It’s amazing how much you're expected to juggle as a teacher. Despite your best efforts, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of tasks you have to accomplish for your students. To help you manage the load, we asked over 200 teachers in our Back to School Survey what they do to keep their classrooms running smoothly. Here are the habits that were repeatedly mentioned in the survey:
1. Over Plan
Over planning doesn’t help cut the overwhelming workload, but it does keep the classroom running smoothly and ensures that class time is well spent. It’s better to have too much to do than not enough. If there’s not enough time to implement all of your plans, you can always move material to the next day.
Always have a plan B. It eliminates the potential for wasted time. It also helps you keep students engaged so they aren’t tempted to get off task and disrupt their neighbor or the whole class. Plan support activities for students who don’t understand concepts or for those who get done early to keep them busy.
2. Create Flexible Lesson Plans
It’s good to stick to a schedule and keep things moving, but it’s more important that students understand material and move at a motivating pace. Create lesson plans that can be shortened or lengthened to match student needs. Flexible lesson plans allow you to take advantage of the teachable moments that rigidity often cuts out.
3. Set Clear Expectations
Students will raise or fall to your expectations. Let students know what to expect in your classroom. Let them know your goals for the classroom. Post an agenda for each day, and even every lesson so they know what to prepare and plan for.
4. Establish Routines
It’s important to take time at the beginning of the year to have students practice and learn the routines you want to establish for the entire school year. Make sure students know what to do the second they enter the classroom. Create a solid beginning and end of the daily routine, such as partner reading, silent reading, class read aloud, reflection questions, homework time, etc. It’s also important to create routines for transition times. Transitions can be a huge time waster and distraction. If routines aren’t established for transitions it can be easy for students to get off task, misbehave, and waste class time.
5. Add Variety
Routines are important, but so is variety.
The average person does not have a very long attention span. Some researchers believe it could be as short as 5 minutes for young children, and close to 20 minutes for older children and adults. This span lengthens when a person is doing a task they enjoy or find intrinsically motivating and shortens when a person finds the task at hand difficult to perform (such as a struggling reader on reading tasks). For this purpose, teacher’s that want to keep their students engaged should change activities every 20-25 minutes. Many teachers set a timer so that they and their students know when they’ll be moving on to a new activity.
To manage students expectations, it is important to give students warnings when the pace of class and the activity are about to change.
It’s also important to add variety to your lessons and activities. It’s important to give students an opportunity to move around so they don’t get restless. Include movement into your lessons when possible.
6. Keep Your Classroom Organized
The orderliness of a classroom helps students feel calm and more organized. It increases classroom safety and makes it easier to find objects quickly so class time isn’t wasted trying to hunt down materials.
From Reading Horizons Book Club:
To highlight how big of an impact something as simple as a clean classroom can have on your students, we’ll pull an example from the Reading Horizons Book Club: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. In the book, Gladwell discusses how the crime rate in New York was lowered significantly simply by creating a strict policy of cleaning graffiti off the subway trains every day.
The logic? The Broken Windows Theory:
If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes. (Pg. 141)
To address the high crime rate in New York during the 1980’s, the subway director, David Gunn, became a stickler about refusing to let any subway car leave a station if it had graffiti on it. They also became sticklers about misdemeanor crimes that the police force had ignored for many years so they could focus on larger crimes.
When crime began to fall in the city – as quickly and dramatically as it had in the subways – Bratton and Giuliani pointed to the same cause. Minor, seemingly insignificant quality-of-life crimes, they said, were Tipping Points for violent crime. … Broken Windows theory and the Power of Context are one and the same. They are both based on the premise that an epidemic can be reversed, can be tipped, by tinkering with the smallest details of the immediate environment. (Pg. 146)
7. Ask for Help
To stay on top of your teaching responsibilities, remember that you don’t have to do it alone. You can share lesson plans, get advice, and learn from other teachers in your school. You can also have your students help keep the classroom orderly by assigning them different (and possibly rotating) responsibilities. You can enlist the help of parent volunteers to help grade papers and work with struggling students one on one.
8. Remain Calm and Patient
If you want to keep your classroom running smoothly, it’s important to stay focused on your own emotions—as they can easily affect your students. Students are going to mess up and frustrate you at times, but once a teacher loses control over his/her emotions, the students win. You can’t be perfect, and you should forgive yourself when you’re not, but continuously refocus on keeping your own control so it can permeate your classroom.
9. Assure Student Understanding
Nothing kills efficiency and order like confusion. Make sure that students have a clear understanding of lesson material and of class rules and expectations. Give clear directions, one at a time, to keep students on the same page.
Don’t assume students understand material. Look for puzzled faces and assess ability continually. Having every student write the answer to a question on an individual white board and hold it up for your review allows you to quickly gauge student understanding.
It’s also important to keep lessons flexible so you have time to address student questions and minimize confusion. It’s important that students always feel safe to ask any question they have.
10. Optimize Time Off in Summer for Planning
Summer is the perfect time to plan lessons and get ahead of schedule. Of course: it’s also important to enjoy the break! Teachers deserve it!
Share Your Story:
What do you do to keep your classroom running smoothly? Share your thoughts under the comments section, we'd love to hear from you! Who knows, you just might help a fellow teacher with his/her classroom management skills.