Every relationship—whether at home, church, or work—involves expectations. In this training article and video, Dick Crider provides very practical classroom management tips to help you build a more successful and enjoyable ministry. Click here to watch video.
What to Expect
Everyone who works with children has that occasional experience when the classroom gets out of control. Or, maybe the kids run rampant the moment they enter the building. Whatever the case, I have an idea that will help with classroom management and bring more enjoyment than ever during the teaching-learning process!
My experience as a teacher tells me that almost all kids can meet our expectations. However, children cannot satisfy our expectations if they don’t know what those expectations are. Perhaps we assume that parents, while driving to church, gave their kids instructions on how to conduct themselves. Or, maybe other teachers who taught the children previously had explained the basics of behavior. It’s not hard to imagine that some kids have never had any guidance regarding social skills and etiquette. Other kids just like to test us to see if we really do have a set of boundaries that we are willing to maintain.
How can we create that ideal classroom environment where everyone learns and everyone has a positive experience? First, communicate basic expectations to the kids. Second, allow the children to participate in setting some guidelines so they have ownership. Third, explain what will happen when they meet the expectations and what will take place if they don’t meet them. Fourth, review the expectations with the kids often.
From Chaos to Calm
Several years ago, I made a classic mistake with a room full of fifth and sixth graders—I assumed they knew how to behave. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. For several weeks, I found myself starting and stopping the lesson, trying to correct behavior, trying to get kids to stop doing things that frustrated me personally.
How did I bring this situation under control and eliminate virtually all distractions in the classroom? I placed a large poster board on the wall right in front of the kids and explained, “Some of you have a problem with self control—which keeps you from being good learners. And it keeps me from being a good teacher.” Then I drew a line down the center of the poster board, dividing it into two columns.
I wrote on the left side “Good Learners.” I asked the kids to help me list things we could do to become good learners. They came up with stuff I was delighted to hear: “Raise our hands before we speak. Don’t interrupt when someone else is talking.” And they surprised me by saying, “Don’t bring things to class that aren’t related to the Bible study—make-up, cell phones, toys, games, gum, candy or anything that distracts others.” They even said, “To be good learners, we need to memorize our Bible verse every week.” I was on the verge of shouting for joy at this point. Their final suggestion was, “We need to show respect to everyone in class.”
After we completed the kids’ column of the poster, I moved over to my side—“Good Teachers.” I explained that if they were willing to do those things they listed, I promised to prepare well, to make the learning experience enjoyable, and to pray for each of them every day of the week.
Once we completed the list of expectations, I wanted to create more ownership for the kids. I invited them to sign their names on the poster board, making an agreement that they would keep and live up to the class expectations. Everyone signed.
Next, we discussed what would happen when they kept the expectations and what would happen when they didn’t. By keeping the expectations, the kids realized that: they would be better learners, the class would be more focused, and everyone would indeed respect one another. The students also became aware that breaking the expectations meant: chaos would reign, they wouldn’t learn, I would be frustrated, and I would have to discipline them. (I reminded the kids that discipline is instruction given for their future benefit.)
Some of you like reward systems; and there is nothing wrong with them. Feel free to reward the kids for keeping the expectations. Eventually, they will do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. In the above example, all it took was one class session—and the kids responded beautifully. Our “Expectations Agreement” eliminated nearly all the distractions and disruptions during our time together.
I kept the poster in front of the kids all the time. Occasionally I stopped and reviewed the expectations for both the kids and for myself. When a new student visited class, it was a good time to review the agreement so the visitor was aware of the expectations on both columns of the poster board.
I’d like to share a story that took place during a recent weekend training event. The church asked me to stay through Sunday and teach Kids’ Church. The current teachers wanted to watch what I did so they could learn from the experience. Frankly, I wasn’t very excited about walking into a room of 75 first–fourth graders whom I didn’t know.
To add a little intrigue when the kids arrived, I wore a Bible-times costume. Seventy-five kids ran into the room; I could tell right off the bat that they were not accustomed to raising their hands when they had something to say. I introduced myself and told everyone what we would be talking about. Before class began, I had placed a blank poster board on the wall. The first thing we did was complete the expectations exercise together.
The kids told me what they were willing to do to be good learners. All agreed to raise their hand when they wanted to speak. You already know what happened—I asked a question and someone shouted out an answer. I responded, “I’m sorry, but I can’t accept your answer because you didn’t…” —and the other kids joined in, “Raise your hand!” Before long, positive peer pressure kicked in. When someone spoke without raising his or her hand, the other kids would say, “He’s not going to listen if you don’t raise your hand.” I had a wonderful hour with those kids—where we treated each other with respect.
This can work for you. When you implement an “Expectations Agreement” in your classroom and let your kids be part of making the rules: you’ll have an enjoyable teaching time, and the children will have a rewarding learning experience.
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