Category Archives: classroom management

This Is What I Was Born To Do

I don’t watch American Idol looking for inspiration towards the teaching profession.  But I found it the other night.  Contestant Nicholas Mathis went on stage looking very defeated and full of doubt, and his performance was lack luster because of it.  After Mathis finished, Idol judge Keith Urban made the following remark to him about musicians, but I believe it applies even more for teachers:

“There’s a lot that pulls at you in this calling. And somehow we have to compartmentalize that and when we wake up at three a.m. in the morning on a tour bus and we wonder ‘What are we doing here,’ and we just cry, the only answer can ever be ‘This is what I was born to do. This is my calling.'”  –  Keith Urban

Except for teachers instead of 3am, it’s 3pm, and instead of a tour bus it’s a classroom.

The judges voted Mathis off after that appearance, and if we show up to the classroom like Mathis showed up to Idol, then we are likely to be voted off by our students.   We cannot show up to a class looking defeated – your students deserve a teacher who is positive and professional.  So you need to figure out how you are going to intrepret the things that happen in your class in such a way that keeps you positive and happy.  Realizing that you were born to do this, well, that is just one way.

Say All Their Names… Twice (at least)

I say every one of my students name at least twice a day, and I am very intentional about it.   The reason I do it is because saying a students name is a simple way to make students feel welcomed and appreciated.  My method for saying each name allows me to ensure that I do not miss a single student.  Ultimately I may end up saying every name lots of times, but this is my built-in strategy to make sure that on any given day, I acknowledge each student at least twice.

The first time I say each students name is before class when I greet them at the door.   I am never robotic about my greetings – meaning I never say “hello _______ (insert name)” to every student.  I throw out a lot of non-sequiturs “Juan how was 3rd period?” “Beautiful day, right Alicia?” “Welcome to Algebra Josh”.  It’s more fun and sincere that way.  If a group of students show up at the same time I will catch them all in the same greeting  “Thomas, Cinthia, Linda, welcome to class”.

The second time I say each name is when I check off homework.  Right when the bell rings I have all my classes work on warm-up problems while I circulate the aisles and check off the previous days classwork.  Here I once again use each students name, “excellent Leisi”, “you da man Chris”.  I will randomly choose a few students to engage in quick discussions with a simple “How was your weekend Bryce?”.

Thus I guarentee that I acknowledge the existent of each of my students at least twice a day, everyday.  It’s not much, but I believe it to goes a long way in making the students feel like welcomed and appreciated members of the classroom.

The Disciplined Discipline Discussion

The discipline discussions I have with students are fundamental to the success of my  Long / Short Forms.   I’m going to keep coming back to this topic, but here are some of the important things I try to do when I talk to a student after class who received a Long / Short Form.  By the way, for most students this converstion is straightforward, but for the most disrputive students it can be a bit tricky, so the details of it become very important.

The key to discipline discussions is to remember that the goal of them is not to convince the student that you are right and they are wrong.  The goal is for you to let the student know why they received the Long / Short form, and why that behavior is not acceptable to you.  This goal allows you to stay focused on what is important, and also avoid getting into an argument.  Never get into a back and forth with a student on why they received the discipline.

Strike a positive tone.   If the student appears upset, I will say something like this:  “Don’t think of this form as a ‘I hate you, shut up, stop talking’, but rather think of this as ‘Mr. Miller wants me to be successful, and thinks that my behavior at this moment is not allowing me to be at my full potential'”.   Remind the student that you want them in the class, you enjoy their personality, but it is this or that behavior that you will not accept.    The behavior is separate from the person.  Because don’t forget – you’re not mad at them.

Here’s the basic scenario:  Tell the student why they received the Long / Short Form.  Ask them if they understand, and if they believe you are being reasonable.  Hear what they say.  If they agree, then it’s all good.  If they argue about why they should not have received the form, or how it was not their fault, then repeat back their point to them – tell them why it seems like a reasonable idea, but you can not have them do that for this or that reason.  Conversation on topic ends.  Do not get into a debate about what happened or what the rules are.  If at the end of the discussion the student does not agree with you, that is fine.  They just need to know why you gave them the form and that they should expect the form again if they repeat the behavior in the future.

Oh yeah, and if the student is correct, and you did make a mistake – maybe you gave them a form too quickly because you were angry for some reason, here’s what you do:  Apologize.

My Best Days Are My Happy Days

It occurred to me that my best days teaching are often my happiest days.  And the cause and effect there is important – it’s not my best day that caused me to be happy, it’s that fact that I’m the happy, which caused me to have my best day.  Classroom management can often hinge on how energized and happy we are.  So as far as preparation goes, Tolle’s The Power of Now becomes just as important to read as Marzano’s Classroom Management That Works.

This post thus far might make it sound like I’m bipolar, coming to school depressed some days, happy others.  But what I’m really talking about here is the difference between being in a good mood, and being in a great mood.  The difference between having disruptive students leave you frustrated, and having them not affect you negativiely.  The difference between going through the motions, and pausing to appreciate the moments.  This corner of classroom management takes us deep into self-reflection, but it is a place we need to go into if we are to be the teacher we want to be.

I have written about some of the things I do to stay positive and energized here and here.

Long and Short Forms – A Discipline Overview

Before I describe these forms I want to restate that classroom management is driven mainly by content (engaging lesson plans), and secondly by making students feel welcomed and appreciated, and keeping ourselves positive and energized.    For me personally, if classroom management ever became a process of making a bunch of rules, and figuring out how to enforce them, then I would probably quit teaching because my heart is not into it.  But that being said, a discipline structure is needed and this post is the beginnings of a description of mine.

The Description:

My main tools for handing out discipline in my class are Long Forms and Short Forms.  These forms generally take the place of referrals and detentions.  The Short Form has entirely eliminated my need for detentions, and the Long Form is generally used in replacement of referrals.

I save all forms in class folders.  Students who are behavior problems generally get their own folder.  This is great for me and administrators, as I can bring the folder to parent / teacher conferences, and provide it to administrators as a record of student behavior in class.

Here are brief descriptions of each:

Short Forms (Student Behavior Reflection):  I give students Short forms for minor distractions.  When they get a short form they must stop whatever they are doing and fill it out immediately.  They are not allowed to protest a short form, and if they feel they receieved it in error, they must write that in the form.  At the bottom of the form there is a place for their signature and mine, which I will only do after class.  Thus after class I quickly touch base with each student and let them know why I gave it to them.  I also be sure to listen to their explanations of why they acted the way they did, or why they thought they didn’t deserve it.

Long Forms (Student Self-Diagnostic Referral):  Long Forms are for more serious infractions.  Some examples would include defiance, and name calling.  I also do not give two short forms to the same student on the same day.  Thus if a student already has a short form, then any distraction could result in a Long Form.

If a student gets a Long Form, they must leave the classroom to fill it out, and they must come back into the classroom when they are finished.  The Long Form also has a place for Parent / Vice Principal signature.   I do not always require the student to get those signatures.

The Advice:

Students who recieve these forms must stay after class and talk to me.  These conversations are incredibly important for a lot of reasons – diffuse any possible hostility, help further explain to student why certain behaviors are not acceptable, and so forth.  I will write a post all about the importance of these conversations , and how I approach them, at a later date.  (see update below)

If students refuse to stay after class to talk, then it is an immediate referral.

I added that little box at the bottom of each form this year.  I check the box if I think the form did not change student behavior.

The Goods:



The Update:

Here are some thoughts on discipline discussion you should be having with students who receive these forms.

What I Do When I Have A Bad Day

I definitely think an important part of classroom management is learning how to manage ourselves.  How to put the things that happen in our classes into perspective, and keep ourselves focused, happy, and energized.  And how to keep ourselves from not feeling tired, regretful, or hopeless.  We have to keep ourselves fresh and away from negativity, which is easier said than done.  Especially on those days where it’s not working for us.  Those days where a disruptive student got the best of us, and has us feeling outmatched.  So I’ll just tell you that when I have one of those days –  I always recite the following quote to myself:

“Finish each day and be done with it, you have done what you could.  Blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.  Tomorrow is a new day.  Begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have it reserved to memory and recommend you do too.  It cheers me up and gives me energy to face each day anew.  For me, it is exactly what I need to hear at that moment.  I won’t talk about what else it means to me, I’ll let it mean to you whatever you want it to.

Another thing that helped me tough days I wrote about here.  If you are having issues with a couple students who are really frustrating you, I recommend reading it.  It is a technique I use to reframe my thinking on problem students into a positive and productive mindset.

Soft Skill #2 – All About The Individual

My second most important classroom management soft skill deals with maximizing the individual interactions I have with my students on a daily basis.  This is all about building personal relationships, and building goodwill.  It is the type of goodwill that I can draw from when I have discipline issues. 

There are two different routines I do that allow me twice daily opportunities to interact individually with every student.  Maximizing and acknowledging the importance of these routines, is the soft skill I am talking about here.

The first way is by greeting students at the door.  Dan Meyer has already written about the power of that technique here, so I will just say that I agree with his post, and then add a couple thoughts of my own.

Greeting at the door…

1.   does not have the same time restrictions that exist once the bell rings.  The fact that it is before class, means you get to talk to students without having to worry about the pacing of your lesson plans, or the need to assess learning and stay on top of class questions.

2.  lets me greet former students as well, which is fun and builds a reputation of good will.

The other way is how I check off homework.  Everyday while students are working on the opener, I walk around and check off students homework using my Palm.  I make sure not to rush this portion of the class.  It’s an important part of my management strategy, so if it costs me an extra 2 or 3 minutes to ensure that I genuinelly acknowledge each student, then it is totally worth it.  Here’s what I mean by that:

1.  I always say their name.  I never check off homework without saying the students name.  I want students to feel to like they are an important part of the classroom community, and I think just saying their names can go along way in achieving that.  I also randomly mix up my greetings, I do not want to cycle through the whole class saying the same thing “Good morning (insert name here)”.  For example – “Thanks Vickie, looks good”  “What do you got for me James?” “Looks beautiful Jordan”.

2.   It’s important not to get caught up in conversation with each student, but also don’t rush through them.  As I’m walking around I will always throw out a few non-sequiturs “How are your classes goin’?” “You like sunny weather or cold weather?” “Did you see that Giants game last night?”

3.  I love the inside jokes I develop with students after about a month or so.  Last year I had a student who always wanted me to call his homework beautiful.  So naturally I would be like “Scott, this is …(a few seconds pause)…  pretty good.”  At which point I would get an animated reaction from him, and we would have good laugh.  I have tons of stories just like that.

Lastly, after the bells rings I always say goodbye to the students.   I will always give a general goodbye to the class “bye everyone, don’t forget to stay hip”, “be kind to eachother out there”, “don’t forget to laugh and hug one of your friends”.  And then I will take it down to the individual level “Sam, see you tomorrow” “Taylor, good work today”.  I walk out with the last students because I want to be at the door as the first few students arrive for the next class.

Separating Management from Content

I think content and management are interconnected.  If you have engaging lessons that are matched to student ability, you have less management problems.  This means that when it comes to creating classroom management strategies, my time is best spent creating / finding great lesson plans.  Since content is the spark that drives me, this relationship is also very convenient.  I would much prefer to figure out ways to engage students, rather than figure out ways to discipline them.  That being said, I still think it is important to view management on its own merits, separate from content, and that is how I will treat it in this blog.

I separate the term management into two unique parts:  routines, and soft skills.  Routines deal with my class rules and procedures.  Soft Skills deal with my interactions with students.   I am not going to give a comprehensive description of each right now, due to my desire to keep my blog posts brief.  But I will be describing them over a series of future posts.

Dealing With The Disruptive

My most important classroom management strategy hit me like a lightning bolt one day, and instantly altered my teaching practice.  Yet it was not a specific management tool, nor was it a routine, or a new intervention pyramid, rather it was a mindset change.  I was driving home one day, lamenting a couple interactions I had with a few problematic students, wondering what I should do to keep them in the line – How could I keep them from negatively effecting the class?  It was as if they were the enemy.  That realization left me disillusioned for two reasons:  One, I was feeling unhappy even though I had a day full of positive interactions with a lot of my students.  Two, I did not want to accept that any students in my class were the enemy, and that their only role in the class was to make me angry and stressed.  It couldn’t be true that life would simply be better if they were put in some other class.  And then I realized that they were not there to make my life hell, or ruin my class, but rather they were there to teach me something.  To teach me how to  be a better teacher.  I had something to learn and they were there to make sure I learned it.  They didn’t know that is what they were doing, but they were doing it nonetheless.  I needed to learn how to deal with all types of students, and these disruptive students were allowing me the opportunity to do that.  And I thanked them for it.

At that moment it was crazy how the negatively just feel off me like dirt in the shower.  I began smiling, and shaking my head in amazement that I had wasted so much time thinking about them like they were the problem.  Thinking that they were there to hurt me and make my life worse, when the whole time they were there to help me and make my life better.  And here’s the key:  When that negativity drops, everything about your teaching gets better.  Everything.

So here’s the strategy –  when students are being the most annoying or disrputive, you need to remind yourself that they are there to help you be a better teacher, and be thankful for that .  Don’t thank them out loud or anything, but in your mind thank them.  Thank them for helping you become a better teacher:  for offering you the opportunity to learn how to deal with the situation.  Because when I began doing that all the negative energy that I held in those moments, for those students, just fell away.  I no longer got angry at them, which meant that I also never acted out of anger or stress when dealing with them.  And when you are not acting out of anger or stress, you naturally make better decisions.  You smile more.  You are more likely to laugh at something they’re doing.  And most importantly, you do not carry any negative feelings inside you, that you have to take to your next class, or home.

For me, this mindset change immediately made me a better and happier teacher, and instantly improved the way I dealt not only with the most disruptive students, but the class as a whole.  Because a few negative interactions with students can put you in a bad mood, and once you are in a bad mood, you are not enjoying yourself, and you can’t be a great teacher.  So now when a student is being disruptive, and I feel that negative stress and anger start to build up in me, I remind myself that the student is there to help me be better.  The negative feelings go away, and I get very thankful.  And the light at the end of the tunnel is when that negativity doesn’t bother showing up in the first place.