“As a coach, I can help a teacher design an awesome and engaging lesson, but if the structures aren’t in place for good classroom management, that lesson can flop quickly.”
Classroom management is not a new topic- in fact, you probably had at least a unit dedicated to it in your teacher prep classes, however; right now we’re seeing a drastic uptick in classroom management everywhere. Students are largely unmotivated, teachers are frustrated, office referrals are on their way to becoming a TikTok trend, and many of us are hanging on by a thread. But, you are a coach…. what does this have to do with you? Buckle up friends, because we believe this has EVERYTHING to do with you!
Why classroom management should be a top coaching priority
#1: Your best-laid instructional plans can’t take root if the ground (classroom) is rocky. Instructional coaches live and breathe instruction. We are well-versed in effective instructional strategies, content knowledge, and technology. We can whip up lessons that put Mr. Lorensax (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) to shame. But as Maggie Harris pointed out on episode 307 of the Restart Recharge Podcast– if the implementation of our work with a teacher fails, we still miss our target.
#2: Support is limited
Teachers need a support network. Teachers can be responsible for an estimated 20-30 students in self-contained classrooms and upwards of 100 kids in secondary classrooms. That is A LOT of personalities and behaviors to manage. When student behaviors inevitably start impacting instruction, a coach can be a powerful support person. While administration (principals/assistant principals) are often called in to address extreme behavior issues with an individual student, the coach can provide more tier 1 support for the entire classroom. The coach has the availability to work with individual teachers for longer durations of time on classroom management structures- time that administrators and fellow teachers simply don’t have to offer.
#3: We lose our investment when we can’t retain our people
Coaches spend significant amounts of time designing professional development, coaching teachers 1:1, and curating resources for instruction. We build into teachers all year long to ultimately improve instruction across the entire school. When classroom management is an issue, it can drain our teachers. Even when 10 things go right in our day, we tend to focus on the 1 thing that went wrong. Our teachers do that too. They focus on the class, or the students, that drain them. Over time this takes a toll on teachers. They burn out and they start to consider other options for work outside of our school or teaching altogether. Coaches combatting high turnover find themselves starting from square 1, perpetually clarifying their role, and ultimately see the transformation of instruction slowed. If we, as coaches, prioritize supporting teachers with sound classroom management structures and strategies- we can lessen the negativity teachers carry and help them do what they set out to do- change student lives through education.
Ways a coach can support classroom management:
Get in the classroom & observe. This is the first step to impacting classroom management. As a coach, you have a unique point of view that can help teachers see solutions that they are unable to identify for themselves. If you rely on the teacher’s perception of the class, you might miss opportunities for improvement that you would have noticed in first-hand observation. In episode 307 of the Restart Recharge Podcast, Maggie shared that her favorite tool for observation was Selective Scripting. With this strategy, the coach jots down what they see and hear in the class along with questions they have. The goal is to keep your notes judgment and bias-free by jotting down what you explicitly see and hear.
Guide conversation with “I noticed…” and “I wonder…”. Ask the teacher what they thought of the lesson. Do they notice the same behaviors that you do? How does their perception differ from yours? Avoid being the “expert” of classroom management by keeping your communication free of statements like, “When I taught…” or “I also had a student who… and this is what I did…”. Statements like those set the coach above the teacher- our goal is to be partners in problem-solving. Share what you noticed in your observation and then frame questions and solutions in “I wonder” statements. Don’t assume that because something worked when you taught that it is the magic solution for the teacher you’re supporting.
Help teachers notice where they can set boundaries and limits for their students. As Maggie stated on the podcast- if you create a highway with no marked speed limit, some drivers will drive 110 miles per hour simply because they can. In our classrooms, if we don’t set clear limits for students (i.e. time they have to organize their resources or get into their small groups) some students will push the limits simply because they can and some that push limits because they aren’t aware that there are any. In your observation, look for ambiguity in directions. How can the teacher be more clear or explicit about their expectations? We’re also seeing an increase in competition for attention in the classroom. Whether it is Airpods, texts from parents, a game left open on a Chromebook tab, etc., attention is being pulled in many different ways in the classroom. Expectations should be reinforced verbally and visually to be effective.
A few considerations to help you get in the door: No one wants to admit they have a classroom management issue. There is an unwritten understanding among teachers that only poor teachers struggle to manage their students. We know this is not true. Teachers are great for MANY reasons, not just their ability to run a tight ship. So how do we break this unspoken barrier and get teachers to accept our help? Frame conversations around the idea of strategies to help students, not so much classroom management. By focusing on the students and their interaction with learning (and less on the teacher’s management capabilities) often, teachers will be more willing to embrace what we have to offer them. For example, students that struggle with time management might benefit from visual timers or visual work reminders featured on ClassroomScreen.org.
Wrapping it up!
Prioritizing classroom management support for your teachers is critical- both for the success of your role and for the sanity of your teachers. If you want more on this topic (or are looking for a way to make your commute more fun) you can listen to the full podcast episode with Maggie Harris here.