A good teacher spends some time getting to know their students and establishing classroom protocol at the beginning of the school year. It’s a great time to jumpstart those teacher-student relationships as well as lay down the law. But as the first few weeks progress, there is usually a steady stream of students trickling in and out of the classroom until all of the scheduling is done. These may be new students, transfer students, or students who came back from summer vacation a little late.
The problem with these fluctuations is that not all the students were able to hear your sales pitch at the very beginning of the year. As the year continues there is often more turnover and each classroom takes on a personality of its own based on the mix of students. So what do you do when the petty, annoying behaviors start to become common place and the classroom procedures are rarely being followed?
Hitting the “Reset” Button
I suggest doing what a friend of mine calls “hitting the reset button". Basically, you revisit the expectations and maybe even some of the relationship building that you normally do the first few days of school. This is also something you should do if you happen to be moved to a different classroom (for whatever reason) within the same school. You don’t know what rules and procedures were in place before you arrived, so let students know that everything is changing with the new leadership and go over how things will work in the future.
If you plan to do this because student behavior is beginning to get worse, pay attention to how you approach it. It is important that you approach it correctly in order to get good results. DON’T tell your students that because they have chosen to act like animals you are being forced to start at the beginning and review your “rules".
How to Get it Right
The best thing to do is to pick a time that seems natural such as coming back from a long break like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or spring break. If a class is out of control and a break or long weekend is approaching, try to wait for that time. Otherwise, use a Monday coming back from the weekend. It really won’t work well if you do it mid-week.
To achieve great results, be sure you spend time planning the day well. If you choose to wing it, you will certainly run into problems. The time spent planning will payoff in fewer headaches for you and lots of extra energy (you should not feel like a semi-conscious zombie when you walk out the door to go home). When the day approaches, let students know that you are all going to hit the reset button so the rest of the year can be as productive as or more productive than the first half.
Since you already know each other, you may want to do an activity that focuses on team building or the importance of rules and regulations. Then have your class (individually or in groups) list all of the procedures that are already in place. This is your opportunity to take a good look at how well you have communicated the procedures. Do the students know them or are they getting them confused with the procedures for other classes? Help them remember and/or modify them until they are all listed and all correct.
Have a Discussion
Next, spend some time discussing with them what is working and not working. What needs to be changed? It’s important here to really listen to your students. Don’t be dismissive. Maybe they have some legitimate reasons why something is not working as you planned. Perhaps a certain procedure could be modified (or even exterminated) because it doesn’t gel well with other structures set in place within the school.
The fact is that your students could be your biggest asset in setting up things that work. As a combined group, they have been through more teachers and classes than you can count. They have been in classrooms that are zoos and they have been in classrooms that were run like well-oiled machines. Perhaps the most valuable thing they can tell you is the answer to these questions… “What is working in your other classes?" and “what do your other teachers do for this?"
Those two questions can be a vital source of information for you. We all know that we should be talking with other teachers about what they are doing. But everybody is busy and sometimes, teachers who have a super successful procedure in place don’t realize that other classrooms aren’t doing the same thing. Because of this, they might not realize that their procedure is solving a problem you are having in your class because they may have never seen that behavior exhibited in their class.
As this discussion continues, let students know that they are like the committee and you are the president. Every suggestion (within reason) will be heard, but not everything will be implemented. Explain why you won’t allow certain things and even if they don’t agree, they will be more apt to comply.
If you just laid down the law at the beginning of the year as most teachers do (and should), then this process will usually do an interesting thing. At the end of the day, you will find that most of the rules and procedures you dictated to them are still on the list. However, now you have some modifications and new procedures that will work great. More importantly, you have more contribution from your students. They feel like they just helped make the rules. Very few of them will acknowledge the fact that they started with a framework you already gave them and didn’t really make many changes. So basically, the process allows them to adopt the procedures you gave them as their own.
Follow the New Rules
Be sure to immediately begin implementing all of the new protocol and the rest of the year should go more smoothly. Sometimes everybody needs to refocus and reset. The lost instructional time for this process of hitting “reset" will be made up throughout the rest of the year because you’ll spend less time correcting student behavior.