5 steps to a positive high school classroom (part 1)


I've been thinking a lot about this lately, we are about to start the last half-term of the year. There are still 7 weeks until summer. Behaviour (behavior) is getting a little wild.  I don't have perfect classroom management. There are lessons every week when I could punch myself in the face for saying the wrong thing and making a situation worse. But I am determined to have purposeful lessons and meaningful relationships with my students.  So here's is where I am at.

If I wrote about all things I want to say on developing positive classrooms it would be - well, a book - so I'm going to split them up over the next few days. Here's what you are in for:
  1. Clear beginning and end of lessons
  2. Start fresh each day
  3. Praise as much as you can
  4. Get parents on board
  5. Consistency is more important than likeability

Be very clear about the beginning of lessons

The start of lessons can be a nightmare: students are arriving from all over the school. They arrive in dribs and drabs.  Of course, they have been chatting as they move around the school and the teenage brain has switched into 'social time'. It's absolutely essential that everyone must be told 'what just happened in the girls' toilet' or 'what so-so said to Mr X'.

These transitions can be 100 times worse if you have students arriving who are oppositional, defiant or disruptive. They will be the ones who cruise in late, having been to all the other classrooms on the corridor to see their mates. Then swaggering in 10 minutes after the bell goes, they either make a huge deal out of apologising and de-rail the lesson start, or ignore you, and then you have to deal with the rudeness of no apology.

I have made so many mistakes on this in my career. Now I have feel like I have found a 'happy medium'.

3 Tips for dealing with the start of lessons:

# First in, first out. I operate a pretty simple system with my 'slow walking' teens. 

I have a laminated seating plan (for every class) which I keep on my desk then:
# As students enter the room I mark up the seating plan with the order they arrive in. 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. 
# That's the order they get to leave in.
See my little bit on the end of lessons and you'll see why being 10th or 15th to my lesson student to arrive is easy to discourage.
Consistently used - this little system gets kids running to your class.

* Although we do use classcharts - these are not the actual names or faces of any of the children I teach!

# Write them a note

I loved this idea when I first saw it on Twitter a few years ago and this news article explains the idea really well.

When I can - I write a note, draw a picture, set a quick personal task for the students in my class.  Say one of the boys played a key football match the day before - I might write directly onto his desk "Sum up the match in 5 words" or one of the girls might get "Name one film I absolutely must watch this weekend".  Or sometimes I make a positive comment on their work the previous lesson. 

This one act can take the "all teachers hate me" wind out of an angry teen's sails pretty quickly.

If you haven't written on the tables in your classroom before - read my blog post about it here.

# Always have some ready for them to do.

At my school we call it a 'fascinator' - how much more edu-speak can you get?!
Bell ringers, starter tasks, it doesn't matter what you call it - you need one and it needs to be enough to engage and settle a rowdy teenager. That's not easy.

All of my 'fascinators' have the same format, the rigidity of this routine provides clear structure which cannot be negotiated around.

I have a thinking statement or question on the board - students have 2 minutes to write a response to it, before we discuss.  It doesn't always link directly to the lesson - sometimes I do a fascinator and then a starter activity.

Here's a couple I have used over the last few weeks.


A little freebie glimpse of my twins in this one as well.

A quick word on the end of lessons

Keeping disruptive or rude students behind at the end of the lesson is a tricky one. If they have another class to get to then you can just escalate the behaviour by making them late. If they have lunch / home then you have some space to play with. Sometimes keeping students behind words, sometimes it doesn't.

But how about this - what if you dedicated the 2 minutes before the bell goes for a verbal review.

Here's how it works:
  1. Two minutes before the bell everyone packs up, but stays sitting.
  2. Review questions are asked in order of who arrived first.
  3. The student who arrived first gets the first question - if they answer it right, they get to stand quietly and go to queue by the door.
  4. You go through all your pupils in order of arrival (I have managed this with classes of 30).
  5. If someone gets a question wrong, they stay seated until you have done the whole list and get back round to them.
  6. If someone shouts out or talks whilst waiting or in the queue then they have to sit back down and answer a new question.
At first it is chaos. But after a few goes and when you apply the rules consistently - the kids get it.  And they love it.  You can see them groaning when a question they know comes up for someone else and sitting on the edge of their seat when it's their turn.

AND BEST OF ALL: they have to have done all the work in your lessons because otherwise they won't be able to answer the questions.

Next time: A fresh start everyday. How I deal with rudeness, defiance and work refusal lesson after lesson.

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