So How Do You Teach Classroom Management?

The New Distraction

Okay, fifty comments on a weekend post kinda settles the question, “Is there a market for classroom management tutorial?” I’m distracted now by a new question, raised several times throughout the comments, “Is classroom management too individualized, too tightly bound up in context, to teach?”

The Trouble Teaching Classroom Management

Yesterday I wrote an over-long since-edited post which positioned classroom management as an inverted pyramid, describing how, at the base level, you’re dealing with people who deserve specific, highly prescribed treatment, simple attitudes like, “treat others like you want to be treated,” which you could spend several lifetimes realizing.

But as you climb up into your role as a) teacher of a class, b) teacher of students, and c) teacher of very difficult students, the number of prescriptions splinter exponentially across vectors of personality and context.

For Instance

For instance, when I talk to a hurt or angry student outside, I’ll approach from the side. I’ll make some non sequitur about the weather or something to take the initial edge off. We’ll talk side-by-side, both of us facing the same direction because, subconsciously, I know this posture suggests we’re on the same team, both of us working towards a goal we’ll negotiate shortly. At their best, these resolutions ennoble teachers, students, and classes all at once.

But maybe you find the same results face-to-face, with direct eye contact and a commanding, caring presence. These tiny, crucial decisions are too tied up in context, background, and temperament to address comprehensively in a management course populated by sixty different preservice educators.

What Isn’t The Solution

Which is why I’m tempted less than ever towards authorship, towards a book of bromides and recommendations like those written above, so easily dismissed by the reader as “not me, not my class, not my kids.” Even if I could stock it with great stuff like TMAO’s, “We agreed to see in our kids their best, and demand it from them, daily,” a phrase which has been banging on my head like a kettle drum lately, your hit/miss ratio is gonna hover near one.

The Solution Then

I convinced myself recently that a) the solutions to classroom management conflicts vastly outnumber the conflicts themselves (ie. there are hundreds of solutions to a small set of archetypal conflicts) and b) you learn classroom management best by solving messy management problems of your own making.

Ideally you’d have a mentor ready to observe and post-mortem a terrible day with you, helping you find and own your solutions. But, lacking that kind of superior ed school experience, what if you had the ability to put yourself in the middle of someone else’s classroom management conflict at will?

To watch someone else flop and fail from arm’s length, in third person, after the fact. To then brainstorm solutions with a small professional group, maybe some mentors, maybe a small corps of new teachers observing the same train wreck and talking it out together, maybe on your own.

What if the simulated experience was portable, transferable, digital? What if your buddy called you from across the country, struggling with kids off-taskArchetypal Scenario #7 in his first year teaching and you could connect him instantly to a relevant management meltdown scenario and discuss it at a distance of several thousand miles?

Essay Prompts

I realize I’m being obnoxiously coy here, but feel free to give me forty words on:

  1. How would this kind of inductive approach — starting from failure, working backward to success — work for you?
  2. What deficiencies do you see in this approach?

Or anything else.

About 
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.

16 Comments

  1. The inductive approach to classroom management solutions is excellent! I truly believe that all teachers need to get their feet wet and create their own bag of tricks (that’s not to say that guidelines and a “5 points” list cannot be given…but you have to experience it). In Ontario (in Canada for the non-geography majors out there), they have a great teacher induction program where you get a mentor for the entire year. That’s not to say that he/she is in your classroom the entire year, but both the mentor and the mentee get two paid “mentor” days where they may visit each other’s classes or sit to discuss issues. I’d imagine that many other places have this as well, but any management issues that I felt I had in the first year was taken care of face-to-face, and it worked because my mentor teacher knew all the students I was teaching and I felt was able to help me by putting himself in my place better.

    The only possible problem with digital assistance with classroom management problems would be that there would be less personalization to it. If you say “No matter what I do with Dan he won’t be quiet”…it’s easy to give the blanket statement “he obviously isn’t enthused with your class…do something to make the class more relevant for him”. This gives no specific guidance to a first year teacher who has an immediate problem infront of him/her. All I’m saying is that if the solutions aren’t meaningful, relevant and immediate that the program won’t be effective.

    Sorry for being so negative. My next post I’ll be smiling (I promise).

  2. Yes. Ideally the new teacher would be in the classroom failing firsthand. Ideally some form of prescriptive advice would exist alongside the inductive approach.

    This is for all the other cases.

  3. For instance, when I talk to a hurt or angry student outside, I’ll approach from the side. I’ll make some non sequitur about the weather or something to take the initial edge off. We’ll talk side-by-side, both of us facing the same direction because, subconsciously, I know this posture suggests we’re on the same team, both of us working towards a goal we’ll negotiate shortly.

    I call this “kid whispering”. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s gotta be in the bag of tricks.

    The problem I see is that you could videotape a horrible management situation, but the proper solution to it, most of the time, is implemented days or weeks before hand.

    Even then, if you have a bag of tricks, they sti need to adapt to the population. I just switched schools this year, and it’s taken half a year for things that worked perfectly for me last year and the year before to adapt themselves to this new environment. I couldn’t tell you what’s different, only that it didn’t work all that well (though it certainly worked some) at the beginning of the year, and it’s much better now.

  4. 1. How would this kind of inductive approach — starting from failure, working backward to success — work for you?
    2. What deficiencies do you see in this approach?

    Very few new teachers succeed at first; they learn from making mistakes. Inductive approaches are great. I would say that it would probably be the best way to help new teachers. They need some immediate feedback about how they acted, and it would be very beneficial to go to someone who knows about the problem situation, but not the problem specifically.

    I have thought about blogging about classroom management many times, but as you said, it is too individual to speak about broadly. I have a mentor, but she teaches all 7 periods, and there is no time for us to get together. She can never observe me, and we cannot take any days off to work together. When I retire, I would like to be a classroom management consultant, and go around to schools and help teachers improve.

    I think it would be great to have a skype call with a “mentor” across the country while you are having the management issues, so they can hear and take notes and maybe even see what is going on.

  5. The problem I see is that you could videotape a horrible management situation, but the proper solution to it, most of the time, is implemented days or weeks before hand.

    @Mr. K.
    or days or weeks afterward

  6. I understand your enthusiasm but it sounds similar to what I recently went through in teacher pre-service. Trying to “figure out” what the best solution is makes no sense if you aren’t there to try the solution; it’s just an academic exercise.
    I suggest a book on teaching mathematics in your unique style; I struggle with HOW to revolutionize math instruction for the next generation and could use excellent examples as templates.

  7. I’m ready for some Vid Snacks or Show & Tell.

    Adding nothing, but somehow, I think I’ve added something.

  8. Dan:

    I’m gonna try to piggyback on Ken’s and Terri’s ideas, somewhat, by trying to shift the needle back to what I think you’re absolutely best at — as a writer with a critical eye — in terms of capturing your blog-audience’s attention.

    With an eye on employing a Trojan Horse spoof strategy to get to the real ‘art’ (or ‘heart’) of education in this day and age, I suggest you pen the following:

    Write a year-in-the-life early-career teacher memoir.

    Use a “Fake Steve Jobs” pseudonym tactic (thanking his/her mentor Dan Meyer, of course).

    Fill out the chapters and sidebars with a John Stewart ‘textbook’ aesthetic that allows you to throw in legit teaching and presentation strategies.

    Layer content/topics with a slightly Onion-esque quality in their assumption of truth-i-ness with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge slap in the head paradigm for good measure.

    Employ a supernova of design workhorses to showcase how information can be displayed/expressed.

    Stir it up. Serve on ice. And sit back as the crowds buy multiple copies for friends and colleagues alike.

    Personally, I think you’d absolutely crush such a project out of the park idea-wise while simultaneously inspiring mad Amazon link love in the edu-blogosphere (and beyond) with something penned in such a spirit.

    Frankly, very few could pull off a humorous, truthful, and ironic look at education (while still in the classroom)…and manage to bring in both the haters and lovers in the process.

    This doesn’t suggest that you should get rid of any virtual commiseration process that allows folks to kick around classroom management strategies that have been the center of 2 recent posts of yours. Hardly. Go there, too.

    But think about what book YOU’D both buy and proudly display on your coffee table that had education in the center of its sight. And how could you bring the unique Dan Meyer sensibility and razor-sharp tongue to such a project?

    Here’s how:

    Onion + John Stewart + “Fake Steve Jobs” + Feltron-style + Dan Meyer.

    Amazon is waiting! So am I!

  9. Ken & Christian, thanks for the suggestions. As this thing slowly chuffs out the station, I may push you boys a coupla followup questions.

    Terri, correct me: whether you’re reading a book of prescriptive advice or watching a bummer classroom management scenario unfold, those are both academic exercises, both split from the real classroom deal.

    Neither of which compares to an in-classroom flop + subsequent mentor-teacher post-mortem, but between the two, I think I’d elect the one I could adapt to my own context.

  10. but between the two, I think I’d elect the one I could adapt to my own context.

    Exactly why examples are better than aphorisms.

    Maybe it’s just me, but the most descriptive generality will rarely, if ever, teach me more than the most specific real-life occurrence.

  11. People tried to “teach” me classroom management when I was a young pup starting out and I found there are as many strategies as there are problems to be solved. None of them work without a few the basic ingredients I have picked up over the years.

    1) “In 20 years they won’t remember what you taught them, but they will remember how you made them feel.” (author unknown) Make the students feel like an important part of your classroom and you have made HUGE classroom management gains. Kids need to feel important. They don’t give a crap about the Pythagorean Theory or factoring Binomials.

    2) Teach the kids, not the subject. The kids are the reason you are there, not your love of your subject area. Let the kids know you want them to learn, expect them to learn and then find ways to help them learn. Its your job. Finding the length of the Hypotenuse will be learned, but not if you just expect them to be as interested as you are!

  12. “In 20 years they won’t remember what you taught them, but they will remember how you made them feel.”

    I agree.

    I’ll tack this on: Some students need to feel like they’re screwing up or that they’re not doing their best.

    Students need to feel guilty when they don’t do their work for no good reason or plagiarize or not follow directions. Correcting behavior is an important part of school, and it is the defense for “schooliness,” the subject of a recent blog I read somewhere.