Classroom Management – Offer Choices

Ryan was a great kid! He had a huge heart. I saw him take care of his little brother and do the nicest things for other children. Ryan was also stubborn. He could really dig in his heels. There were mornings when he just didn’t want to be at Sunday School and he let you know it!

One morning his teacher came to get me because Ryan wouldn’t come into the classroom. His mother had already dropped him off and he had decided that he didn’t want to join the class. When I got there, I took a minute to talk with Ryan and then I offered him a choice. I told him that we cared about him and it was important to us that he was safe. In order for us make sure he was safe, he needed to be in the classroom where we could see him. I told him, “You need to come inside. Would you like to sit with your friends or would you like to sit by yourself on this bench?” He came inside. He still chose to sit by himself, but he was inside the classroom.

Now, Ryan hadn’t been given a choice whether to come to Sunday School or not. There are a lot of things in kids’ lives that they don’t have control over. Ryan was trying to exert some control by refusing to come into the classroom. By offering him a choice, I was giving Ryan some control and he didn’t feel to need dig in his heels quite as much.

Here are 4 tips for offering choices in the classroom:

1. Make sure the choices are acceptable.

Another way of saying this would be make sure that you can live with either choice. When you offer a child or your entire class a choice, make sure that both options are acceptable. For example, “Which of these 2 activities would you like to do (or do first)?” Plan two activities that are fun and engaging and highlight the central theme of your class. That way the kids stay focused and learn no matter which activity they choose.  Another example would be, “Would you like to continue playing or come join the story circle?” This is an example where one of the choices isn’t acceptable. We want all children to join in for story time, so don’t offer them a choice that lets them choose to sit out.

2. Make sure the choices are legitimate.

Kids will quickly pick up on it if you are not offering them real choices. When you offer choices you are letting the kids practice making decisions and accepting responsibility. So offer real choices. “Would you rather work alone or with a partner?” “What should we do first: have snack or play a game?”

3. Make sure the choices are significant.

It’s important that the choices you give kids are legitimate, but also that they are significant. Give them opportunities to make important decisions. If you are planning a class party, for example, let the kids help decide the theme of the party by offering significant choices.

4. Finally, make sure the kids know the rules.

It’s important that kids understand the rules of making choices. Tell them that you will offer a choice, but it they refuse to choose, you will choose for them. For example, when I teach Sunday School, one of our rules is that the class does activities together. That means that during story time, every sits in the story circle. If a child is misbehaving you could say, “It’s not a choice not to join us. So, would you rather sit here in the story circle or sit there in the story circle.” If they refuse to choose, then you choose one of those spots for them.

Give over some of the control in your classroom to your students by offering acceptable, legitimate, significant choices. They will have an opportunity to practice decision-making and taking responsibility for their actions and you will be practicing solid classroom management.

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Classroom Management – Preparation

Children's Ministry Classroom PreparationLast week I volunteered again at the nursery school I mentioned in my previous post. It was a special day – it was pumpkin science day.

The teacher planned a whole bunch of activities for the kids. They were going to measure the height of their pumpkins, weigh their pumpkins, guess what was inside their pumpkins, learn the circumference of their pumpkins and carve their pumpkins. It was a lot of fun!

This nursery class had 14 four & five year olds and one teacher. I was really impressed by how prepared this teacher was and how smooth the class went. I think that there is a direct correlation.

First, this teacher knew that it was going to be a busy day so she made arrangements for extra help. Usually she had one parent helper. That day there were 7.

Next, she carefully thought out what she wanted to do and how she was going to do it. She let parents know ahead of time and asked the kids to each bring a pumpkin. She set up 5 stations around the room and had the activity for each planned and prepped.

When the helpers arrived, she got the kids busy playing and then went over the morning with us and gave us our specific responsibilities.
Then she enjoyed her time with her class. It was a busy morning and there was a lot going on, but she didn’t get stressed. She had prepared well and so was able to really enjoy her class. Also, the kids had a great time and there were no hiccups or behavior issues to deal with.

This was an example of a really well-managed class because the teacher was prepared.

It is unlikely that any of you have 7 helpers in your class on a Sunday morning! But there are some great principles from this example that we can use.

Mainly this – be prepared! Be prepared yourself as a teacher and make sure your classroom is prepared for whatever you have planned for the morning.

First, prepare yourself.

This means taking the time during the week to plan your class time and study your lesson. Plan out illustrations, games, crafts, and activities and gather all the supplies you will need. And pray for your class and for the lesson you will teacher. Pray that God would already be at work in the hearts of your students.

Once when I was a Director of Children’s Ministry I got a phone call from a panicked teacher at 8pm on a Saturday night. She was just looking at her lesson and realized that she needed certain things photocopied and certain items from our supply cabinet for activities. I told her that I would have them for her in the morning. I can imagine though that she would have been stressed and uncertain about whether I would find everything she needed. She was not prepared and I can imagine how it affected her class.

Preparing yourself also means having everything ready to go when the kids arrive. A huge part of being a Sunday School teacher is building relationships with your students. When they arrive, they are eager to interact with you and talk about what’s going on in their lives. If you are distracted preparing an activity or finalizing a lesson, you miss out on that opportunity to build relationships. Also, kids want your attention. If they see that you are distracted or even just ignoring them, they may try to find another way of getting your attention. Acting out will cause negative attention, but it is still attention.

So, take the time you need to be prepared.

Second, prepare your classroom.

When I volunteered for pumpkin science day, the teacher had set the stage in her classroom. She had prepared station areas ahead of time and gathered all the materials for each station into bins. Her classroom was prepared.

Knowing the goal for the class will help you as you prepare your classroom. When you know ahead of time what you want to accomplish during your class, you can set up your room to aid you in reaching that goal instead of distracting from it.

For example, put away toys that you won’t be using and get rid of clutter. Take the time to look at your classroom with a child’s eyes. What might be distracting for them? Is it easy for them to use and put away toys and other activity items?

Classroom management is really about setting kids up for success. You want them to learn and be engaged during class. You want to minimize distractions and give them opportunities to show love and kindness to others.

One way you can do that is to make sure that you are prepared ahead of time and that your classroom is set up to enhance the learning experience and not distract from it.

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Classroom Management – Use Time Wisely

So far in this series on classroom management I have talked about consistency and routine.

Today I want to talk about using time wisely.

Teachers with solid classroom management skills use their time wisely and fill it with a variety of activities.

I recently volunteered at a French immersion nursery school where the teacher did this really well. First, she followed a routine with the kids. Second, she filled every minute with a variety of interesting activities. The class was from 9:30 – 11:30 and the kids were so busy doing interesting activities that I saw very few behavior issues and the teacher had to discipline a child once. They were given play time, circle time, different and interesting group activities, snack time, etc. The teacher kept them hopping! And the kids had a great time!

I was really impressed by this preschool teacher. She used the time she had wisely and filled it with a variety of activities that grabbed the kids attention and kept their interest.

Sunday School teachers have a similar situation. They have a limited time with the kids in the classroom.

First, use the time you have wisely.

Sunday School teachers have 45 min to an hour and a half. When you consider all the other ways kids spend their time during the week, that’s not a lot.

Make good use of every minute you have with the kids in your class. Plan activities for the time you have and then plan a few extras. Sometimes activities will not take as long as you think they will or the service may run over time. Always have something prepared to use with any extra time you have.

A well-managed classroom is one that engages a child as soon as they arrive with interesting activities that focus on the theme of the morning. When kids are engaged in a variety of interesting activities they have less time to misbehave.

Second, fill the time with a variety of interesting activities.

A variety is important. Not all children learn the same way. When you vary the way you teach and present a lesson and the types of activities you provide for the kids in your class, you are including all children no matter how they learn.

By providing a variety of interesting activities you are also showing an understanding of children’s attention spans. Children just can’t sit and listen to a lecture for an hour! They are developmentally not able. But when you offer a variety of activities you are keeping their interest and attention and again giving them less opportunity to misbehave.

Develop your skills in classroom management by using the time you have wisely and filling it with a variety of interesting activities. Look at the routine you have for your class. Does it use the time wisely? If not, you may want to consider changing the routine. Does it offer plenty of opportunities for the kids to be involved? If not, you may want to consider changing it.

These classroom elements are all connected. Find a routine that uses the time you have wisely and then stick to it. Be consistent in the classroom. Consistently fill your time with interesting activities.

This week, take a close look at how time is spent in your classroom. If there are empty spaces, fill them up with interesting activities!

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Classroom Management – Introduction

childrens ministry classroom managementOver the next couple of weeks I will be posting a series on classroom management. Not realizing that it was going to turn into a series, last week I posted Classroom Management – Consistency and Routine.

Before I continue with the series, I want to take a step back and talk about why classroom management is so important and why I am doing a series on it and not on discipline.

I get asked about discipline a lot. Volunteers have specific situations in mind and specific questions about discipline in the classroom.

Discipline is an important topic. I have talked about it before and I will talk about it again. But discipline is a skill teachers need to learn to deal with situations that have already arisen. Classroom management is about preventing those situations.

That is why I want to do a series on classroom management. Learning the skills of managing a classroom well prevents a lot of the behavior issues that lead to discipline and gives the teachers confidence and hopefully joy as they serve the Lord.

So in the next few posts I will be talking about what a teacher needs to know and do when it comes to managing their classrooms well.
I have already talked about consistency and routine. These 2 things are hugely important to a well-managed classroom. Continuing the series I am going to write about being prepared, using time wisely, making use of reasonable consequences, and a few other tips and skills.

Teachers, remember, you are in charge in the classroom! Embrace your role. Lead with confidence and love.

Check out these other posts in this series:

Classroom Management – Consistency & Routine

Classroom Management – Use Time Wisely

Classroom Management – Preparation

Classroom Management – Offer Choices

Classroom Management – Expectations

Classroom Management – Reasonable Consequences

 

 

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Classroom Management – Consistency & Routine

Consistency and routine are two very important parts of classroom management. The teacher needs to be consistent in their response to discipline and inappropriate behavior. Also, the teacher needs to stick to a routine in the classroom, giving the kids a measure of control by knowing what to expect.

First, let’s talk about consistency.

Being consistent in how discipline is dealt with is important. Kids are watching and will notice if you are inconsistent. They will take advantage of it. They will also be watching for how fairly you treat everyone in the class.

When you are consistent as a teacher, you are showing respect to your students. You are showing that each one is important and each one will receive the same consistent responses from you.

Be consistent in your praise of students and in your discipline of students. If you state a consequence for a behavior, use that consequence every time. If you state the classroom rules, expect them to be followed by all students.

Being consistent in your classroom management helps the students feel secure in their boundaries and minimizes inappropriate behavior.

Second is routine.

It is really important to have a routine for your class and to stick to it. Kids will come to recognize the routine and will flourish in it. Having a routine gives the kids a measure of control. They know what to expect; they know what will happen when.

A routine minimizes distracting questions of what will happen next. For older classes, you may want to post the routine. Kids that need assurance can read it and kids disrupting the lesson with questions about when something will happen can be directed to the posted routine.

A routine is important for the schedule of your class, but also for how you deal with classroom management. Have a set routine for how you deal with behavior issues. Talk about it with the kids so they know what to expect. For example, a classroom management routine may look like this:

The teacher notices a child behaving inappropriately. The teacher goes to the child, crouches to their level and tells the child the rule that relates to their behavior. The teacher also tells the child the consequence for breaking that rule. The teacher lets the child respond. If the teacher notices that the child is continuing in that behavior, the teacher approaches the child again and speaks to them at their level. The teacher should ask the child what the rule is and what the consequence is for breaking that rule. Then the teacher should then ensure that consequence is carried out. Once completed, the teacher should welcome the child back to the classroom activities.

Consistency and routine are important parts of classroom management. They are especially important if a classroom has multiple sets of teachers. Teachers are all different so it’s important that they agree on and follow a routine and are consistent in dealing with classroom management.

Your classroom will run smoother when you adopt consistency and routine as part of your classroom management.

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