It is no secret, Key to classroom management is probably the most difficult tactic to master, yet the most imperative to teaching. Unfortunately, there is truth in the fact that experience is the only real way to learn how to best manage the classroom. Don’t get me wrong, there are many resources available that hone in on best practices for the classroom, however, the longer you do it the better you are at it.
The key to classroom management is in building relationships and structure. If you take the time to get to know your students, build trust and community within the classroom, most management issues can be handled with a simple look or a mini conversation at the end of class. Additionally, if you have built solid structures and procedures within your classroom community, the class tends to manage itself.
Last week, I presented the myriad of procedures you can introduce into your class structure to minimize discipline issues. However, relationships and procedures only work when you understand the culture and community of your students.
What’s your key to classroom management box?
We all have a box. A little section of our mind that defines how we think things should be. Usually developed throughout childhood, we all come to the proverbial table with fixed ideas based on our upbringing. This can be very dangerous as a teacher. Even though we strive to believe that everyone is created equal, none of us are cut from the exact same cloth. Just because we see things a certain way, does not mean everyone can see through our lenses.
What do you think of when you think of a perfect student or a perfect classroom? Are all students compliantly facing front, silently hanging on to your every word as their teacher? Do you get flashes of “Oh captain my captain” from 1989’s Dead Poet’s Society? Does the teacher know all and work to transfer that knowledge to others? Are the students hard workers in your eyes because they do what you tell them without question? Is this what you see? It’s OK, I used to see the same thing, and then I broke my box.
Just because it doesn’t fit the box you have created as the definition of education in your mind, doesn’t mean it is not credible. Let’s face it, many of us grew up in suburban schools where children worked hard, listened to their teachers, and didn’t question authority, which is probably why we were confident when we said: “I Should Be A Teacher!”
Therefore we, rightfully so, expect to see the same thing when we enter the classroom as a teacher. Why shouldn’t we? That’s what school looked like when we were there. At some point, we all are faced with a situation that doesn’t compute in our precious and traditional suburban minds. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad thing, but it is definitely a thing. So we must prepare ourselves for a situation that may not look like the box that surrounds our expectations. And we can’t be afraid. So it looks different than what we were thinking, that’s ok, exciting even!
Many key to classroom management issues are a result of trying to place students into our box, instead of opening up to the understanding of their boxes. The fancy buzzword for this is cultural responsiveness. This is different from cultural appropriation (or misappropriation if we are going to be truthful), or cultural diffusion, or even cultural diversity. I personally like the term cultural relativism, as long as we don’t go too deep into the philosophical beliefs of relativism; and I also like the term cultural literacy.
Either way, when discussing culture, know that does NOT mean race. This is not a race card that you can pull in February for Black History Month, or in September for Hispanic Heritage, or during the new moon phase for Chinese New Year.
Merriam-Webster defines culture as the “beliefs, customs, arts, etc. of a particular society, group, place, or time,” notice that race isn’t even mentioned. Culture is a community. In order to truly understand your students’ culture, you must step out of your box and into their community. When we take the time to become literate our students’ community norms it is easier to understand the behaviors we see in the classroom. So before you write off a student as being disrespectful, open their box. Sign up to receive some concrete ways to break the box and manage the classroom.
Typhani Harris is a dance educator and mentor teacher who has been on the boards of both the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (CAHPERD) and California Dance Education Association (CDEA). Recently, she has made a cross-country move and is now an instructional coach in Brooklyn, New York. Having begun as a high school English teacher, it has been her mission to bring theory and research into the traditional dance class, and in 2009 she won the Music Center’s Bravo award for excellence in Arts Education. Typhani is currently on a mission to help teachers Stop Teaching and Start Reaching their students, check out the unTeacher Lab at stopteaching.org