I remember one year, there was a day that I was running late to school, which was completely abnormal for me. I am one of those teachers that likes to get to school an hour or so before the students (and even teachers) to enjoy the quietness of the morning (and grab that copy machine first!). I think best in the morning when my brain is fresh.
Since I was running late, a neighboring teacher offered to open my classroom door and let in my students. She was willing to watch between her classroom and mine until I got there. I was only going to be about 5 to 10 minutes late, so she didn’t mind.
When I arrived, she was very impressed and showered both me and my students with compliments about how well the classroom had gone about their business, as though I had been there that whole time. The students had come in and unpacked, turned in their homework, selected their lunch choice, and began their morning work, just like every other morning, without any hiccup. She could not believe the classroom managed itself!
How did my classroom manage itself without me there?
Have Your Classroom Manage Itself
For me, I hadn’t really thought about what specifically I had done to have my classroom manage itself until later that afternoon when that teacher returned to ask me just how I accomplished such an amazing feat. To me it just came down to these few things:
Having a Predictable Routine
Students need to first learn procedures that they practice over and over until they are habits. Once these procedures are normal, everyday occurrences for them, they are then routines. Since I taught them early and practiced over and over with what I expect every morning when they arrive, it had become a routine. Now they just do it on auto-pilot. When the routine is predictable, then students always know what to do.
I have always been very organized, so my students know where I put everything. They have seen where I keep my copies of morning work and daily activities. When we transition into a different subject, they always saw me move over to the filing cabinet where I had materials stored in a file or to the table where I had the day’s stuff laid out. All of my materials have always been put in the same place. This helps students because they know where to find things to complete their work.
I imagine that to some degree consistency and routine go together, but I am always very consistent with everything – including my rules and consequences. Sometimes it’s hard; I’m not going to lie. There are times when I want to bend my rules just a teeny-tiny bit, but I can’t because all eyes are on me. Being consistent really makes a difference in all aspects of your classroom.
Teaching Accountability, Independence, and Responsibility
Since I moved from 5th grade to 3rd grade, I HAD to teach 3rd graders about independence (or I was going to go cRaZy!). It was just too much for me. Teaching students about being accountable, responsible, and independent make a huge difference in having your classroom manage itself. If students are constantly waiting for you to be free and doing nothing, that’s not a self-running, efficient classroom. You have to help students learn how to manage their time and learn what strategies they can employ while waiting for you. If you need some ideas on helping your students become more independent, then you are welcome to read my blog post, Creating Independent Thinkers.
Having a Discipline Plan
Finally, I think having classroom management is very important. When you have consistently managed your classroom and taught students your rules, expectations, and consequences, they feel a sort of security in knowing what will happen with the choices they make. They know that if they don’t get started right away on their assignment, then there will be consequences. This involves that consistent follow through and practicing of the procedures to make it a routine. If you aren’t enforcing rules or holding students to high expectations, then they will not be able to run the classroom when you are not around or working in small groups.
I’m not by any means limiting the idea of having a classroom manage itself to just when you are running late. All of the tips above apply to when you are working in small groups or even if you have a substitute. There are some overlaps among the tips above that are really important. Right from the beginning, students need to be made aware of your expectations, rules, consequences, and procedures. Then, you need to have your class practice and practice until it becomes a habit, or what I call a routine. Then, throughout the year maintain consistency – practice again if needed. Make sure that you are staying organized and prepared, along with teaching your students how to be more independent and responsible. If you do these few tips above, then your classroom will be managing itself in no time, and you can focus on what’s most important – the learning!