Classroom Management COVID-19 General Leadership

Classrooms in Crisis: Could We Move Classes Outside?

Last week, I wrote about managing the physical space of a classroom in the time of COVID-19.  There are many questions we have about opening school under the current health conditions that remain unanswered.  I will return to more considerations about restarting the classroom indoors moving forward.  However, I will divert a bit to consider another option for teaching that has come to light recently which will allow us to explore other viable options for teaching out students.

Allow me to digress a moment to review where schools around the world are with re-opening plans.  Currently, there are three basic models being considered.  First, return students fully to school in classrooms with some form of distancing and safety protocols in place with a somewhat normal timetable.  Second, return to a form of online instruction for at least part of the year where students access their content online.  Third, provide some form of a hybrid model where students will learn in part face to face and in part online.  There are variations in these three models, but there are no other unique or trend setting considerations being made at this time.

As an American, I have seen President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, among others, push for students to return to the classroom.  Parents and teachers have said something similar, but with a caveat.  Students should return to full and normal school when it is safe to do so.  There are others who feel that students, around the world, should return to normal education to restart economies and learn face to face.  Some countries have demonstrated that it is safe to return to school after they addressed the concerns of COVID-19 in their country.  If we believe that we should have students return to school and do not believe it is safe to do so, then what are our options?

Consider the following option that is being considered in some schools in the United States and around the world.  While teaching outdoors may not be appropriate to your situation, it is a unique framework for discussion about options and possibilities that you could consider at your school.

Shift your classroom outdoors

A recent and by all appearances viable option for teaching students face to face in the fall is to move the classrooms outside.  Using the school grounds, parking lots, and perhaps streets, classes could be taught outside rather than inside the school.  While this is not a viable option for every school in the world based on climate, weather, or perhaps safety, a great number of schools could teach at least some of their classes outdoors starting in the fall.


This does not come from a wild brainstorming conversation, on the contrary, some schools and educators are discussing this idea as a viable option.  In fact, there are programs that already encourage schools to get their students outdoors and in nature.  Green SchoolYards America for example has encouraged schools to turn asphalt covered playgrounds into green space to play.  Green School International has schools with classrooms that do not have walls and encourages students to be taught outdoors.  Green SchoolYards has been integral in the push for moving classes outdoors during this time of COVID-19 based on research that it is safer for students to be outdoors than in with the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative.  Even the push for outdoor kindergartens shows us we can teach students outdoors safely.

Facility Requirements

The greatest challenge a school will face is preparing facilities for teaching outdoors.  There will be costs involved for this shift to provide a teaching space outdoors.  Students will need some form of a roof over their head to provide shade or protect from the rain.  Students will need a place to sit and a place to write on.  Teachers will need a place to teach, perhaps a white board.  Projection and power for electronics would also need to be considered, but not necessarily provided.

Is it possible for a school to provide a teaching space, outdoors, with protection from the sun and rain where students could learn?  It is quite possible that they could.  A realistic issue would be space on the campus.  Is there enough space on the campus, if one includes the parking spaces and fields, to provide teaching areas for all students?  Could the school expand to the street in front of the school safely if needed?

This would be a significant shift in the spacing of the school and there would be costs involved.  Teachers would need to re-consider how their classroom was set up and the instruction provided.  Specific courses would need to consider how to teach subjects, such as science, band and choir, and art as well as others outside safely. 

Instruction and Learning

Teaching outside could look like instruction inside the classroom.  However, this will take the greatest shift for educators.  How do we teach our classes outdoors when we have limited materials available?  What does a lesson look like?  What materials do we use?  Do we teach the same outdoors as indoors?

These are very legitimate questions.  Teaching outdoors would not look the same as indoors.  I would put forth that it should not.  This is an opportunity to provide flipped lessons on basic content to be watched at home, then expand on the content in the classroom.  This provides us with an opportunity to return to written note-taking using standard practices such as Cornell Notes.  Each student could have their own notebook for each subject where they could write the notes, draw, color code, and practice their listening and writing skills.

Group discussions could take place about topics, obviously from a distance.  Socratic Seminars could occur at all levels.  Ideally, students would read text in advance, which is either provided in print or electronic format, then discuss it the next day.  Group discussions and work could take on a whole new meaning and value in this setting.

Creativity would be needed to determine how to best teach in this setting.  Each teacher would need to determine how the class looks for them.  It is important to note that teachers are not in this alone though.  There are amazing teachers in the district who can support each other to provide high quality content and ideas for others.  Subject area educators should work to support each other at all levels.  It will be a challenge, but it can be done.

Basic Needs

Food, water, shelter, toilets, and social and emotional well being are the areas that will be most relevant for our classes.  Food delivery for lunch from the kitchen is an option that most schools are mostly set up for.  In my experience, most food comes to the school pre-packaged and is heated on site.  It is then put out for students to pick up.  Food could be delivered to a class site, or students could go get food at a specific site.

Water bottles should be required at school.  Each student should have their own bottle that is labeled and left at school.  It would be filled first thing in the morning and then some method for re-filling should be provided.  These will need to be cleaned at least once a week.

Shelter, as mentioned in the facilities requirements section, would need to be provided.  Sunshade and protection from the rain would need to be purchased in the form of tents.  On days of severe weather, the classes could have a flipped school day where students stay at home and work online, or complete assigned homework or study.

Toilets.  In my opinion, students using the toilets in the building will cause minimal concern for health and safety.  Limit the number of students in the building and then close the lids before flushing to minimize overspray.  Something we should be doing anyways.  Simply do not allow large groups in the toilets at any one time.

Social and Emotional health and well being will be our greatest area of concern.  Some of our students are not in safe environments.  They may be physically threatened.  They may suffer mental abuse.  They may simply not have enough food to eat.  We need to be hyper aware of this issue and plan to address it and not increase the concerns when students are at school.  Additional counseling team support should be available as school returns to live teaching.

Staff Conflicts to Teaching Outdoors

There are some teachers who will state that they can not teach outdoors.  There will also be contractual issues that arise that will need to be addressed.  School education associations and unions will need to sit down with administration and work together to resolve these issues.  There will be concerns that must be addressed on both sides.  However, I genuinely believe if both groups work together to resolve these issues in creative ways while collaboratively resolving issues, it can work.

These are unique times.  They require creative and unique responses.  What they do not require are those teachers who simply state they can not teach outside because they do not want to.  That is not a real option, that is a positional statement.  How can you teach outside?  What in your contract prevents you from teaching outdoors?  These are administrative level issues that can be resolved.

Teachers must realize that we are addressing issues that we have not dealt with in over 100 years.  Yes, you can teach outside.  Just because you may not have your computer, projector, and PowerPoints does not mean you cannot teach.  In fact, I would argue that you could do some of your best teaching in this new environment and break free of the constraints of technology that have held you back.  If it is just because you do not want to, well, you could teach in the classroom or online.

Challenges to Teaching Outdoors

There are no simple answers to shifting entire schools outdoors.  Elementary schools would have very different issues that secondary.  Some schools will have significant weather issues such as heat and cold or storms.  Bad air quality is a reality for my school.  Some schools simply do not have the space to have all their classes outside on campus.  What about transitioning students from class to class?  Can we get Wi-Fi boosters and routers outdoors?  Will we use technology and if so, how will we charge them?  Teachers will complain.  Parents will complain. Community members will complain.  Students will complain. There will be normal student issues.  There will be new issues.  It will not be the same as teaching inside.  And these are just a few of the issues that will arise.

One issue that has not been addressed is school safety, which would be a legitimate challenge.  Outside events could happen.  Students could leave.  These are all known events and have already been planned for by most schools with clear responses already prepared.  However, it would behoove a school to give serious consideration to how their school safety might look.  For example, a school in Alaska that has issues with bears would have a very different response than a school in downtown New York.  This is also an area where facts must precede public opinion about safety.  I would put forth that, with certain exceptions, an outdoor program could be run safely.

Making the shift to outdoors would be the greatest hurdle to overcome.  There would be resistance to any plan such as this.  However, if we can show that the benefits outweigh the challenges or negatives, it is a viable possibility.

In Conclusion

There are no good answers to starting school in the fall and the above items just scratch the surface.  A great many changes need to happen to make schoolwork in the fall and all should be considered.  Everything should be on the table as an option for what school changes might occur in the next months.  The idea of opening school’s outdoors is just one option to consider.  The framework of how to do it and challenges is like any other option provided.  I hope that your school district is considering opening school in a safe, science-based manner in the fall.

Classroom Management General Leadership

Classrooms in Crisis: Manage the Physical Space First

What does your classroom look like in the fall when you return?  Will you return to a classroom with half the students?  Will you teach fully online?  Fully live?  A hybrid model?  Will you have to address the issue of a 2-meter distance between each desk and each student?  How will you teach group work?  Will you have barriers in place around each desk and workspace?  Will students wear masks all the time?  Will you school take care of your own health and safety needs? 

These are just a few of the questions that teachers are asking right now as they prepare to return to school.  They are legitimate and important questions to ask.  However, they only address part of the problem that will be in place in some schools when students return.  It is important that we take time to rationally think through what our fall classes will look like to be the best managers of our classroom space.

As I look at classroom management, it is not just a set of rules and consequences that one puts in place to ensure discipline.  For me, classroom management is everything that you as an educator do to ensure the class runs smoothly, procedures are clearly in place, and the students feel safe and build positive healthy relationships.  A well-managed class allows the teacher to provide instruction, address issues as they arise, and transition more effectively from one part of the class to the next in as smooth a manner as possible.  To that end, let us look at your classroom as you may be teaching in the fall.

First, it is important to acknowledge a few very vital issues.  Much of your classroom set up may be out of your control based on the school policies that will be implemented for health and safety reasons.  The number of students you teach, and whether you teach live, online, or a hybrid class will also be out of your control.  There will be fear about the return to the classroom that will impact how you teach on your return.  Finally, there will be a high possibility that you will transition from live to online teaching at least once during the school year.  Much of this will be out of your control, but you can plan for it now.  So, how can we prepare for the uncertainty of the Fall?

Manage your classroom space first.

Your teaching space will be dictated by the health and safety requirements of your district.  I realize that this seems ominous to consider since your classroom is probably too small for all your students to physically distance.  If we dwell on this basic issue, we will never move forward.  So, acknowledge it, and work with what you have.  Make sure you document this and address it with the administration and save this information and any responses for late.  Now, let us move on.

What can you do in your space?  How many students will you have?  Will they have their own materials?  Will they have isolation or cubby type structures that are physical barriers?  Will the class look welcoming?  Will they be sitting in row?  Facing the wall? 1 or 2 meters apart?  How close can you get to them?

I would strongly suggest you draw a map of your classroom on larger paper to get a sense of what the room looks like.  Include all the desks, any group teaching space, and where you will teach. Also include doors, storage, power outlets, water faucets, and toilets if they are in the room.  Last year, these could be afterthoughts, but this year, you need to consider everything.

Here are some questions to ask about the physical movement in the classroom by your students:

  • How and where will students enter the room?
  • Where will students store their items when they enter the room?
  • Once in the room, are students allowed to move about or will they be required to sit down at their desk?
  • Are all students able to see the teaching area?
  • Is your teaching area or desk cluttered and a distraction or tidy and organized?
  • Does the physical space feel inviting or isolating?
  • Do the students have their own material at their desk?
  • How does a student get water once at their desk?
  • How does a student go to the toilet if necessary?
  • How does a student sharpen a pencil or get a new pen if needed?
  • What if a student can not see what is written where do they move?
  • What if a student has a question how do they ask it?
  • Will electronic devices be used during class?  Where will they be stored?  How will they be used?  How will they be monitored?  How will they be cleaned?
  • How will students transition in and out of the space during normal times of movement to lunch and recess?
  • How and where will you teach the class?
  • Does every student have a line of sight to the teaching space?
  • Will you teach in small group settings?
  • How will you move about the room to check students based on distancing?
  • If you must teach both live and online, where will you place the camera?

These are just a few of the questions you need to ask yourself about your teaching space as it will be vastly different than last year.  If possible, walk through your room like a student.  Enter as they would.  Sit in their space.  Think like a student.  Think like your best student, your most challenging mobile student, your quiet introverted student, and your most extroverted student.  Then, plan based on what you know about each of them.  This year will require a great deal more planning than in previous years.

The physical space of the classroom sets the tone for the students as they enter the door.  Remember, they may be excited to return as they have been isolated for months.  They may be nervous about catching COVID-19.  They may have been in exceedingly difficult situations socially based on their home life.  Every one of them will be in your class and they need to feel welcomed.

The class will not be the same.  You will be required to manage the space differently.  This is the first step in effectively managing your classroom space, addressing the physical area.  You cannot return to what you did before because students will return under vastly different conditions than before.  It is imperative that you spend time considering the physical layout, travel patterns, and issues with the space of the classroom before you can move on to addressing student needs.

In future writings, I will discuss other considerations for the management of the classroom from my perspective as an active educator working in a classroom space.  Until then, please continue to add constructive thoughts to the conversation for the safety of our students. 

As a side note, if your school administration or district are not providing for the health and safety needs of your physical space, you need to document this, report it through the proper chain of command, and keep copies of everything.  Your health and safety are also a priority as is the students.  I fear that this year will be one of litigation based on the spread of the coronavirus in schools and teachers will bear the brunt of these issues.  Protect yourself legally and, if these concerns are not being addressed, use the proper legal means to find an appropriate resolution.

If this interests you, please take a look at other writings on this site or #classroomsincrisis articles at

Classroom Management School Culture

Student Motivation = Better Classroom Management

There are many ways to improve classroom management.  In this article we will look at one way that classroom management can be improved: increasing student motivation.  The implication is that if students are motivated they will be less likely to engage in disruptive classroom behaviors.  The following are ten ways that teachers can increase motivation with their students.  School leaders can use these tips to coach teachers on how to motivate students to improve teaching, learning and classroom management.

  1. Provide students with choice.  Choice leads to feelings of autonomy and self-efficacy which increase motivation according to Daniel Pink’s work in his seminal work ‘Drive’.  Total choice is rarely an option, however teachers can provide students with choice within parameters.  
  2. Be excited.  If the teacher isn’t excited about content, why would the students get excited? When students are excited about learning, motivation goes up. 
  3. Get students intrinsically motivated.  Find ways to help students see the value of the content of your course by relating your course to their lives, their aspirations and their passions.  
  4. Use extrinsic motivators.  Positive reward systems such as earned positive praise can motivate students.  Keep the golden ratio in mind for positive feedback: 3-5 positive interactions for every corrective feedback.  
  5. Set realistic expectations.  Individual learning rates and goals can help keep students motivated to try their personal best and not get discouraged by standardized goals that may not relate to their zone of proximal development.  
  6. Reduce students’ fear of trying and anxiety.  Failure is an option, and a less critical approach can reduce students anxiety. Keep your classroom positive by focusing on a growth mindset.  If students do not succeed the first time, be supportive and understanding and teach resilience.  
  7. Be empathetic.  Attempt to see things from your students’ point of view when possible.  This doesn’t mean you need to be completely relativistic, but putting yourself in your students’ shoes will help your students feel supported and safe which according to Maslow can lead to students realizing their full potential.  
  8. Make things fun.  School should be enjoyable, students should look forward to coming to school and all the exciting activities you have planned.  Not everything has to be fun, however sprinkling enjoyable activities into your routine can keep students motivated. 
  9. Harness student interests.  What are your students interests, do they love sports, dancing, theater?  Find out their interests and work these interests into your content, increasing relevance and student-centeredness. 
  10. Allow students to work together.  Social interaction may increase levels of motivation for some students.  A common group goal can increase levels of accountability. Group norms and roles are recommended to keep students accountable for group work and reduce free-loading. 

While there are many other ways to motivate students, hopefully you now have a working list of ways to keep students interested in your content via motivation.    As educational leaders, we can work to coach teachers on how to motivate students. If students are motivated, you may very likely see classroom management improve and behavioral concerns reduce.

Works Cited: 
21 Simple Ideas to Improve Student Motivation. 2017. 

The Ideal Praise to Criticism Ratio. Harvard Business Review. 2013.
Motivating Kids in Physical Activity. Weiss, Maureen.  2000.

Classroom Management School Culture

Building a positive classroom environment before class starts?

Whether it is a 45-minute period or a 75-minute block, I challenge you to identify teachers who take advantage of the entire period.  As part of this challenge, school leaders, I suggest you take a walk around your school’s hallways tomorrow and see how many teachers are making connections with their students even before their class starts. 

At Tsinghua Univ. High School International (THSI) in Beijing, one of our Secondary School’s year-long goals focuses on building and establishing positive classroom learning environments.  We are a young school that is still going through some growing pains, however, we are making great strides on establishing this positive classroom environment from the start of every class.  If you take a walk down our hallways before the start of each period, you will see our teachers standing by the doors of their classrooms, interacting with each student as they walk in.  We have recently integrated the Positive Greetings at the Door (PGD) classroom management strategy outlined by an article by Cook et al. (2018) titled “Positive Greetings at the Door: Evaluation of a Low-Cost, High-Yield Proactive Classroom Management Strategy”. 

The PGD approach will minimize the externalizing behaviors that cause classroom interruptions and limit student focus and attention.  Many teachers that I have seen over time handle student misbehavior using a reactive behavior management approach which, as the article states, affects student-teacher relationships and loses instructional time.  Reactive management of behavior usually comes immediately after a student misbehaves during class, interrupting the flow of learning.  Teachers using the PGD strategy, on the other hand, use proactive classroom management that can reduce misbehavior over the long run while maximizing instructional time.  The magic lies in the few seconds that teachers have at the door to positively connect with each student as they walk into class.  What teachers say verbally or non-verbally (a simple nod or smile) to each student has monumental effects on how the student will approach the class, resulting in less time off task and decreased misbehavior.  To break this strategy down further, I want to highlight 4 specific ways our school has been using the PGD strategy, as referenced in the article:

  1.  Teachers use these few seconds to privately encourage students who misbehaved last class.  “Johnny, do you remember I had to remind you to stay on task last class?  Let’s see if we can stay more focused today.”  “Erica, I noticed you were a bit chatty with Rachel last class.  I would appreciate it if you could talk to her instead at lunch next period.  Are you able to do this?” 
  2. These precious seconds are also being used to deliver pre-corrective statements and reminders on expected behaviors.  “Javier, remember to start on the warm-up problems as soon as you take your seat.” “Sam, did you bring your laptop?  We’re going to need it in class today.”
  3. The PGD approach also is used to deliver praise to reinforce positive behaviors.  “Leo, I loved how many times you raised your hand to volunteer answers last class.  I’d love to see more of that today.” “Jenny, I noticed you on task during yesterday’s group discussion.  I hope you saw how valuable your contributions were to your group.”
  4. Students are feeling a stronger sense of belonging in our classrooms.  Teachers at the door immediately are able to make and reinforce position connections with each individual student.

We are noticing reduced student misbehavior and more meaningful student-teacher connections.  Student learning is maximized when they feel valued, respected, and cared for by their teachers.  I invite you to reflect on how something similar could look like at your school.

Referenced article:

Cook, C. R., Daikos, C., Fiat, A., Holland, E.A., Larson, M., Renshaw, T., Slemrod, T., & Thayer, A.J. (2018). Positive greetings at the door: evaluation of a low-cost, high-yield proactive classroom management strategy. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 20(3), 149-159.

Classroom Management General Leadership Technology Use

Classroom Management: How Do I Manage Technology Use?

            I have a love and hate relationship with technology.  Hate is probably too strong a word, but there are days that technology does not make my job easier.  I am not talking about the multiple uses for it in the classroom, I am talking about managing technology in general.

            Everyone of our students interacts with some sort of technology on a regular basis.  We may like to kid ourselves about the use of technology, but the reality is, our students are growing up in a digital age.  They have more computing power in one cell phone than the first moon launch did. ZME Science states that the Iphone 6’s clock is 32,600 times faster than the fastest computer used in the Apollo era computers and could perform instruction 120,000,000 times faster.  Used correctly, this is a powerful tool in the hands of our students.  Used incorrectly, we look at pictures of chemistry cats and play video games.

            My issues with technology have less to do with the use of it and more to do with the management.  With a background in physical and health education, I am not a fan of technology in the classroom.  However, I have used it effectively in many ways.  And yes, even I have had students pull a cell phone out in the middle of an active game or activity to check messages, which has given me pause.

            Advancements in technology have made our lives significantly easier.  I do like the appropriate use of technology.  Classroom management software, educational software, curriculum software, and the vast array of good programs out there allow me to more effectively present information.  If used properly it can be an amazing educational tool in your classroom.

            If we speak from a classroom management issue, it can become an absolute nightmare for a teacher.  Students, and adults, are addicted to technology.  We get that a hit of dopamine as we expect the reward of a social media message, text, or other “ping” from our device and we feel good about it.  We become dopamine addicted to social media and it eats up our time as is presented by Trevor Haynes a research technician in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard University in a recent study.  We are in a struggle for time over technology in our classrooms.

            Our students are masters of using technology.  They know how to do the finger swipe from screen to screen to hide what they were seeing.  They have multiple screens open at any one time.  These are the students who think they can multi-task but really are distracted by social media, games, music, video or any other form of programming they can access.  It is inhibiting their relationships and there is even good research being presented that suggests that the cell phone that is turned off and stowed is impacting the students learning.  As suggested in a recent article on, students who split their time between learning tasks and cell phone or Facebook performed poorly when compared to students who did not split their time.  With this information in mind, what can I do as a teacher to manage the technology use in the classroom?

            This is an easy answer if you have a clear technology policy in place for the school.  The school should have an agreed upon acceptable use policy for electronic devices in the school and classroom setting.  With an acceptable use policy, the students, teachers, and administrators can identify key behaviors, times, and places that are acceptable within the school.  In an era of cyber-bullying, online harassment, sharing of test information, and many other nefarious uses, this is not just prudent behavior for a school, it is necessary and even required.  There are many good examples of Acceptable Use Policies by schools, the following are some good examples as points of reference:

These are just some examples, found through searches on the internet, of good quality acceptable technology usage.  Are they perfect for every school?  Of course not.  You must address the individual issues within the school setting.  With a clear policy in place, the school and the teacher have a strong foundation for addressing appropriate internet and technology usage.

As the administrator, you must ensure that the teachers, students, and the parents are aware of the policy and the enforcement of the policy within the school setting.  You must ensure that teachers support his policy and fairly enforce it within the context of their setting.   I say fairly rather than equally because the ultimate usage of technology is up to the teacher.  Each teacher must make the decision of how they will manage technology in the classroom within the guidelines of the school.

As the classroom teacher, you must ultimately make the decision about how you will best utilize technology within the classroom in relation to student learning.  This includes cell phone use, laptop or computer use, and any other technology that is available.  You must also decide what is personally acceptable to you as an educator in an era where you may find yourself being videotaped, voice recorded, or pictures being taken of you without your permission.  Some of these are a decision that the school policy may resolve while others are decisions you must make yourself.

Focusing on acceptable use at the beginning of the year is the best time to resolve issues.  This is where involvement and buy in with the students is critical.  There are many methods a teacher could use to address the management of technology in the classroom.  However, the most critical is the decision of the comfort level of the teacher with technology use in the class setting.  Some questions that you might ask yourself before speaking with students are:

  • Will the students use technology in the classroom?  How?
  • Will the students use their own device or a school owned device?
  • Does the school require monitoring software on all computers?  What happens if a student does not have that software on the computer?
  • What is your comfort level with students using technology independently in the classroom?
  • Are students allowed to use social media in your classroom during instruction?
  • What is the consequence if a student uses technology inappropriately in the classroom?
  • How will a student know when it is acceptable to use technology for non-academic purposes and when it is not?

As the educator, you need to set clear expectations for the use of technology in the classroom.  However, we must also recognize that students will find ways to work around the rules and expectations we set.  This is especially true if we do not include them in the discussion and only dictate the rules to them.  Worse, if you outline one set of rules, and the teacher next door does something completely different, the students will be upset and work to disrupt the teacher who has set stricter expectations.  However, if you involve the students in this discussion on what is acceptable use, they will support the class expectations that are set, especially if they believe that they are responsible for its development and the usage is fair to the class setting.

Students want to know why they must follow a direction or rule.  Students are just like adults in that regard and knowing “why” is a fair request.  Providing the explanation as more than “because the school policy says so” or worse “because I say so” is critical.  So is allowing flexibility under the guidelines.  Consider how we use technology in the school as an adult.  We use it to communicate, check social media, email, set appointments, and many other uses.  If we tell students to not do these things, then do them ourselves, we create a natural conflict.  However, if we allow for appropriate use of technology in the classroom, we must teach the students what that looks like.

In addition to creating your own class expectation of technology and agreeing to it, one must also teach appropriate use.  Ideally, this is a school-wide instruction on how to use technology appropriately.  In this manner, consistent uses of technology can be shared school-wide.  However, absent this expectation, the teacher must provide this instruction.  Regardless, the teacher must provide at least minimal instruction on what the expectations are, and look like, within the classroom.  Model appropriate use.  Discuss it in class.  Allow them time to use technology appropriately.  Reinforce appropriate behavior.  And most importantly, respectfully address breaches of the class technology expectations.

This is not to say that we allow students free reign within our classroom to use technology as they see fit.  We must identify that this would be a problem.  Instead, it is to provide instruction and guidelines on technology use, especially as we technology in class or in professional settings.  The complex issues of cyber-bullying, online harassment, and abuse need direct instruction and clear guidelines.  However, copying information from sites or even plagiarism or using copyrighted material are not clear.  We must instruct on these topics, so our students understand rather than assuming what they know and finding ourselves addressing issues of academic honesty.

 From a purely management standpoint, it is recommended that the teacher uses some form of a sign, non-verbal image or signal to alert students when they might use technology freely.  Identify when students must use strict classroom expectations, and when they may have flexibility in its use.  Realize one very important point though, unless you have the ability to fully control the electronics devices in the classroom, you do not have full control of the management of the devices.  It is a hard reality, but a reality none the less.

Some teachers choose to require students to check in cell phones early in class and get them at the end.  Some teachers have a holding area for technology where items are stored.  Some teachers choose to allow students to use devices freely in class with minimal expectations.  There is nothing wrong with any of these options.  It depends on you, the educator or administrator, to determine acceptable levels of use.

As my background is in health and physical education, I can not highly stress the importance of breaks from technology.  Provide students with options to technology use or simply times for the students to have breaks.  Students do need to disengage from technology and have discussions that do not require electronic devices.  This is where a teacher can bring in Socratic Seminars or other discussion strategies to engage students without devices.

Finally, on can not address the issue of a technology use policy without addressing the consequences for violation of said policy within the school and classroom.  These must be reasonable, enforceable, and appropriate for the environment.  The students will need technology for use in their classrooms or simply for communication during the day.  To simply take the electronic devices as a consequence, while effective, results in the teacher or administration being responsible for damage to the device.  In addition, the student may have a legitimate need to use the device during the day and loss of it would create a hardship for the student and teachers.  That being said, there should be a consequence for the student who continues to violate the technology use policy.  That may mean checking the device into the office in the morning, or not bringing a laptop to school.  The more creative a school can get with this, and the more the student is responsible for the consequence and re-education of the use of the device, the more effective the consequence will be.  However, for this to be effective, consequences must be consistent and enforce the policy.  The greatest challenge the administrator will face is inconsistency within the school in this regard.

I would strongly urge anyone looking at technology use policies to do their research and step into this process with a reason for why you are doing it.  Do not simply exclude technology from your program.  Nor should you allow free reign of the use of technology with no restrictions.  Find the place where you are most comfortable and start there.  Review your plans, whether they are policies or classroom management within six months of implementation and ask “how is it working?”  Make adjustments as necessary as issues arise until the school is comfortable with the policy and management style.

All schools must face the issue of technology head on as it is not going away.  Determine what is your belief about the use of technology and form your documents and plans around that belief.  It can be a difficult process but ultimately sets your school up for success moving into the future.

Feel free to contact us here at International School Leadership and Teamwork about the management of technology in the classroom or other classroom management policies.

Classroom Management

Classroom Management: First Things First

The first question the administration needs to ask itself is “why does classroom management matter to us?”  We can take a page from Simon Sinek and his book series including Start With Why (2009).  We need to know why we are going to address the behavior before we begin to tackle the classroom issues.  We often want to jump to the how we are going to do things and the what we are going to do before we have addressed the “why” question.

Each school is different and unique.  Each administrator has a reason for tackling the issue of improving classroom management with its teachers.  That reason may be a significant behavioral issue within the school.  There simply may be a desire to bring all teachers together with the same focus for classroom management.  Possibly, the goal is simply to improve school climate from good to great.  The first step is to identify why you are going to bring time, energy and resources to bear on classroom management.  Identifying you purpose for this will make it easier over time to remind your staff when you are discussing the how and why.

It is valuable to check your own beliefs, and that of the administrative team, about what the school values.  Undoubtedly, you have a discipline policy for the school that states some of these values and consequences for violating these rules.  But, what do you believe about the school climate?  Are there non-negotiables that the administration or school values and expects to be consistent across the school?  What about areas that you feel are not important to enforce?  Are these also identified?  Have you told your staff about the non-negotiables and how they are enforced?  What about the things you don’t feel are critical to the function of the school?  Those are as important to share with the staff.  I would strongly suggest that this is completed with a group of administrators and teachers for the best results.

Once you have set a baseline for expected behaviors, it is far easier to step into the teacher’s classroom to address specific behaviors, or general classroom management.  Not everything is critical in the school, but some things are.  Just like the teacher’s classroom.  Some teachers enjoy noisy teaching spaces while others expect near silence and both classes can be amazing and well managed.  Just like what the administrators’ value, teachers value different expectations class by class.  Your goal is to help teachers develop well managed classrooms that are highly effective, without your own personal biases impacting your decisions.

An administrator who can self-reflect and identify the why behind addressing classroom management issues within the school can clearly articulate this with the staff.  The removal of personal biases from the discipline and management process of the school, while difficult, is a key ingredient to moving forward.  The step helps to eliminate confusion among the teachers and the staff about key issues.  It also helps to clarify what is important for the staff and the students.  This process is not a simple one.  It is a lengthy reflective process that should be a key element in all important decisions in the school.  This is a valuable step in the process which will propel you forward to moving into the classroom with a clear sense of purpose and vision moving ahead.

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, N.Y.: Portfolio.

Classroom Management

Why Good Classroom Management Matters

I have been thinking a lot about classroom management lately.  I have not been thinking about the discipline models, but the teacher’s management of their teaching space.  When I say classroom management, I am talking about everything that a teacher does from the moment a student walks in the door to when that student leaves to make the classroom run smoothly.  Classrooms where the educator is a master of management strategies are the classrooms where good things happen.

As an administrator, we want our teachers to understand the importance of structures, routines, patterns, and low-level discipline strategies in the classroom.  The teacher who manages the behaviors of students within the confines of the classroom makes our life easier.  There will be less referrals to the office.  There are less disruptions in the classroom.  The teacher has positive healthy relationships with students.  We want the teacher to feel empowered to manage students within the class knowing that we will support that teacher.

In contrast, we will be challenged by teachers who do not have good classroom management skills.  They struggle with maintaining positive, working relationships with students especially in difficult situations.  Their classes may struggle with completing work in a timely manner.  They may be challenged by maintaining good order in the classroom.  The management strategy of behavior may turn to sending students to the administration rather than addressing behavior in the classroom.

Once a teacher becomes accustomed to leaning on administration to address behavior, the students recognize this as an opportunity to get out of class.  Relationships may be damaged.  Behavior may escalate.  Students may not respect the administration and then, the administrator must decide how to respond to the teacher to address the management issues.  In a positive setting, we would identify this early and address it with mentoring, instruction, observation, and guidance.  We want our teachers to succeed and be strong academic teachers and have positive relationships with students in regular daily interactions.  Good classroom management strategies are necessary for teachers to be successful in their room.

We will need to address behaviors of students.  That is part of the job.  We will be required to deal with extreme behaviors by students and address those when they happen.  However, on a daily basis, we want our teachers to address as much in the class as possible and support them when needed.  It makes our job easier.  In the coming weeks, I will add my thoughts on how teacher can become good managers by identifying key areas of their classroom management plans and strategies.  I will also identify areas that administrators can support their teachers to become better managers of student behavior.

In future writings on this topic, I will draw from the works of Dr. Kendall Zoller, Michael Grinder, and others as a point of reference.  There is a wealth of great resources available for administrators and teachers regarding classroom management.   I look forward to sharing some of it with you.