I was recently asked during an observation from a first year teacher a few questions about the atmosphere and culture of my classes.
“How did you get the students to be so quiet? How did you get them to pay attention? How do you keep them focused? How do you find balance in keeping order and structure while being engaging?”
The first thing I noticed about the questions was that they were centered around the idea of me getting my students to do something. Good classroom management, whatever your personal style, is developed over years of refining and improving your techniques but is not solely the property of veteran teachers!
My approach is about having everyone on board with social norms that facilitate good decision making as opposed to rules and regulations that must be followed to the outcome of good class behavior.
Let me explain.
Good classroom management starts with procedure.
What procedures do you have outlined for your students?
How do the students walk into the room? How do they sit down? How do they set up their chairs? Is there an agenda for the week? For the day? Do they know where to look to find it? What time do they have between the bell and the start of your instruction to be in their seats? How do they get method books and folders out? What does the percussion do during this time?
And this is only for the start of class!
Good classroom management is not for the faint of heart. I jokingly consider myself a Type A- personality. I can be selectively driven to details and almost all of them center on organization and structure as it pertains to the architecture of my classes.
On the first day of school I had two of my younger ensembles with less tenure in the band observe a poor example of a student entering the class, played by me. This student didn’t read the weekly agenda, didn’t see the screen with the daily agenda, began playing in the band locker room, and didn’t have their warm-up book and they were late to their seat. I hammed it up for a few laughs but the point was made.
I then portrayed a model student entering the class following all the correct procedures as I had outlined, pretty much doing the opposite of the first example. To my delight, the very next day (and for each day after) the students in both classes were diligent in following the example of the model student without disruption or error.
As a closing thought, here are some bullet points, in no particular order, that detail my approach to building classroom culture:
- Before sound, silence. Before silence, stillness.
- Avoid use of the word “don’t.” I encourage you to make an inventory of how often this word appears in your daily instruction
- Don’t do that
- Don’t talk
- Don’t play when not instructed
- Don’t make noise
- Don’t, don’t, don’t
- Repeat instructions just once. Be concise and offer both a starting point and ending point to the instructional set.
- Typically I try to use language that is we/us/our not I/me/my
- That is how we do things in…
- Our class objective today is…
- Let us focus on the task of remaining quiet during the transition today…
- Big fan of wait time. Big fan. You know immediately what is going on because you are generating the information. The students need a few seconds to process what you have said, where to look, what to do, and how to do it.
- I prefer calm before beginning class so the students are instructed to remain silent on their instruments. They have time to warm up on their own but only when instructed to do so.
- Get off the podium and move around the classroom. I rarely spend an entire rehearsal stationary.
- Eye contact…give it to your students and ask for it in return.
- Positive reinforcement for observing the procedures you have set in place. And when a student misses a procedure? It’s an opportunity to practice again! And again and again…we are professional reminder’ers.
Classroom management is incredibly personal to the nature, strengths, and disposition of the teacher. Please accept these thoughts as my observations and opinions of some practices that have proven successful for me over time.
I’d love to hear what tricks and strategies you have for building a successful learning climate in your ensembles!