There’s no such thing as smooth sailing in a classroom. But if you find yourself once too often scrambling to remedy unexpected mishaps or to restore the peace, then you’re doing something wrong. You’re letting events, and your students, catch you off guard. You are reacting instead of acting—and it’s not working either for you or your students.
Quick thinking and agile problem solving can get you out of the woods, but at what cost? Wouldn’t you have more peace of mind if there were fewer surprises during the day? Or if you were better prepared for them?
Even the most experienced teachers can’t plan for every eventuality. What they do is take proactive action to minimise disruptions and handle a crisis with grace and dignity. Here’s how to be a proactive teacher, so neither your students nor events, take you back.
Before you begin…
As a proactive teacher, I try a little pre-class routine before every lesson. I use the acronym ‘PREP’, it boils down to this:
Personal: Senses check-in, how do you feel?
Resources: Learning Intentions, lesson outline, materials (practical/theory)
Environment: Sound, light, desks, workbenches, and storage
Presence: Take three mindful breaths, be here, now for your students
1. Interact with your students
A distant and authoritarian attitude will only succeed in distancing and disengaging your students. (Also, if this is the approach that feels natural to you, then perhaps it’s time to reconsider your career choices.) This makes them all the more likely to surprise you with aggressive behaviour and mischief. A few simple behaviours you can adopt to get closer to your students are:
- Greet them as they enter the classroom
- Make frequent eye contact and smile
- Circulate the classroom instead of sitting at your desk
Forming relationships with students is also the best way to gain their respect and show that you respect them back.
2. Surround students with positivity
Don’t spend your energy focusing on what a student does wrong or isn’t good at. Though pointing them in the right direction and providing assistance with topics they’re struggling with is essential, what matters most is their strengths. Give your students credit where credit is due, find ways to further enhance their skills and tendencies, and reward positive behaviours.
The physical configuration of the learning space also contributes to surrounding students with positive energy. Go ahead and create a space dedicated to relaxation. Decorate it with plants and posters with soothing images, and keep things like calming bottles or stress balls that students can use.
3. Set classroom rules
Establish a few ground rules, ideally no more than 5, to set behavioural expectations in the classroom. Explain to the students how these rules contribute to a better learning environment that’s beneficial for all. Explain, for example, that stomping your feet might feel fun, and it sure is a great way to release that extra energy you’ve built up throughout the day. However, it can be really distracting for the students taking a test in the next classroom. Involve them in the process, as they’re more likely to follow rules they come up with themselves. The best way to establish classroom rules is to do so collaboratively with your students, their input and ownership are key.
4. Don’t play favourites
Any rules you come up with should apply to all, and they should apply at all times. If you decide to be the teacher that ignores minor disruptions, for example, then do so even when these disruptions come from your “difficult” students. Similarly, when a well-behaved and diligent student breaks a rule, don’t let it slide. Children notice these behaviours more than you do.
In the same spirit, don’t direct all your praise and attention to certain students. Teachers have a habit of avoiding aggressive students and, therefore, don’t acknowledge their accomplishments in the class or offer them guidance as much as they do with less aggressive students.
5. Have an alternative plan in place
Disruptive behaviour is not the only thing you need to be prepared for. A proactive teacher must always have an array of creative ideas in their toolkit to handle a last-minute change of plans.
Let’s say today students are supposed to take a test. They’ve spent all afternoon preparing for it. They’ve sacrificed some of their valuable play time as well. But the printer is not functioning, and the test you’ve prepared is too long to write by hand. How do you carry out that test anyway? Or, you’ve told children you’d pay a visit to a nearby museum. But the weather is terrible, so you have to stay at school. What fun activities can you engage in to make up for it?
6. Have a plan for meeting the parents
Impromptu meetings with parents can be inconvenient. Especially if the parent is difficult, pops up five minutes before a school meeting, or has valid reasons to be worried about their child’s school performance and asks for further guidance.
When it comes to parent-teacher meetings, a teacher must always be armed and ready. One thing you can do is to set rules. For example, request prior notice, especially for meetings that are going to be more than a casual check-in. You can also set specific “meetings with parents” hours.
In any case, you should always keep track of a student’s progress. Write down important milestones, and keep a file of their tests and assignments. Prepare relevant material if you’re going to direct parents to support services. If you think a student needs further assistance or if there’s any reason for concern, you should be the one to request the meeting.
There’s a lot to gain from being a proactive teacher. Children not only model your behaviour but also pick up your vibes. If you enter the classroom anxious about “what’s gonna happen today,” then something probably will happen.
Working Together We Can Build Better Brains!