Don’t Go to the Dark Side: Tips for Classroom Management
My friend James has chickens. They’re each named after dark lords from the Star Wars franchise.
Darth Vader. Count Dooku. General Grievous. That sort of thing.
Aside from the best eggs I’ve ever eaten, Darth Sidious and her fellow hen lords are schooling me in all sorts of life’s truths. Especially as a teacher dealing with students.
Like the importance of boundaries. Framing choices and following through with consequences. The value of pep talks. How routines shape expectations. The incredible influence of loving presence. And of course, why having fun is a beautiful way of life.
The force is strong with these chooks.
No doubt we need the wisdom hatching in the world of the Sith chickens. Because when it comes to managing a room full of students, ‘do or do not; there is no try.’
Sith Chicken Lesson #1: Building Fences Because You Care
There is great value in people knowing where they stand with those guiding them. Letting them know how far you’re willing to go to see them succeed might be just as important as you letting them know how far they can go until they’ve crossed the line. Just as the chickens need a fence to protect them from predators and keep them from wandering off to dangerous places, so students need healthy boundaries of expectations to keep them in line with positive growth.
The quality of your fence depends on your investment into their lives.
We’ve all heard the saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Sure, you are there to teach your kids what you know, but letting them know straight up (and then continually reinforcing) how much you care for them is foundational in effective classroom management. This can be done with simple actions and words such as:
a smile, making eye contact, saying “I’m proud of you”, and offering a genuine “How are you today?”
Sith Chicken Lesson #2: Consequences of Choices
For a while there, the chickens were getting into things they weren’t supposed to and going outside of their boundaries. Their choice. But that choice meant their freedoms were suspended until they learned to behave again.
If your students choose not to respect the boundaries you’ve set for their benefit, it is their choice. However, those choices need to have natural and immediate consequences. When we’re talking about managing a classroom of students, you need to be the one in control framing their choices, not letting them run the show.
If you don’t want to cooperate now, you can stay in during recess to do your work.
You can continue to act like a monkey in the principal’s office or you can join the rest of your classmates in today’s lesson.
Managing means you are in charge. You set the boundaries and you frame the choices. They still get to choose, but they choose from your framework, not their own biased ones.
Sith Chicken Lesson #3: Power of a Pep Talk
Your students want your approval, whether it seems like it or not. If you are a positive role model in their lives, they will not want to let you down. They may need reminding where the fences are sometimes, but they’ll begin to understand that those fences are there for their benefit.
Because it is your relationship which lends weight to them believing you when you voice encouragement or disappointment. A troubled kid hearing you say you believe in them and know they can do better could very well be a game changer.
It is difficult to be a pain for a teacher you care about. But that starts with your initiative. Sometimes you need to scoop the chicken up and speak to them truthfully and authoritatively. Sometimes you need to show an extra bit of compassion because they’re having a hard time in other areas of life. And sometimes you need to paint the honest future you see if they continue on their chosen course. But making a point to speak into the lives of your students will go a long way in how they act in your class.
And outside of class as well.
Sith Chicken Lesson #4: Routines Shape Expectations
The chooks are let out in the morning. They get fed in the afternoon. And they get tucked away at night time. When James walks up to them, they know food and play time is at hand.
Routine just sounds like a dirty word, doesn’t it? I suppose we equate it with settling and for some reason are afraid of that. But we need the stability that routine provides. In a classroom setting, routine can offer everyone a valuable framework for knowing what is expected of them.
From there, you are free to get creative in teaching methods and style. Routine doesn’t need to mean seriousness all the time either. Just some predictability so your students have a handle on the challenges you are about to present them.
Sith Chicken Lesson #5: You, Present
It amazes me to see these chickens follow my friend around like a puppy dog would. They’ll get close to him and he’ll bend down to pick them up and they hunch in expectation. Cradled in his arms, they contentedly cluck their happiness.
People are drawn towards those who love them. We know when we’re safe and cared for and encouraged. If you’re just smiling because it’s part of your paycheck, again, your choice; just don’t expect to get much honest reciprocation. But if you’re genuine in loving and being present with your students, you will gain precious ground in their lives.
This plays out in how you speak to them in class, what your posture towards them communicates, how well you listen, how you look at them, whether you smile or not, how you greet them, how you dismiss them, and all sorts of verbal and nonverbal attitudes. Believe me, they are watching. They are talking about you because you are the one who shapes their learning experience into either positive or negative categories.
Which is why this last lesson is the linchpin in classroom management.
Sith Chicken Lesson #6: Good Times Had By All
If you’re not having fun as a teacher, your students aren’t either. Unless their fun is gained in disobedient and rebellious ways.
Who can blame them, really? They still see life as an unfolding of endless possibilities, full of joy and mystery and heartache and dreams. You remember what it’s like to be that age? In time, the realities of adulthood will settle on them and they will become hardened and cynical like many of us. But they are not there yet.
Thus, you set the tone. You set the mood. You bring the light.
Even if you do not enjoy your job, you can choose to make learning fun. You can choose to be the teacher who not only helps your students gain knowledge, but also how to succeed at life, how to keep striving for their best, and the wisest of all disciplines: how to laugh. Because fun is contagious and deeply valuable. If your students are having fun, classroom management will be a byproduct.
I’ll be honest with you though. One doesn’t need Star Wars chickens to understand these truths nor to find happiness.
But never underestimate the power of the chook side.