I was a teacher for ten years. I’ve been a parent for four. When I make mistakes in parenting and wind up with a Whopper Freak Out, it’s almost always because I’m neglecting a basic tenet of good classroom management. So this summer, I’m tightening up on the following, and I hope you will, too.
1. Practice Giving Clear Directions
SCOSM is the acronym that I use in the Classroom Management Course when defining good directions. It means Specific, Concrete, Observable, Sequential, and with an optional Magic Word (like “Go”). It’s the difference between “Go brush your teeth,” and “When I say ‘Go,' walk to the bathroom, pick up your blue toothbrush, take out the toothpaste, unscrew the cap, squeeze a tiny bit on the bristles, and brush back and forth. Ready? Go!”
If your kids are super young (like mine) or prone to pushback, I’d wait for completion of every step before moving on, like this: “Walk to the bathroom. Thank you. Now pick up your blue toothbrush. Good…” and so on.
The skill of giving clear directions works in all contexts. When you return to the classroom, it becomes:
“When I say ‘Go,' close your independent reading books and put them in your bookbags. Take out your English binders, and put a heading on a fresh piece of looseleaf. Pencils down and eyes on me when you’re done. Ready? Go!”
Try it with your kids — or some nieces, nephews, or neighbors — so you can rock it in your classroom.
2. Practice Emotional Constancy
In our classrooms, we make the weather. We have to maintain a demeanor that is pleasant and likable no matter what baggage students bring through our doors or what emotions they let loose. In the Classroom Management Course, Dave and I call this emotional skill Constancy. And I don’t know about you, but my kids give me AMPLE opportunities to practice this skill. Truth: sometimes we fail and look and sound visibly annoyed. This is not because we are bad people. We’re good people responding to frustrating situations. But the visible annoyance NEVER makes things better and almost always makes things worse. So we must practice a different response. And every time I succeed, I strengthen my stay-calm muscle for both my kids and my eventual students. You can, too.
So the next time your child is frustrating — they don’t listen when you said to clean up (maybe because your directions were unclear?), they say, “No,” when you tell them to go to bed, they are making towers out of ramekins and glassware instead of eating dinner — take as many deep breaths as you need, and then get quiet. Validate their emotions if there are any. “I see you’re upset.” Then repeat your direction. “Right now I need you to…”
Every time you are able to maintain this internal calm with your kids, not only is it better for you all in the moment, but you are readying yourself for a much more successful and productive school year with your students. If you make a mistake and get annoyed, shake it off and look up for the next curveball your kids throw you, because it’s coming. And it’s invaluable batting practice for next school year.
3. Practice Giving a Consequence
I saved this one for last because I know not everyone likes or uses consequences, or the word consequences, or people who use the word consequences. That’s fine. In our Classroom Management Course, Dave and I advocate using a Classroom Management Plan that includes consequences for repeated rule-breaking. We are not shy or apologetic about this because we believe the Plan helps us protect everyone’s right to learn and enjoy school. Now, in your home, you might not want to write up a Plan as formally as you would in your classroom. But let me give you an example to illustrate what this might look like in a home setting.
My son James has a hard time staying in his bed. As his parent and the person responsible for his well-being, I know that when he gets in his brother’s bed, neither one sleeps well, and they are miserable the next day. This tiredness is the natural consequence, but it is not enough to “work” and prevent the behavior the next night. So as his parent, I need to provide a more immediate consequence in order to deter the behavior.
First, I make a clear rule: Stay in your own bed. If he breaks this rule and gets out of bed once, he gets a warning. Why a warning first? Because sometimes there is a gray area, and a warning is a consequence I can give in these uncertain areas without feeling badly about it. Examples: he has to poop, he needs a tissue, I accidentally locked the dog in his room on our way out. If he gets out of bed twice, he gets his stuffed giraffe taken away. That’s the consequence. He loves that giraffe.
I communicate both the rule and the consequences to James BEFORE bedtime, maybe during afternoon snack. And then at bedtime, I simply remind him. All of this is in a tone that is neutral and friendly. I am not trying to scare him into behaving. I am simply informing him of the rule and the consequence.
Now the moment of truth: when I become aware that James is out of his bed, either because I hear his sweet, little voice in the hallway or because I hear thumping on the wall, I walk him back to bed, look him in his sweet, brown eyes, and say, “This is your warning. Stay in your bed.” Again, calm and friendly. Not annoyed. Not threatening or taunting. Just informing. I wait a beat, and then I leave.
Then, if he does it again, I walk him back to bed, take his giraffe, and say, “You are losing your giraffe. Stay in your bed.”
You know, I actually had a hard time writing this section because I know I’m still working on this. I say different things on different nights. Sometimes I allow a free pass because, really, I think he’s telling the truth this time that he DOES have to poop now even though he didn’t ten minutes ago. Sometimes I don’t even give him a warning and go straight for taking his giraffe. On tough nights, it looks more like snatching, because I’m just so fed up and want him to stay in bed.
How often does that happen in our classrooms? How often do we let one kid call out because he asked such a good question, and another day we’re on a calling-out vendetta because we can’t get through a sentence anymore, and so we assign a whole class a detention because they keep calling out?
So this summer, practice giving a small consequence consistently. Pick an area of your day in which your kids are breaking a rule and driving you crazy. Name the clear rule and the consequence. Talk to them about it in advance in a calm, friendly way. Explain that you’re keeping them healthy, safe, whatever is the reason for the rule. And then follow through. Every time.
When you do that, you are practicing for the fall, when you’ll make a Classroom Management Plan for your students, who cannot wait to meet you, their teacher. You’ll tell them the rules, and you’ll tell them the consequences. You’ll tell them that it’s your job to protect their right to learn and enjoy school. And you’ll promise them that you’ll follow through, every single time.
And you will, because you practiced on your own kids — or on nieces, nephews, and neighbors — all summer long 🙂
Want to refresh your classroom management? Sign up for the Classroom Management Course here! Open this summer.