Sixteen years ago, I was in the Faculty of Education and doing some of my first teaching placements. In each of my placements, I still remember the importance placed on “classroom management.” What did a well-managed class look like and sound like?
- Everyone looked at and listened to the teacher.
- All students sat properly and quietly on the carpet.
- Nobody spoke out.
- The volume in the classroom was never too loud.
- Children never wiggled in their spot or moved off of the carpet without permission.
- When the teacher gave an instruction, it was always followed right away.
I always tried to have strong classroom management skills. I heard that many first year teachers struggle with classroom management (I’ve been involved in the New Teacher Induction Program (Mentorship) for many years, and I still hear that), and I was determined not to be one of those teachers. I’m not so sure that I met that goal, but I definitely improved in classroom management over the years.
Then, in the past couple of years, I started learning more about self-regulation. I read Stuart Shanker‘s book and Ross Greene‘s book, and this new learning eventually led to me taking the Foundations Self-Regulation Course through The Mehrit Centre. I just started Foundations 2. These courses are making me think differently about classroom management.
I am not suggesting that a classroom should be chaotic. In fact, I believe strongly in the benefits of a calm learning environment, but I think that how students get to that calm level may vary child to child. For example, in the past month or so, I notice that as we regroup on the carpet at the end of the day, one of my students often gets up, walks away from the full group, and goes to sit on a chair in our Book Nook. He quietly flips through a book or two, and then joins the full class as we get packed up for home. The first time that this child moved away from the full group, I told him to come back to the carpet. The second time, I did so again. But the third time, I let him stay. I watched him. He’ll often join in with our songs and phonemic awareness games, but he does so with a book in his hand. He can’t quite tell you yet that he’s self-regulating, but this is exactly what he’s doing.
There is another child that comes in every morning, and often starts her day at our Free Flow Snack Table. She spends a long time there. She opens up many of her containers, eats some of the food, has a big drink, and talks quietly with the students that sit down. Usually then, after about 30 minutes, she packs up, walks away, and finds a place to learn. For a long time, I tried to get her to clean up earlier. I encouraged her not to open her entire lunch. I even tried to get her to avoid the snack table in the morning, with the hope that she would join a group sooner. But just like in my first example, I think that this snack table time is actually an opportunity for her to self-regulate. She comes in, almost every morning, very down-regulated. The food gives her energy. The small group discussions also help. She’s getting herself ready to learn.
My classroom management learning from the past has me doing a lot of thinking recently.
- In a “well-managed class,” would a child leave the carpet area, without permission, and make another choice?
- In a “well-managed class,” would a child continue to sit there and eat if the teacher asked her to pack up long ago?
- What about in a self-regulated class? What would happen then?
There is a part of me that wonders what educators and administrators would think if they came into our classroom. Would they understand? Would they support these kinds of decisions? I wonder though, as we gain a new understanding of self-regulation, do we need to start shifting our thinking? What might this shift look like? As an educator, administrator, and/or parent, how do you feel about this kind of shift? Let’s start this very important discussion.