It is all about relationships


This may be unpopular. Heavens knows it was unpopular when I would say it at the opening faculty meeting of every year as a principal, but I believe this statement in the depths of my soul. 

“The minute I am required to assist you in discipline, classroom management, by default, has failed.”

I would clarify that it did not mean that they had failed, but as an administrator, the instant I am involved it is no longer classroom management. I would also analyze and discuss openly referral data. While I wanted students held accountable for negative behaviors, if one teacher had written 90 referrals and multiple others had written less than five in the same time span, then that deserved analysis and conversation. 

On top of that, my perspective was skewed. I cut my teeth as a teacher in an inner-city school on the South Side of Chicago. The “rough” classes where I was principal would have been dream classes where I was from. This perspective did not minimize the challenges our teachers were facing, but it gave me steadfast belief. IT CAN BE DONE!!

Now to be clear, when I was a teacher in Chicago, it was not being “done” by me. I was a newbie and just trying to stay alive, but it was being done in pockets of excellence all around me. The same kids that I could not get to sit down were attentively taking notes in a few of my colleagues’ classrooms. It can and was being done all around me, and once I figured out what it was that set those teacher apart, I came to believe that the skills they demonstrated would make for successful classroom management anywhere on this planet. 

Those around me at Percy Lavon Julian High School that were killing it and had kids responding in kind did the following five things: 

  • Set high expectations
  • Provided support and accountability
  • Delivered engaging lessons
  • Remained unafraid of noise or movement
  • Loved their kids

High Expectations – No student can meet a target that they cannot see, articulate, and measure their own progress toward. This is true in academics and behavior. Too often teachers lower the bar upon early struggles with classroom management. That is an easy way out that always backfires. Keep the standards high. 

Provided Support and Accountability – When I finally knew I was on my way with classroom management was when I heard a student say to a friend, “Mr. C is cool, but he don’t play.” There is a difference between nice and soft. Correspondingly there is a difference between accountability and being mean or disrespectful. There is never a place for screaming or arguing with kids. Remember, we are the adults—we win the argument so there is no need to engage. Lastly, accountability, when done right can build—not destroy relationships. 

Engaging Lessons – Kids who are learning are behaving. If you want to improve behavior, improve your lessons. If you are not quite sure how to do this, the simplest way is to require students to think deeply. If students are engaged in thought (analysis, evaluation, synthesis), then classroom management does not need to be your priority. The danger zone is when you think more about classroom management than you do teaching and learning. 

Unafraid of Noise, etc. – Teachers that fear losing control of their class do not allow enough freedom of voice and movement. As a result, they still see the same amount of voice and movement but at the pleasure of their students as opposed to fitting within the context of the lesson. Loud often means learning. All kids deserve a right to speak and listen in every lesson. Give it to them. Oh yea, and let them move around as necessary. This may seem like a huge distraction—and it may be in isolation, but it is not when it becomes the norm. You can establish that. 

Love their kids – I was not a good teacher when I started my career. I was not an expert in sociology and I was teaching kids I was three and four years older than who almost all had way more life experience than I did. They could have eaten me up if they wanted. But, you know what, they went easy on me because they knew I cared about them and cared about learning. Kids have a great way of sensing out who truly and deeply cares about them, and I am not sure there is a kid alive who enjoys disappointing someone who cares about them and respects them as a human being.