New Year: It really is new (even for teachers!) – Part 2

In my last post, I focused on readdressing your goals for the year and tightening your plans to make sure your kids are on track to make great academic progress before June.  In this post, I’m going to talk about resetting your classroom management and culture.  January is not too late to build a great social world for you and your kids!

You can treat the first day back from break like it’s the first day of school.  In fact, you probably have to.  Remember that elementary kiddos are kind of like aliens: they are pretty new to this planet, and they’re still learning the ropes.  They’ve probably forgotten a lot about what you expect from them.  So here’s what you do:

First: Set class norms.  These can be done somewhat in collaboration with your kids, depending on their age.  Most people will recommend that you have kids generate lots of rules and then group them together under a few (3-5) overall norms.  I’ve found the kids under third grade have a hard time arriving at these “main idea rules.”  Sometimes I just tell kids flat-out that there are three rules: work hard, be nice, follow directions.  This covers all manner of sins!  Write down the norms, and explicitly talk about what they mean.  Here’s a picture of the norms my kids and I set, with everyone’s signatures:

IMG_0608
It says: Rules of Room 10: 1. Work hard 2. Be nice 3. Keep everything beautiful 4. Have fun generated with kids, circa 2009

Second: Develop predictable consequences.  For the vast majority of minor misbehaviors in my class, I give kids a reminder of what I expect.  Most of the time, they just forget, and forgetfulness should not be punished.  But my kids know that if they violate our core norms–that is, if they play around during work time, if they are deliberately mean to or hurt someone, or if they deliberately disobey a clearly understood direction–there will be fallout.  Try to make the consequence fit the misbehavior.  Skipping work means skipping something fun later; deliberately disobeying means a serious discussion with me.  Being mean is even more serious: you must have a one-on-one conversation with any child who has tried to hurt another, to get at the root of what’s going on and try to prevent this behavior from ever reoccurring.  An apology cannot be a punishment (“You must say you’re sorry or you can’t go to recess!!”), but your goal is that through conversation about the hurt done, you will be able to coach the student to apology.  All of these violations mean a phone call home later.

Third: Follow Through.  At least 90% of your kids do not actively wish to misbehave or defy you (and that other 10% are usually special cases who really need love and support).  When they push back against your rules, they’re just trying to figure out if the rules are real.  Remember, they’re new humans, and if you’ve slacked off on enforcing your class norms before, they’re just trying to figure out if you’ll do so again.  Stay above the fray: remain neutral (never angry–give yourself a minute if you’re upset!) and 100% predictable when it comes to enforcing classroom norms.

Now you’ve got the foundation for a positive classroom environment.  In my next post, I’ll address how to set routines and procedures that will help eliminate some of your daily struggle to just make things run smoothly!  In the meantime, remember: set & explain clear norms, create predictable consequences, and follow through (calmly).

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Ingrid O'Brien

I am a literacy consultant, doctoral candidate, and educator living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I specialize in the language and literacy development of bilingual children, particularly ELLs in the Common Core. I coach teachers, design & adapt curricula for ELLs, and organize intervention programs.

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