That moment when your class needs a “reset”

Do you feel it?

…the “honeymoon phase” between you and your classes is over. I’ve been feeling that, too.  Today, I’ll share some ideas for what we might try doing about it.

At a few points in the year, there’s a natural tendency for the well-oiled machine of a classroom to become squeaky. Even in a classroom with engaging lessons and smart classroom management plan, the students start to get antsy, get too comfortable in the way they speak to you (I’m talking about a lack of respect, not positive rapport), or get complacent about their behavior.  

It’s not sudden. It’s a gradual loss of control. It takes a second longer for students to give you their attention. The student who was making an academic turnaround this year stops submitting his homework. Those two friends are a lot less focused on their work, and a lot more focused on interacting with each other at the the most inopportune times.

Here are the specific examples I have observed that show me it’s time for a reset in one of my classes:

  1. Physically, I get more tired at the end of a school day. My voice, especially
  2. It takes longer to get the students’ attention during transitions
  3. A lower percentage of students are following procedures like beginning an activity when the bell rings
  4. Students are having conversations more around their social lives outside of class instead of discussing the questions or topics you share with them

We can address this with a methodical, unemotional approach, applying different solutions to the situation, then determining what works and what doesn’t work.

Here are a few ideas for how to do a “reset” when it feels like your class needs one:

Change Seats

This is quick and easy. You can do this throughout the year on a schedule or only when you feel the need for it. I think regularly changing seats helps build the class community. You might get a hint that you need a change from another teach observing your class, if you’re comfortable with that. Which leads me to…

Have a colleague observe you

Choose someone who you trust and who is honest enough to provide you with objective feedback. You can offer to observe them and provide feedback on their teaching, too. Offer the colleague a specific part of your practice that you might want him/her to pay attention to during the class.

Deliberately revisit and remodel the appropriate classroom behaviors

Many high school teachers might feel that this will not be received well by students. But, like with all parts of our teaching, students will not meet expectations that we do not set for them. Their behavior will fall to the lowest common level of what is accepted in class. So, if you deliberately model for students the fact that “keep objects to yourself” means you cannot throw a paper ball into the garbage can, or grab the pen out of a classmate’s hand, you might be surprised at how students are reminded of their own behavior and what is acceptable and unacceptable.

After both Dave Stuart Jr and Jennifer Gonzales of Cult of Pedagogy wrote about Smart Classroom Management with Michael Linsin, I knew he had some ideas worth of my time investment.  I picked up his short guide call Smart Classroom Management Plans for High School, and I’ve been trying it out this year.

You can begin a new classroom policy at any point of the year, if you have the courage to articulate it clearly and assertively to students, and the consistency to enforce it fairly and always.

Reflect on your lesson plans and look for routines that have become ruts. Change it up.

My student teaching supervisor and long-time mentor Mr. Sowder asked me, “When does a routine become a rut? When does a structure become a crutch?” This might be the single question (I consider it the same question, just re-worded) that I use in my teaching. When you can find where you begin to cruise on autopilot in your teaching, and evaluate those places to ensure that you can actually optimize those areas instead of just accepting them as they are, things will improve

Make positive phone calls home to as many students as you can

After parent-teacher conferences coming up soon, I’ll look at the attendance list for Back to School Night and parent-teacher conferences and contact any parent who I have not yet met on one of those two occasions. This will take some time, but I think it may go a long way to establish a year-long rapport with students and their families who need the most attention.

When you feel like your class, a small group of students, is getting out of control, don’t accept it. The school year is long, and students deserve the best classroom environment for learning that you can provide. That means reflecting, identifying the areas in need of improvement, and deliberately trying new ideas here in order to improve it.

Focus on what’s working

The number one important idea for dealing with the need for a “reset” in your class is to focus on the good things. Sometimes, considering the problems is overwhelming, and you need an emotional pick me up. That’s why my three reflection questions start with:

What’s working?

Before continuing to:

What’s not working?

So, what next?

Reminding ourselves of the basic parts of our classroom that are going well is the way to sustain our energy throughout the year. For everything else, it’s a tenacious dedication to trying new ideas and reflecting on their success that will improve the one reason we’re here: the learning of our students.

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