When It Comes to Classroom Management, Teachers Must Be Lions
Go into middle-school or high-school classrooms in America today and you may find a common scenario unfolding: a teacher working hard to maintain control of his or her classroom. Outside of imparting their knowledge on a particular subject, modern instructors must be effective in establishing and maintaining their role as the classroom leader within the construct of an increasingly distracted and oftentimes emboldened student population, who can expect classroom protocols to bend or even break.
Recently, we were asked by a teacher in a performing arts department — Ms. Honeycutt — to provide coaching on classroom management. In observation mode, we watched as students in her class warmed up to practice their art, fully on task and clearly talented. Ms. Honeycutt was on her game as well, engaging the students in group warm-ups. After about 25 minutes, there was a palpable shift.
With the warm-up over, students began pulling out cell phones, conversing with classmates, even wandering around the room. They talked over Ms. Honeycutt and one another. When she observed one of them using his cell phone, she made a critical mistake in classroom management 101. She apologized for asking him to put it away.
It didn’t stop there. A 2-minute conversation ensued, as he tried to convince her that his use of the phone was necessary. As this took place, class behavior deteriorated. The students became increasingly bold in stepping outside the boundaries of classroom expectations.
Ms. Honeycutt’s powerful presence — so obvious during the first part of class — had given way to a meek and apologetic teacher who had lost the classroom.
As educational consultants, we know that classroom management can be one of the most daunting aspects of becoming an educator. Whether it’s a new teacher or a seasoned pro, we have seen professionals at all levels of experience struggle to summit the classroom pecking order. And we know that a key factor in whether they can rise to the occasion lies in how they see themselves.
As part of our coaching session, we asked Ms. Honeycutt: “If your students were to describe you as an animal, what kind of animal would they say you are?” Her response was quick and definitive. A chicken. She used the word “plucked” to describe how her students made her feel.
We then asked what kind of animal her students needed her to be in order to respond to her differently. “A lion.” And as she explored the lion metaphor, she sat up straighter in her chair, pulling her shoulders back. She talked about boundaries, structure, and accountability.
Like with most things, changing teaching behavior in a classroom is a process, and to coach effectively you have to go beyond the things written down on paper, like a school’s policies on students and cell phones. In this case, Ms. Honeycutt was struggling with beliefs about herself as a teacher and her role in the classroom. If she sees herself as a chicken — and a plucked one at that — classroom expectations are bound to continue to blur or be outright trampled. She needed the self-confidence to establish rules and enforce them.
In classrooms across the country, teachers who can find their inner lion serve many purposes. First, they will help our students socially and academically. Knowing and practicing acceptable behaviors in social situations will make young adults more prepared for college and the workforce. Second, when distractions that suck time from instruction are minimized, real learning can take place.
Finally, teachers who hold the respect of their classrooms are sure to feel more rewarded for their efforts and more engaged in their jobs. This may make them more invested in education as a long-term career, benefiting students, families, even entire communities.
If you have more questions about empowering teachers to lead their classrooms and would like to consult with RTI International on instructional coaching, please contact Fredrica Nash or Catherine Hart.