New Teacher Advocate — Fall 2010
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Managing Effectively
Joseph E. Haviland

Planning for Effective Classroom Management: A Story

It was the first week of a new school year and 27 first graders were excited—about themselves, one another, and school (a nice thing about first graders). The school day had just gotten underway when the lesson was interrupted by a knock on the door. The principal’s secretary brought news of a fire drill that day. So the teacher switched gears.

“Children,” the teacher advised, “sometime this year we will have a fire drill. When we do, this is what I want us to do: Boys, you will line up here (pointing) in single file; and girls, you will line up along here (again pointing). Johnny, will you please be the last to leave the room? Just turn off the lights and close the door behind you. And Kathy, would You mind making sure that all of the windows are closed? Children, is that clear?”

The classroom erupted into a chorus of affirmation. Even the few who weren’t sure how the drill was to be conducted wanted to please their teacher (one of the wonders of first graders), so they yelled yeses and nodded with alacrity.

“Okay, let’s practice,” the teacher said. She then improvised the sound of a fire alarm: “Ring, ring, ring.”

The boys lined up as the teacher had directed, even managing a single-file line after a bit, as did the girls. When the children filed out of the room, Kathy made sure that the windows were closed and Johnny turned out the lights and shut the door as he, the last to leave, exited the classroom.

“Children, that was very good!” the teacher beamed. “Now let’s return to our seats and try it once again. This time, let’s see if we can line up just a little bit more quickly.”

“Ring, ring, ring!” The mock alarm sounded and again the boys lined up as they were directed. So did the girls. This time the children managed to line up in single file without a hitch. On the way out of the classroom, Kathy checked the windows and Johnny, again the last to leave, turned off the lights and closed the door behind him.

In the hall, the teacher congratulated the children on their performance. As they reentered the classroom and resumed their seats, the teacher directed, “Just to be sure we have this right, let’s try one last time.” They were happy to oblige (a wonderful attribute of first graders).

Minutes after the third practice, the real fire alarm sounded. Upon hearing the alarm, the boys lined up, single file. So too did the girls—just as they had practiced. Kathy and Johnny performed their roles admirably. The class exited the building and walked decorously to a spot on the playground next to the teeter-totter—just as their teacher had directed. It was a wonder to behold.

Meanwhile, on that same playground, other exiting students appeared a bit helter-skelter. Teachers who had no warning about the drill attempted to reign in their children who had no practice exiting their classroom or building. Disorder reigned.

After the all-clear and return to the classroom, a very proud first-grade teacher could not say enough good things about her boys and girls. To hear her tell it, this class may well be the best first grade in the district! She was proud of them, and so they were proud of themselves.

Then a knock on the door interrupted the praise. The principal entered. “You behaved very well. I’m very proud of you,” he said. “You showed the rest of the school just how a proper fire drill is to be conducted. Congratulations boys and girls!”

That day’s success foreshadowed a year of successes. Isn’t that the way it works? Nothing succeeds like success! Preparing was well worth the time.

This story represents a strategy recommended for first-year teachers to adopt to effectively manage a classroom. I call this three-step process ARR.

Anticipate classroom management challenges likely to be encountered. Will children need to use the restroom, sharpen a pencil, or line up for recess? Will they be asked to distribute materials and clean up After certain projects? At the end of one activity, how will they move to another?

Having identified primary challenges to an effectively managed classroom, teach children a Routine for handling those proceedings. The routine should accomplish the task without precipitating more noise or movement than is necessary or desirable.

Finally, Rehearse each routine until all of the children understand the procedure and have performed it frequently enough to achieve near automaticity. Each rehearsal should be accompanied by much positive reinforcement to help children feel pride in their performance and ownership over the process.

Learning to manage a classroom effectively is important to a community of students who are receptive to learning. With this story in mind and applying the ARR approach, you can enter your classroom equipped with a useful tool in your general strategy for establishing a well-managed classroom.