, give it time. If you are constantly changing routines because something isn’t working, it never gets a fair shake. Try the routine for at least a month or two, it takes 21 days to change a habit, so give it time.
3. Be Respectful
Kids will give back the energy they are receiving. They pick up on your vibe. They will give back respect, if they receive it, even THAT kid. Behavior is communication, if students are misbehaving, the energy is off. This is what people mean by building relationships, be respectful all the time. Give kids a time to tell their silly stories, let the chatter box talk your ear off occasionally, you may be the only person that will listen to them.
Watch your tone of voice when you’re upset. It’s hard for me, too, to keep a neutral tone. Sometimes I say things that are sassy, I must check myself and apologize, which goes back to being authentic and consistent. It happens, you’re human. I repeat myself multiple times, that’s when the tone shifts, and I must remind myself to stay in check, keep my tone authentic and give reminders to stay on task, focus, or whatever expectations is my goal.
When a kid feels confronted or backed into a corner, they will of course respond and often they will respond in an inappropriate way. Children do not regulate thoughts and emotions the same way we do. They act first, think second, and this is where we get impulsive behaviors from. It is our job as the adult to keep our tone and behaviors neutral and respectful.
A word about power and control. Do not engage in a battle of power with a student. You know you’re the one in control and power in the room, do not lose that focus, what you want is a student to feel safe, valued, and ready to learn. If there is a student in crisis, remind yourself that your number one job is their safety and learn to let things go. Defiance is usually part of a bigger problem than we can solve in a forty-five-minute class. Document your attempts at redirection, get administrative and parental support and remember to keep them safe, value their feelings, and eventually they will be ready to learn. I’ve had to remove students in crisis from my room before and felt guilty about it, but ultimately my job is to keep the other students safe, as well. Do the best you can, but keep your tone neutral and try, try, try, to keep your cool. I know, it is hard.
I hope these three tips are helpful for you and that you also feel validated in whatever approach to classroom management you choose. Building relationships is such a catch all phrase, but I don’t believe it solves the problems of system classroom management problems. If you consistently have classroom management problems, then maybe try one of these tips and see if they effect change.
Sing! Say! Dance! Play! Care!