Having classroom management issues? Six tips for resetting expectations.

Almost all of us have experienced that sinking feeling when we realize that something about how our class is running is just not working and we need to do a ‘reset.’ It might be something procedural and a lot of time is being wasted at the beginning of class, for example, or it might be a management issue and students are talking when they should be working silently or consistently not following our directions in some other way. Some degree of ‘it’s not working’ is normal for every teacher at some point, but it can be unnerving if you don’t know what to do.  Here are some tips for tackling the situation smoothly, whether you’re putting a new plan in place or resetting an existing expectation.

Be honest. 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. If you try to spin it, blame the students, or force a change without any explanation, it’s likely to backfire or cause new issues.

Offer rationale. The older your students, the more important it is to offer rationale for why certain procedures or expectations are in place. Your explanation for why they have to work silently shouldn’t be ‘because I said so,’ it should be more along the lines of ‘because it allows your brain to focus and gives you a chance to see how you do on the skill on your own.’ So after your honest introduction of what isn’t working and what needs to change, offer a rationale of why it’s important for them that this procedure or expectation be in place.

Be clear & specific. Once you've determined the new plan or expectation, be very specific about what they should be doing. Depending on the situation, you might also tell them specifically what you’ll be doing. For example, if your ‘reset’ has to do with eliminating an inappropriate student behavior and you haven’t been giving them consequences for it previously, along with being specific about what they need to do, you might add something like, ‘I know I haven’t consistently been giving you a consequence for this behavior and I need you to know that from now on if you’re doing X, I will be following through with a consequence.’ That way they’re very clear about what they need to do and what’s going to happen moving forward.

Give feedback. One of my favorite strategies for resetting an expectation comes from Jaclyn McCormick, one of the managers of instructional coaching here at YES Prep. Her advice to teachers emphasizes focusing on a very specific behavior and then following up with feedback and next steps at the end of class. Some example feedback might be: ‘Okay class, today we were focusing on making sure we were raising our hands to speak instead of just calling out. When I was talking to the class, you all did a great job with remembering to raise your hands. Thanks so much for that. When we were working in groups, though, a few of you called out to me when you needed something. Tomorrow we’ll focus on making sure we’re raising hands during that portion of the lesson, as well.’

Keep at it. Real change in your classroom management and culture doesn't happen overnight and it doesn't happen at all if you're not consistent with it. So take a deep breath and get back in there, staying committed to holding yourself and your students accountable to the expectations and environment that will make learning possible!

Still not working? If students are not on board even after consistent efforts that probably means the issue is actually that you don’t have a strong enough relationship with your students for them to be bought into your expectations. If this is the case, keep trying the above tips, but you also need to build up those relationships. Try this post or this post for tips on building relationships and classroom culture.

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