January Reboot: Using The New Year To Amp Up Classroom Management

by Becton Loveless

Seasoned teachers know that the end of holiday break can cause a sinking pit in the stomach. The thought of returning to an unruly class of kiddos who will be all-too-amped-up on holiday sugar can make any educator want to call in sick. This is especially true if your classroom management wasn’t up to par in the first part of the year. Did December leave you counting the minutes until you were free of your students? It makes sense that you wouldn’t be chomping at the bit to get back into the classroom. Don't get too worried- a new classroom management plan can be enough to have you stop dreading- maybe even start looking forward- to getting back to your kids. The start of a new year is a great opportunity to start fresh. Even if you were struggling with management in the first part of the year, your kids don’t need to know if that’s the reason behind your restart. January is natural time to kick things into high gear, and it’s likely that your kids will appreciate the clean slate.

The Plan

While it’s tempting to keep the laptop closed over holiday break, this time can actually be super useful. Give yourself a few days to reset, and then take some time to reflect on your classroom. What’s going well? What needs to change? Ruminate on your ideal classroom, and create a new management plan that will get your class where you want it to be. It's important to be real with yourself about what aspects of your teaching style and classroom policies need to be changed.

If you’re thinking, “But I already did this in August before school started…” Pause for a moment. You have a huge advantage now- you know your kids. You know who can sit next to who. You know what types of discipline are (and aren’t effective), and what type of rewards motivate your kids. Use the knowledge you’ve acquired over the past few months to make your plan effective.

One of the best places to start is with a new seating chart for each class. Michael Linsin, author and founder of the Smart Classroom Management blog, states, “A new place to sit signals to students that change is in the air. The old way of doing things isn’t in play any longer.” When kids walk into your classroom after break and see that things are different, they'll wonder what other changes you're making. They'll be ready to listen. If you had no-assigned-seats policy in the past, this is the perfect time to change that. Separate your talkers, and strategically place your good influences. You know who needs to be in the front of the room with you and who can handle the back.

You’ll also want to think about switching up how your room is arranged. If students have been in groups, have them sit in pairs. If they’ve been in pairs, switch it up and place the desks in rows. A new setup can help kids adapt to changes. When they sit in their new seat, they literally get a perspective of the classroom they haven't seen before. This helps to get them engaged in the roll out of your new policies.

Once your seating chart is solid, look at the expectations and consequences in your classroom. Get honest with yourself- have you been consistent? Fair? Following through every single time? If the answer is no, try to nail down why. Perhaps you’ve been too easy on your students because you want them to like you. Maybe your consequences aren’t doable, or you don’t have a good system of tracking behavior. Pinpoint the issues and revamp your management system to solve them.

Harry and Rosemary Wong, authors of The Classroom Management Book, agree with the importance of having a management system you can keep up with consistently. The Wongs state, “In a consistent classroom, students know from day to day how the classroom is structured and organized. If they break a pencil point, they know what to do. If they are tardy, need help from you, or need to move from one activity to another, they know what to do.” Kids need to know that things will be the same day in and day out in your classroom. Your consistency gives them that sense of security.

The Rollout

It can be nerve wracking to roll out a new discipline system to kids. Framing classroom changes in a positive light is important. Link your updated classroom management system to class goals. Whether you want your kids to beat the state average on standardized testing, want them to move up a grade level in reading, or want them to increase their average homework completion, it’s key to have a measurable goal. Link classroom behavior to your goal when you roll out your new system to your kids. Keep it simple. “We want to hit X goal, and when we see behavior Y, we’re further from our goal, so here’s how we’re going to change that behavior.” This can be a brand new goal, or it can be a goal you set in the beginning of the year. Either way, present the goal with excitement and let your kids know that you believe in their ability to accomplish it.

Petra Claflin, manager of digital media for YES Schools, encourages teachers to be honest about why a new disciplinary system is being rolled out. “If something’s not working, don’t be afraid to confidently say that to your students. Try introducing the ‘reset’ by saying something simple like ‘Students, our entrance procedure doesn’t seem to be working. We’re losing a lot of learning time and so we need to make a change.’ Students will appreciate your honesty.”

During your rollout, let your kids have a say, to a certain degree. It’s up to you how far you’d like this to go. Some teachers recommend having kids come up with their own consequences which can be tricky. Kids are harder on themselves than you would be. If they choose consequences like a phone call home every time someone calls out in class, you’re going to make call after call, or fail to follow through with the consequence. To help kids feel connected, have them sign a contract. This creates a sense of team, and can give you an extra tool when you need to drive home personal accountability.

At the end of the rollout, do a few checks for understanding. Ask kids what is changing in the classroom. Give them a few example situations and have them explain what consequences those situations would earn. Use any misunderstsandings as an opportunity to clarify your classroom policies moving forward.

The Implementation

The plan is in place, the kids are on board- now it’s time to implement. It’s normal to have some growing pains when kids are getting used to a new management system. Be firm- students will pull the “but I forgot!” card in the first week or so to see how far they can push you. This isn’t the time to give second chances. Prove to your kids that negative behaviors get the same consequence, every single time, no matter what. This will take a little extra work in the beginning, but it will pay off long term.

A visual reminder can go a long way in helping your kids stick to your new expectations. A poster with rules stated in positive language (for example, ‘we raise our hands to speak’ is better than ‘we don’t call out’) is helpful. While students are learning the new expectations, take a few seconds to go over the visual aid at the beginning of each class. When students recite the rules without looking at the aid, you know that things are beginning to sink in.

The Follow Up

Track your students progress, and celebrate improvements with them. A 5 minute class meeting once a week (this works well on Mondays, at the start of class) can clue students into where they’re doing well and what needs to improve. This can be a chance to set a positive tone. Shout out students who excelled in the previous week, and encourage them to shout each other out as well. Revisiting the rules often is a part of making your new classroom management plan work for the long haul.

If your classroom is in a place where a reboot might be helpful, don’t beat yourself up. Teaching is a learning experience for teachers and students alike. As we teach our kids- if something doesn’t work the first time, that doesn’t mean you give up. You try other ways until you find something that works for you.

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