The tricky, awesome part of teaching: Classroom management

Our school leader, Heidi Lindberg Augestad, reflects on a recent training workshop in which our teacher team developed invaluable classroom management skills.

It is Thursday morning and the teachers, myself and facilitators from Instill Education have met for a full day professional development training. Today is about Classroom Management – a challenging and tricky, but also the most fun and engaging, part of the teaching job. Classroom management is crucial as it dictates what kind of learning environment and social culture we are able to create in our classes. 

Today’s workshop focuses on tone, posture and position. They are basic rules for how to structure and manage a whole class, through awareness on how to use your voice, your body language and where you place yourself in the room related to which activity you lead. The teachers have identified characters that are disruptive in class. The facilitator from Instill Education pretend to be the teacher and there we go; our whole teaching team has become uncontrollable students! Great fun, but also very interesting—and a bit therapeutical even—to act out behaviours we otherwise try to avoid, limit and change.

The learning lesson in this exercise is what effects different teacher roles have on group dynamics. Will any teacher instruction get through if half your learners are not ready or able to focus? When your learners don’t listen, does it work to shout at them? Should you grab or push your students around? No. The simulation shows us what we already know: these strategies do not work, they actually end up adding noise and chaos to the situation. 

The next act is with a teacher who is in control of, not her class, but her role. She is confident in what the aim for the lesson is and what she expects of her students. Instead of shouting she speaks in a friendly and calm voice. Instead of focusing on the students who misbehaves, she waits for the entire class to find a common understanding of what they should do. And she waits, and waits—with only a clear glance at them—and then suddenly silence become stronger than the noise until, at last, all is quiet. 

A very good strategy for dealing with classroom management! But being that confident in your teacher role also requires a whole lot of wise and unpredictable methods and a broad understanding of what affects your learners and the group dynamics in the class. 

The most important lesson is that a classroom consists of all sorts of people. You have the teacher and then you have each, individual student (nope, they are not one homogenous bunch)! Being the one who is managing the others, the teacher needs to know all of them, independently. Where and what they come from, what they carry of social and academic resources, their motivations and hinderances, their weaknesses and strengths, their abilities to interact and cooperate. You will use this information when you organize the seating, the individual and collaborative work and the learning material they will use. This information is fundamental when you teach, facilitate, support, comfort, cooperate with and challenge your students in their academic and social progress. 

A good teacher’s role is a flexible mixture of empathy, skills and responsibilities in order to accommodate the students’ needs, make the whole class work as a team, and create the kind of learning environment we all need.

Another important lesson is that in order to establish a functional and good learning environment, your students need to be engaged in meaningful and inspiring activities. It may be a strange thing to say as we usually expect schools and teachers to ensure meaningful learning, but there are too many stories and statistics related to drop outs, low results and negative school experiences that tells us that the learning potential and individual growth are not exploited enough. 

In regards to classroom management, ensuring that students are engaged and motivated through learning activities contributes to a wonderful and constructive learning environment. 

One way of ensuring this is through student centred and differentiated teaching and learning strategies. We have implemented and developed a workshop model in our school which ensures that differentiated teaching and learning are implemented in all core subjects and that student engaged activities have at least 60% of lesson time. This is a radical change from the traditional schooling where the teachers are in focus for most of the lesson. 

One of the most positive experiences from using the workshop model as our standard lesson structure has been the change in teachers’ roles and their approach to the students. Preparing for differentiated exercises means that the teachers always aim to find that fine balance between mastery and challenge for each and every student. The tasks shall be neither too difficult nor too easy—the students must stay engaged throughout the lesson and keep their strong motivation for constructive activities in class. The result is a classroom filled with structure and discipline that is designed not only by the teacher, but by the students as well. Less reliance on rules and sanctions—it’s a truly collaborative effort. Inspiring!

Back to our professional development workshop. It is the end of the day and the teachers have had classes where they have been observing each other. Now, it is time for self-reflection and feedback. How can I seat the students so that I have everyone’s attention during instruction time? Did I manage to vary my tone and voice? I must plan and prepare the differentiated activities better so that I keep everyone engaged! Remember to always get back to your instruction point! 

The day has given us incredibly meaningful and important input regarding how to manage classes well. Furthermore, it has sparked the kind of confidence that good classroom management is built on.

 

-Heidi Lindberg Augestad
School Leader, Jeppe Park Primary