Students are natural-born teachers – of teachers. Building an honest and genuine connection with students can lead teachers to understand and practice the nuanced distinctions between instructing and educating and the skill versus the art of teaching. With time, listening and responding to students can lead teachers to redirect teacher-managed behavior into student-driven behavior. But it takes time, practice, and mistakes.
Relevance, Clarity, and Common Sense
The majority of adolescents are willing to cooperate with our expectations as long as:
- They see the relevance and your request is somehow in their individual and collective best interest (they know “busy work,” and they don’t like it).
- The big picture is clear, and they understand precisely what you expect of the and why.
- They feel the request is fair, just, and makes sense.
How much more reasonable can you be? As you introduce and implement your procedures, keep these three things in mind.
Connect Procedures to Learning, Not Behavior
Avoid calling attention to behavior management when you can and phrase your redirections and corrections in such a way to suggest that you’re managing learning, specifically, other students’ learning, rather than discipline. Send the message that next to their welfare, your main priority is in maximizing and protecting the learning process of every student in the class. Review any procedure as needed, and occasionally show your appreciation for your students’ dedicated approach to learning. When appropriate, let students know that they did something fun because they are so good at following your procedures. Then move on and don’t make a huge deal out of it (they also know patronizing when they see it, and they don’t fall for it).
As you teach and reteach procedures, focus on how they improve learning, rather than behavior. After a procedure has been introduced and explained, throw out a quick reminder about this procedure as you introduce an activity. You can display a written version of a procedure on your projector. You may even want to make posters of a few of your most-used procedures. At times, all you need to do is to point at a written procedure. Quick, easy, preventive.
Model Expectations and Procedures
Be sure to keep your instructions plain, simple, and to the point. And practice what you preach. If you demand respect, make sure you give it. If you expect a silent reading time, you should lead by example. If your expectations are based in common sense and students are clear on why they are in place (“clarity precedes competence” – Richard and Rebecca DuFour), automaticity will organically follow. If, however, your students have no idea why the expectations are the way they are, if what you are asking of them isn’t clear, seems invalid, misguided, or even unreasonable in their minds, they are far less likely to respect the process and cooperate.
Depending on the age of your students, model the procedures, let students practice them, and set up some role plays. Teaching and learning class procedures can be a fun, creative process. Taking five minutes to role play a procedure in process can save you so much time in the future. It’s fun and effective to include what it looks like not to follow a specific procedure, but, since you want your students to take it seriously, you may want play the part of the student not following proper procedure.
Know that your students will try to outsmart you – and occasionally succeed at it. And that’s okay, don’t take it personally. Consider it their job as teenagers. After time and practice in being outwitted, though, you learn to anticipate how they think and what they’ll do in most given situations. Then adapt your expectations and responses accordingly. One of the many qualities you’ve got to love about teens is their seemingly innate and effortless talent of working around rules and expectations. If a loophole exists, they’ll find it. And, you’ll have to admit they can find some amazingly creative and resourceful ways of doing so.
Genuine Connections Build Relationships
Create opportunities to get to know your students – how they think, what they need and value, and who they are as individuals. In turn, they will help you grow into a teacher they value, respect, and believe has something unique and truly valuable to offer them. This is where preventive discipline (such as having an established and meaningful system of procedures) can take effect and make a real difference in your classroom management.
Any teacher who’s willing to open their minds and hearts to their students, can learn all they need to know about meeting students where they are and create that meaningful teaching and learning connection that led us to this career to begin with.