What do you do when classes are absolutely bonkers? I had three classes this year that were just absurd. I'd send 4 or 5 students out daily and the behaviors would just totally derail the entire class. At one point, I had sent 10 (out of 22) out of the room.
Part of this is that my entire team (Music, Art, Spanish, and STEM) turned over this summer. I'm the only returning teacher and my new team is still in the process of refining their own classroom management procedures and establishing expectations.
Even with that understanding, I was miserable, students weren't learning anything, and something needed to be done. Over the course of a couple weeks, I established some solutions that paid off huge. When kids started seeing that its way more fun to swim with the current, they got it together. Of course, I still have the 2 or 3 kids that legitimately have a hard time with self control, but it's significantly more manageable than when half the class has made a decision to go bonkers. Here's how I got there.
Start With Clear Expectations
If your expectations aren't clear and you don't have systems in place to deal with behavior, nothing will work. I laid out a lot of my expectations and procedures in my post on Classroom Management. It's crucial that kids know you want what is best for them. And consistency is huge.
Years back, I was working an after school program and my boss spent most of her time in her office and only rarely talked with the kids. It wasn't a rare occurrence to see her yelling at them for something. So one day, a few of the kids were really upset after getting yelled at and I went up to talk to them. I asked why they were so upset. They said it was because they didn't like her yelling at them. I thought about myself for a moment and I know I had yelled at them in the past and I didn't really feel that great about it. I'd gotten on several of their cases pretty recently and I asked why they didn't get this upset when I yelled at them. Their response was so wise and thought provoking, it sticks with me. One of them told me that it was just different when I did. They knew why and they knew it was coming. When my boss yelled at them, it was random. Some behaviors she would let slide. It all depended on how she felt at the time. My consistency helped them feel safe.
Over the years, I've matured as a teacher to only raise my voice in the rarest of occasions (if ever). But even more important is that my students are never left guessing the boundaries in my class.
It's so easy to operate on feelings. It's human nature. In fact, I consistently teach that humans treat others they way they make them feel. And feelings pile up. If you're regularly making me feel good about you, I'll treat you as such. If you regularly frustrate me, you're not going to get the same benefit of the doubt.
To fix major behaviors in the class, you can't operate on feelings. You'd be right to, but the data needs to be available to the students. It becomes almost like a game. They need to see where they're at, what their role is in the problem, and what steps they need to get where we're trying to go.
** Side note: This is also just great for solving interpersonal conflicts. I had a group of 5th grade girls with some girl drama. I had them sit down and take turns talking about (1) The problems they're having with others (important to focus on the behavior and not the personality); (2) Take ownership of their role in the problem (what they could have done differently); and (3) What one step they're going to take towards making things less miserable for the others. Before they started talking, I re-explained that feelings pile up and people treat each other the way they feel about them. We aren't going to feel great about each other at the end, but we'll have some ways that we can start feeling less bad feelings.
When I take notes, it looks like this
Of course, I like to make my spreadsheets do all the work for me. So every behavior that happened in the last 18 days counts as a score of 1. If their total behaviors in the last 18 days is 2 or more, their total is highlighted in red and we start intervening. If the intervention is going well, they get an X for the day (this does not add to their total) and it's highlighted in green. Two greens in a row and they've worked their way off the intervention plan.
I treat the intervention the same way I have kids solve problems with one another. First offense, define the problem and establish the boundaries. Second time, remind them. This is when I see that they're highlighted in red and I let them know that if they continue to show problems, there will be an intervention. Third offense (in the last 18 days), take action. This isn't payback. This isn't making them feel bad. They are showing that either they don't know or are having a hard time making it happen and clearly need practice. So they join the Practice Squad.
The Practice Squad
Every person deserves the benefit of the doubt. We all have rough days from time to time. Most kids just need a conversation that reinforces the boundaries of what's acceptable and what isn't. Some are just extra forgetful or have such tunnel vision that they need reminders. But if you're constantly reminding, you're wasting valuable time and not getting results. The ones that don't respond to a quick conversation or reminders need to feel uncomfortable (but also loved) to change. And so they get to be a part of the Practice Squad.
The Squad uses the warm up to practice the skills they're missing out on. Our warm up is fun. They have choices of our favorite mini-games and can bounce around between the ones that interest them most. They love the warm up. It's also the time during class when I can devote my resources to people who need extra help. The warm up runs by itself and I rarely need to intervene in any activity. So the Practice Squad starts with me and they work through the skills they need. This lasts the entire warm up. If they do great and show me all class that they know how to do it right, they pass the day (and get an X on my spreadsheet). When they pass two days in a row, they're off the Squad until they show they need to be back on it.
If you look at Iceman (above), you can see that he earned his way off the squad then two classes later reverted to his old ways, earning himself a spot back on the Squad.
Thor had a great day of practice, followed by a day of struggle, then bucked up and got his life together the next two classes.
Now, we have normal classes. We waste almost no time and when one person is having a hard time, I never get others joining in on the disruption. They all understand its their responsibility to keep the ball rolling. I've had students with total meltdowns and the rest of the class just ignores it and moves on with their lives as if it never happened. It's inspiring to see how far we've come.
I attribute most of the effectiveness of this fix to my Yellow Spots. The purpose them is simple: learn from your mistakes and briefly show enough self-control to come back and join us. It's a huge success to get students to understand that there's a difference between "being in trouble" (which they are not) and having "a coachable moment." One of the most important lessons they can get in school is that pushing through mistakes and failures is the path to success. I don't want anybody to be perfect. I want them to make mistakes, pull themselves up, and get back at it.
The Bigger Fix
One class had so many with problems that I devoted two entire class periods to fixing it. I had 17/22 students on my Squad. Literally 5 students who would come in and do the right thing every time. I split my "gym" in half and gave those 5 some choices and had everybody else practice the entire time. At the end of the first day, I pointed out to my Squad that I didn't have to stop the 5 one time. They got to play the entire time without stopping because they knew what to do and they did it. AND it can be that way for anybody who makes the same choice. At the end of our second day of practice, I had 13 of my 17 who made the most of their time and worked hard to show me they were ready. I gave them the last 10 minutes to join the other five and they did amazing. In that 10 minutes, they showed what they were capable of. I didn't need to stop them once. It didn't take long to whittle my Squad down to almost nothing. We've accomplished more in the last couple weeks than we did in the previous months by just buckling down and making sure expectations are being met.