Imagine a classroom where the students monitored themselves-and not in that “hall pass police officer” type of way. Imagine a classroom where students encouraged each other to keep the room tidy, put things way and treat each other with respect.
It’s possible, because each year we turn out a classroom full of polite and respectful students, but it takes work. Creating a sense of agency is just as important as all the math and reading skills.
What is a sense of agency? It is a student-centered approach to classroom management.
Here are some ways we create a sense of agency.
We are “we.” The choice of word matters. It lets students know from the beginning of every sentence that we are all in this together.
We Own This Room Our physical classroom space belongs to all of us. Students help decide what goes on the walls, how the desks are arranged, how we hand out materials and where we sit. (Disclaimer-this takes time and not all of it happens on the first day). On the first day the desks are laid out however we feel is good and we ask students to pick a seat. We talk about what we need to learn-our own space, quiet/not too quiet, room to work or write, special tools like chairs, pencils or fidget tools and we decide how we will try to make it work. Then we test it. We let the students figure out that even though sitting with their BFF sounds great, it’s not necessarily the best way to learn. Over time we get to know what works and what doesn’t, but the options for students give them ownership because they want to make it work.
Is This Life or Death? We try really hard to give students perspective and options to solve problems on their own. Little Johnny is getting on Little Jamie’s nerves. little Jamie comes to “tell on” Little Johnny. Our response, “How would you like to deal with this?” Usually the student wants to sit somewhere else. Let them. Eventually they won’t ask anymore, they’ll just move away from the problem and solve it on their own. Give students permission to solve their problems-it will save you SO much time. We also remind students there are certain times when they need to get an adult-think safety.
Reward Positivity Catch students doing good, being kind, making a difference or solving problems effectively. Use these situations as teaching opportunities. “Thank you Jamie for finding a solution to your problem. I love that you found a better place to get your work done.”
A Class that Learns Together, Cleans Together About ten minutes before the end of every day, we have “housekeeping” time. We don’t assign specific jobs, but we ask students to tidy up the room. They sweep the floors, pick up items, put things away and tidy the shelves. This happens throughout the day when there is time, but at the end of the day we spend a few extra minutes. Eventually it takes less and less time. We encourage every student to help and students who are a little less helpful are given specific tasks to keep them on track until they learn it’s better to find their own things to clean up. For messier projects like art or science we sometimes give students wet wipes and see who can clean up the most paint or glue. When it’s clean we admire our work and say our good-byes.
Creating a sense of ownership in the classroom saves time and most of all, saves our sanity. Yes, it takes time-especially in the beginning-but the long-term investment is worth it. And we didn’t just come up with this idea. We did our research and one of the best resources we came across was this little pamphlet. We also found this post helpful.
What type of classroom do WE want? How are WE going to tackle this issue? How do WE want the rest of the school to see US? Language is important. We include students in our language from the first moment. We are a team-together.
What’s your classroom management struggle? Leave us a comment and we’ll see if we can help.