Written by Dr. Stephanie Knight
Children need structure. They also need to know that they have a caring teacher who has their best interests at heart. The minute students walk into my 8th-grade classroom, they know they are entering a warm team environment which promotes unity and cohesiveness. This is why I always suggest having a theme. With my last name being Knight, I developed a Knight’s Lights theme, so decorated light bulbs cover my classroom signifying that I see my students as bright lights with dreams and goals. They receive my “newsletter”, and I share. “Welcome to Knight’s Lights: “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; If you can dream it, you can become it.”-William Ward. I have them help me unpack the quote. Now, we can discuss a standard expectation: I expect you to be seated and ready to learn when the bell rings. Likewise, you should expect me to be ready to teach. This shows it goes both ways, and we are creating a place of mutual respect and unity to abound.
For rules, I have few, so I make them simple and straightforward.
- Respect yourself and other people
- We all have the right to be treated with respect and in Knight’s class no one is put down by anyone
- Be prepared and cooperate in the learning process
- Use school appropriate language and materials
As for consequences, we discuss that they make this choice. I add in information about attendance: My job is to make this class enjoyable and informative. I will never intentionally embarrass you. Your job is to come to class. Be there or be square. Neatness: I expect everything you turn in to be neat, or you will have to redo it. Homework and makeup work are discussed. I teach accountability and responsibility, so they understand “3 before me” which means if you miss class, you are responsible for making up the assignment. It is your responsibility to check with your team of three others if you miss. I will not be chasing you down. My discipline policy is simple: I prefer to deal directly with you instead of calling your parents. You are responsible for your own behavior. You behave yourself, and I’ll behave myself.
Finally, I mention fun: “We will have the maximum amount of fun allowable by law. Please bring your sense of humor to class.”
What I’m trying to establish is that I care and so should they. Much of this can be revised for any grade level. The big takeaways to effective classroom management come down to six key tenets:
- Model the behavior that you want. If you expect them not to talk during silent reading, then you should be silent yourself.
- Have straightforward communication about expectations up front so there are no surprises, and make sure you revisit these often.
- Be consistent and give them an opportunity to learn from their errors. Students want structure, so with fairness and respectfulness make your students They will see that you mean what you say. Remember you asked for respect from them and you earn their respect by being consistent as well.
- Smile often. If you treat every child as if they are the most important person in the room, you’ll be building individual relationships. Remember the old adage: “They don’t really care how much you know until they see how much you care.”
- Notice when a behavior is positive. This is so important for those kids who struggle. If we can find a genuine improvement, then we must show that we notice. Leave a post-it note on his or her desk or communicate it to them in a specific way. We must give feedback to our students to make sure they see that we are noticing (and caring about) them growing and learning.
- Be real with your students and be humble enough to share when you mess up. This transparency builds relationships and shows you are human.
We must remember that we are preparing kids for life not just for our classroom. If we have this long-term view, if we view each child as a bright light, and if we treat them with respect and hold high expectations for them, then we have set them up for success in and out of the classroom.
Dr. Stephanie Knight is an experienced 7th and 8th grade English language arts educator. She taught in Title One schools for eight years—helping them grow from underperforming to excelling—and then in an independent school for four years. Knight is now is part of Grand Canyon University’s adjunct faculty where she teaches graduate-level education and reading courses.