Procedures, routines, transitions, and structures.
What Is Organization?
Freiberg & Lamb (2009) explain that the traditional classroom uses the teacher-centred approach of discipline while a person-centred approach allows students to practice self-discipline. The person-centred approach allows students to be involved in the leadership of behaviour management. This approach also fosters four key understandings of the four pro-social dimensions of being person-centred, which include developing trust, feeling a sense of family, viewing teachers as being helpful, and having freedom while acknowledging their boundaries (Freiberg & Lamb, 2009). While keeping the person-centred approach in mind, Marzano, Marzano & Pickering (2003) add that procedures, rules, and routines help ensure that students are engaged in the learning. The implementation of these processes is not intended to create an authoritative classroom, but rather to allow for some organization in the classroom to promote teaching and learning.
Organization In The Classroom
Procedures & Routines:
Scholastic has a list of 30 procedures that support classroom management. I have provided a list of a few most notable ones for me:
Cell Phones: In a world where technology is always growing, cell phones are more and more a part of the classroom environment. My rule is simple - no cell phones during lessons. This is more for older students, but cell phones can be a distraction. And I want my students to know that using a cell phone during a lesson is not only disrespectful to the facilitator, it is also hurtful. I do allow students to keep their cell phones on their desk in case of an emergency. I try to make the lesson engaging and impactful enough that I have actually never had to take away a student's cell phone.
Dismissal: I tend to be that teacher who ends class after the end-of-the-day bell rings, but I like to believe that our classroom is immersed in learning that we lose track of time. However, the last few minutes of class are usually include a reminder of the homework, a moment to get feedback, and a bit of time to share about my personal life (i.e. TV shows I am watching or a book I am reading). I also stay back after class to meet students who have additional questions or listen to parents who drop by. This added gesture fosters a welcoming space where the teacher is seen as approachable and available to meet with both parents and students. Entrance: The routine for entering the classroom really sets the tone for the start of the day. I want to create a calm and comforting environment, so the entrance usually involves students quietly coming in the classroom and taking a minute to settle down. At this time, they can organize themselves, whisper to their friends, and go about quietly in the space. At other times, I start the day with a more individual greeting at the door when I know the lesson is going to require some energy. In the end, this is a perfect opportunity to merge your own personality along with that of the students.
Paper Passing: Admittedly, it takes me time to implement the paper passing procedure because I want to keep it all to myself. However, I have seen the sparkle in my students' eyes when they get the honour of paper passing. I personally prefer to have a few students take ownership of passing out the papers. However, it can also be done by passing a batch of papers to different areas of the classroom, leaving the students to pass them along to each other.
Pencil Problem: Always, always have a pack of pencils at the start of every month. Despite making clear that each student should bring a few pencils to school, there will always be a handful of students who forget their pencils at home. As a student, I really disliked the idea of sharing pencils with students who never returned them. Although sharing is caring, not returning the favour is a misbehaviour (does not rhyme so well as the former). As a way to avoid these situations, I just purchase a few boxes of pencils every month that students can "borrow" from me. I put borrow because there will always be students who forget to return them.
Water (& Food) Break: I have seen classrooms where water breaks are provided during a lesson. This routine is a bit alarming to me. Students should be able to drink water whenever they feel the need to do so. I make it clear that students can drink water (and even eat snacks) whenever the need arises. And the same rule applies to me. We just have to make sure we do it in a way that does not disturb others. I am aware that a lot of students I teach often forget their water bottles or have limited access to food. As a way to be mindful of this, I keep a few water bottles that students can borrow for the day. I also remember to make a bit of extra lunch in case any students forget their own lunches or if there are financial issues at home. All of my students learn that we share when someone is struggling and it creates a culture where no one is embarrassed of their upbringing.
Washroom: As a first year teacher, my initial stance on washroom breaks was misguided by the fear of losing control of decorum. But when students started to "use" the washroom in the classroom, I realized that set washroom breaks alone would not suffice. However, it can be frustrating having students interrupt a lesson to ask about using the washroom, and it can be equally frustrating for them to ask. As a result, I have two ways of addressing the washroom concern. The first is to take regular breaks throughout the day for students to step away from the learning space. The second is a washroom pass placed on my desk that students can take turns using to go to the washroom. Most students are mindful of missing out on learning when using the washroom pass, but it is important for them to be able to use the washroom in case of emergencies. It happens to all of us. And perhaps missing a bit of the lesson is a lot better than "using" the washroom in the classroom.
Finley (2017) mentions that "[t]here are essentially three types of transitions: entering class and taking a seat, switching from one academic activity to another, and exiting class." These are put in place to ensure smooth transitions and circumvent losing time. The transition should be concise with enough clarity for the students to move forward. For example, when going from one lesson to the next you can say, "When I say go, everyone will quietly put away their math notebooks and all other supplies. You can let me know when you are ready to start the next lesson with a thumbs up. I am going to silently count down from ten using my fingers." There are several fun ways to transition from lesson to another, but one aspect to remember is to never single out a student who does not transition within the time limit. The student is most likely struggling with something that holds them back from transitioning to the next lesson. It is safer to check-in with them rather than to assume that the student is being "lazy and slow."
Classroom Jobs: I learned this from one of my managers in Teach for India, Uma Shankar. The concept of a classroom job is to build responsibility in each and every one of our students. I remember my teacher, Mr. Holmes using classroom jobs and everyone in our sixth grade class enjoyed their individual responsibilities. Classroom jobs can also be collaborative efforts among students. I still remember one student, Faizan who was made a line monitor. He took the job a little too seriously because he used to run after students to get them in line, but he slowly learned how adapt his leadership style to be both caring and efficient. In turn, his participation in the classroom also increased.
Schedule: The classroom schedule is a structure that has helped me as a teacher. It essentially is a breakdown of all the content areas that are covered in a week with set times and transitions. I prefer the block method of scheduling, dividing the day into a language arts block and then a math and science block. I found the Math Giraffe and What I Have Learned blogs helpful when starting with the block method of scheduling. Although the block method is not for everyone, it does make it easier to schedule around the curriculum plan. I have also found it helpful when transitioning from one lesson to the next. In the end, the important factor is the schedule itself. Students enjoy having a compact and routine day because it helps them remain focused. It helps the have the schedule somewhere in the class. Most of all, it is perfectly fine to change the schedule when the time requires it. I often learn and grow with the class, and sometimes the schedule has to be changed to fit all our needs.
School Bags: Yes, I am that teacher who makes school bags a part of the classroom structure. Let me explain the reason behind it. I had a student who had trouble finding her assigned texts. It was the most gruelling part of the transition for me. One day, I decided to solve the school bag issue. I purchased students several folders (one per subject) and provided them an hour to sort through all their belongings. I propose doing this in steps with your own bag because otherwise an hour will become the whole day. Organization is not an innate talent; it is a skill that is honed overtime. To start, our students can learn the art of organization with one of their most prized belongings -- school bags.
Freiberg, H.J. & Lamb, S.M. (2009). Dimensions of a person-centred classroom management. Theory into Practice, 48(2), 99-105. Retrieved on July 18, 2018 from the JSTOR database.
Marzano, R.J., Marzano, J.S., & Pickering, D.J. (2003), Classroom management that works research-based strategies for every teacher. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Alexandria, Virginia.
Finley, T. (2017). Mastering classroom transitions. Retrieved on January 12, 2018 from https://www.edutopia.org/article/mastering-transitions-todd-finley