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Classroom management is essential to learning. No learning can happen if a class is loud, crazy, or not in their seats. Trust me. There are quite a few “keys” to classroom management—today I am going to focus on the three top keys to classroom management.
For the record, I am definitely not an expert. I have learned a lot in the short time that I have been teaching, and I am trying to share that with other people. Hopefully this can be helpful!
If you are looking for more specific strategies, you can read this post about specific classroom management systems.
Key #1: Clear Expectations
I cannot stress this enough.
One of the most important keys to classroom management is having clear expectations.
Because if students don’t know what is expected, how can they do what you want?
This is hard for music teachers in particular, because we see so many different classes. I have been in that situation where you swear you told a class something, but you didn’t. Somehow, you told the other 29 classes, but not this one.
The other difficulty is that we only see the students for a short amount of time. Sometimes, they just plain do not remember.
Having said that, make sure you go over procedures at the beginning of the year AND as it comes up.
Until it is perfect.
For example, every time every one of my classes gets in line, we talk about how. I always say: We are going to get in line. I am looking for people who are quiet. I am looking for people with their hands in their pockets or folded. We need to do a good job so that we can…. (get a class point, earn a sticker (I use these— super cheap and the kids can pick their color), whatever the management system is, insert here).
And as soon as the first students get in line I start with: I see only person with their hands in their pockets. Thank you so-and-so for being quiet.
It gets tedious, but it is necessary. If I forget, I regret it.
The same thing with getting supplies. We talk about how to pick up the supplies, we talk about what is appropriate to do with them, we talk about what to do with them when we sit down.
The more specific you can be, the better.
Say we are picking up scarves (if you haven’t figured out from this lesson and this lesson, I LOVE scarves!) for an activity. This is word for word what I will say: When I see a row that is quiet and criss-cross applesauce, I will call them to come up front and get a scarf. Remember, we do not walk through the people, we go around. When you get to your seat, put the scarf on the floor and hands on your shoulders. If my hands are on my shoulders, am I touching my scarf? Should I hit people with my scarf? Throw it up in the air? Should I put it in my mouth? No. If you do those things, you will lose your scarf.
It seems like a lot of talking, but it is very helpful.
And trust me, the one time you forget to say that we are not putting our scarves in our mouth, someone will do it.
Also read: Free Music Lesson: Bizet Scarf Routine
Key #2: Reinforcement
You would think that students could remember things like “Don’t throw your marker in the air” for five minutes.
Or at least, most of mine don’t. Maybe you do not have these problems and the keys only apply to me. But I doubt it.
As soon as we start to do something, I point out the behaviors I like. When we get the supplies, like I was saying, I immediately go into: Oh good. I see one person with their scarf on the floor thank you for putting your hands on your shoulders. Thank you for not touching the scarf until we are ready.
It sometimes feels ridiculous, because it is constant. But it is helpful.
And yes, it even works on fifth graders.
Sometimes I just look around the room and start counting how many people are doing XYZ. Or I will point to everyone sitting the right way and say “Good”. And that is all it takes for a lot of classes.
What about the ones that it doesn’t work with?
Add something tangible. Stickers or music tickets or points or something. Once I added my class points (I talk about it here), students had something concrete to work for. They know that if they do what they are supposed to, the class can get a point. And they need that if their class is going to win the party at the end of the year.
And with some classes, I add something extra. If you get so many points, they can do freeze dance or a song they like or Disney sing along or something of that nature that gives them a more immediate reward.
Also read: Really Specific Classroom Management Systems for the Music Room
Key #3: Consistent Follow Through
This is the biggie. It is the most important of the keys.
If you say you will do something, you HAVE TO DO IT.
So if I said you would lose your scarf if you are throwing it in the air, I have to follow through.
If you say you will call mom, you have to call mom.
If you say they can earn freeze dance, you have to let them do it.
This is the biggest of the keys, because it shows that you mean what you say.
I do this with instruments all of the time. I use Mrs. King’s phrase (check out the awesome post she did on classroom management here!) of “If you play before I say, I will take your instrument away.” And you know what? Every single time, someone plays their instrument. And then they go sit out. At the beginning of the year, they would look at me like I stole their puppy. I heard a lot of, “Give me one more chance!” But I would reply, “I mean what I say. I said it would happen, now it is happening.”
Side note—I let them earn it back, because students not working is not helpful to anyone. Most of them are very careful.
And sometimes, you just need that one person to lose it for everyone to get the picture.
Now that it is almost March, they believe me when I say it. That doesn’t mean they do it perfectly, but it means they do it less. And they no longer look at me like I am sealing their puppy.
Also read: Lessons form my First Semester Teaching Elementary Music
These are the very basics of classroom management—keys that must be in place for everything else! You can read about Specific Classroom Management Strategies here. And when everything fails, you can read How to Destress After a Crazy Day of Teaching (I’m not going to lie, right now it’s been a long two weeks!).
Let us know your keys to classroom management in the comments! And don’t forget to subscribe for more ideas!