Lay the table, and open the window -simple solutions for classroom management
This blog is most definitely about classroom management. This means I am only going to talk about how you can manage behaviour in a classroom, whilst you are teaching a lesson. I’m going to start off by telling you what classroom management is not.
Classroom Management and Behaviour Management are not the same thing
There are literally hundreds of books, training courses and podcasts on classroom management. Long ones, short ones, some with huge, pink, writing on the front and backwards letters that make it hard for dyslexics to read. Others with colourful plastic chairs which appear floating in spaces on the cover. Some say you can hack your way to through, other provide you with 101 ideas, (as if you need that many? I’m going to give you 5 for each scenario, in the next section). Some (but not enough) are on audible. Most of them contain some great ideas however, they call themselves behaviour management guides. This is inaccurate.
Classroom management and is a type of behaviour management but behaviour management is not a type of classroom management.
To use a maths analogy, a square is a type of rectangle, but a rectangle is not a type of square. This is because to be a rectangle the square needs 4 right angles and two sets of perpendicular but parallel sides. It has all of these. For a rectangle to be a square however, it would have to have 4 sides of equal length. Therefore, a rectangle is not a type of square.
Even though this makes perfect sense to people with some understanding of maths, they can and will often interchange the words square and rectangle or incorrectly define one shape as another.
In the same way classroom management is how you manage the behaviour of your whole class whilst they are being taught together in the same room. It is an important part of behaviour management but It does not include how you manage behaviour in the corridor, playground, the canteen, a colleague’s classroom who you happen to be walking past or in a one to one or small withdrawal group scenario.
Moreover, classroom management falls only to teachers, cover supervisors or Higher-Level Teaching Assistants (HLTA) who have been put in charge of a whole class of up to 30 learners (occasionally more). Whereas behaviour management could be the role of not only the teacher or appointed classroom lead but also the TA, family/ pastoral support worker, behaviour support worker, mid-day supervisors and any other front line, non-teaching staff.
Therefore, when it comes to training staff, school leaders need to make sure that class leaders (Teachers, cover supervisors and HLTAs) are well versed in both classroom management and behaviour support and that TAs and front-line non- teaching staff need training in behaviour support.
Furthermore, all staff who have day to day contact with learners need the same training in behaviour support and need to know how, when, and why the consistent behaviour support plan (CBSP) for any high-profile learners showing behaviours of concern are being used. This is so that every member of staff that learner meets uses it, how it is supposed to be used; consistently. I’m not going to cover the CBSP in this blog. I will write another post on that
and put these all together in the same series so if you want more information, watch this blog space.
What classroom management is
Classroom management is a collection of different techniques that we, as teachers use, to ensure that our learners maintain a calm, alert state and can focus on learning. There will be colleagues out there who don’t believe that classroom management has anything to do with psychology or neurology. They are entitled to their opinion but,
whether you believe in it or not, what you are doing when you manage a class is trying to keep them in a state of calm alertness thus, ‘opening the window’. This means that your learners remain inside their ‘window of tolerance ‘and can concentrate. If you are unfamiliar with the idea of a ‘window of tolerance’ it was first coined by Dan
Siegal, a psychiatrist and writer.
As you know, I love a good graphic, so here is one to help me explain how this works
An example of a class in Hyperarousal and how to manage it
It is a windy afternoon, period 6 and your, somewhat immature and chatty year 9 class have just had cross-country running. You now have them for maths and need to introduce a new concept. Information you already have; their timetable, who is the fastest runner, who are the slower runners and the weather, which, as I said is windy.
You know that they could be late, red faced and somewhat dishevelled because the PE department is 5 minutes’ walk from your classroom and one of your brighter learners is not a great runner and becomes panicky if he arrives last.
When the class arrive, they are ‘hyper aroused’.
1. Meet and greet – You are at the classroom door when they arrive. You say to each of them ‘Hello X tuck in your shirts and join the line.’ The class lines up outside the door.
2. Lay the table – Make sure that each desk has all equipment ready, exactly as they will need it to learn. I.e., textbooks turned to the right page, exercise book open to the place you just marked, extra materials such as calculators or protractors if appropriate.
3. Consistent instructions -If you start the lesson with ‘Come in, sit down, read my feedback from your last piece of work’ every time you hand back marking then soon your class will know what is expected and this will start to become habit. This time to read, should have a calming effect as everyone will be silently reading for a moment
4. Give individualised instructions – Don’t forget that classroom management, like all aspects of teaching, requires differentiation. (For more information, see my blog here). The number one, most important differentiation tip is to use your learner’s name. Especially if the learner is autistic or has any kind of social communication condition or Developmental Language Delay. ‘Jo, I want you to turn to page 7’
5. Use sensory activities with deep, firm pressure If your class are loud, fidgety, or easily distracted pause for an activity that will ground them. The most calming type of activity you can use in this instance are those which give deep, firm pressure. This is known as proprioception. It is one of our internal senses and can tell us where we
are in space in relation to other people and objects. We feel this in our tendons and ligaments and through the way the nervous system interacts with these organs. To gain proprioceptive feedback, we need ‘heavy work’. This may include, walking up and down stairs carrying a box of books, chair sit ups or press ups against the wall.
You do not need to wrap your whole class in weighted blankets!
When your class arrive at class hypo-aroused
It’s January and the weather is dull and overcast. It’s a Wednesday lesson 3, just before lunch and you have year 11 (or year 6 if you are in Primary). You are doing a revision lesson about a book you have been reading. The class have just had a maths exam. Your prior knowledge includes the weather, the fact your learners had a test and the shorter
movement time between classes. Your class arrive looking sleepy and dragging their feet. They seem tired and unresponsive. You are going to remain consistent by doing the same things, but you will differentiate by
carrying them out in a different way to match your learners’ needs on this particular day.
1. Change your meet and greet – use and upbeat tone with the class and shake each of their hands (covid permitting). You may have seen YouTube videos of teachers who have their children make up elaborate handshakes with them. This is great idea and I’d love to have been able to do something like this in my classroom but it’s just not in my skillset to remember. The alternative is to ask them a question about their specific interests. This could be a simple as ‘Hi Claudia how was your football match last night? but’ make sure it’s an open question that relates to their passions. It will remind them that you know them and what makes them tick. Connection is an important part of creating calm alertness.
2. Change how you lay the table – move the seating plan round so the learners have to walk round to find their place, ask them to collect a textbook from the pile at the back of the classroom or give them picture cards and ask them to find all the other cheetahs, octagons, ford focuses before starting to discuss their text. The point is to ‘lay the table’ in such a way as to get them moving around the class. This will help to stimulate their sensory system and
bring them more into their ‘window of tolerance’.
3. Continue to give consistent instructions but change how and why you use them – The other writers are right. You must be consistent. So you are still going to start your instruction with ‘Come in, ‘because that’s what you say every lesson. Except this time, you are going to complete the sentence with ‘collect X and Y from the back of the classroom and then find the place where I put your book and sit down’.
4. As above Give individualised instructions Don’t forget that classroom management, like all aspects of teaching, requires differentiation. (For more information, see my blog here). The number one, most important differentiation tip is to use your learner’s name. Especially if the learner is autistic or has any kind of social communication condition or Developmental Language Delay. ‘Ahmed, I want you to turn to page 7’. Yes, this is the same paragraph as I wrote above because it’s important and bears repeating.
5. Use sensory activities with movement The best way to may your learner more alert is to include movement. Not just any movement, ideally you want to simulate their centre of balance. The sense we use for this is called the vestibular system. The most effective way to simulate this is by swinging, sliding, or spinning. Not always practical in the classroom, but there are several ways you can work movement, or activities which will raise alertness in. As with the proprioceptive activities use what you have. You do not need to buy mini cycles for each learner under each desk. They are not worth the expense, will probably get in the way and may overstimulate your learners.
My final thought for today is that, regardless of whether your class comes to you with an over excited spring in their step or dragging their heels like their feet are made of lead, there is a lot you can do to get them back to a place where they can learn. If you are consistent, use the differentiation throughout your lessons (again, see my tips) and
relational, your classroom management will continue to improve. If you are a teacher or class leader, it is likely that the vast majority of behaviour management you do will be classroom management. If you can get this right, then it will lead to good relationships with your learners and, add to your behaviour management skills if behaviours of concern arise. This is because, if you can keep your learners window of tolerance open, they are less likely to exhibit behaviours of concern. So, although classroom management will never give you all the answers for behaviour management, it does give us some useful tools.
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