A few days ago I wrote about my general philosophy of classroom management in a learner-centered classroom.
For the tl;dr crowd, it was about reexamining our classroom expectations, eliminating the unnecessary ones that limit learner autonomy, and then clearly defining the expectations that matter the same way you would in any classroom.
Today I want to elaborate on expectation-setting, but before I do that, a story!
My first year teaching, there were many ups and downs (surprising 😅). One of the things I struggled with, in particular, was classroom management. As a first year teacher, my instructional practices weren’t developed well enough to keep learners engaged, and I didn’t have a plan in place for when some would inevitably misbehave.
I learned from that first year and came into my second year like RoboCop, an unfeeling, unflappable deliverer of “justice.” I had my three strikes system and a stack of detention slips big enough to fill an entire desk drawer. I was strict, and it worked! Learners weren’t acting up as much. I was able to get through entire lessons without distractions. I felt like the coaches from my favorite sports movies, the hard-nosed, old school coaches who whip even their most rebellious players into shape. It felt really good, especially after my experiences my first year.
It was only at the end of that second year that I realized I wayyyyy overcorrected. The learners my first year, who were constantly disrupting and rarely engaged in learning, were replaced by the learners my second year, who became automatons in my room. Despite the relative chaos of my first year, I was able to make many more genuine connections with those learners, and learned a lot more about them as people.
That brings us to the present day, where I’m in my fourth year teaching, my first year in the middle school setting (which brings its own very unique set of quirks and surprises!).
I’ve come to realize there’s a happy balance between the two extremes of my first and second year.
Now, I see the importance of clear expectations that have the purpose and effect of increasing learner engagement and learning opportunities.
In a learner-centered classroom, students need to be part of that expectation setting conversation. In the beginning of the year, why not ask students what their ideal classroom looks like, and take it from there? Obviously, as far as expectations go, there will be some nonnegotiables you’ll need to make sure get included. Beyond that, let it become a class discussion.
If students are the ones setting expectations, they’ll know them and embrace them in a way you handing them a list of rules never could. Have them act out scenes of the ideal classroom and the classroom from hell; make it fun! Expectation setting doesn’t have to be a somber, deflating experience. Make it a prime example, right at the start of a new school year, of the way your classroom will operate, with students at the center.
Check back soon for the final part in this three-part series, where I’ll get into student redirection and how to handle those situations when students don’t live up to these expectations. Until then, let’s talk in the comments or on Twitter!
Psssst…for a really nice breakdown of how to structure a PBL unit, specifically, read AJ Juliani’s new post about it. This speaks to the importance of sound, engaging, and thoughtful teaching practices in reducing behavioral issues.