It’s been several years since I’ve written about classroom management tips for elementary music. You can read my first post on this topic HERE. My personal approach to classroom management revolved around four basic principles: be consistent, keep them laughing, let the rules speak for themselves, and be the role model students deserve. I skimmed over these principles in my original post, but today I’m going to start a new series. In each post I’ll go deeper into a specific principle and share an action plan you can try out in your own classroom.
I believe we develop our own unique approach to building relationships with our students. This is due to the fact that we all have unique classroom situations, so we have to adjust to the needs of our students. What worked well for me, may need to be modified to work well with your students. Similarly, we can’t expect our approach with kindergarten to work well with third grade. For example, a mischievous puppet may be hilarious to kindergarteners, but fall flat with third graders. When it came to classroom management, one of my top goals was to know and understand my students.
With all of this in mind, let’s go over one way I kept my students laughing. I’m starting with this principle first, because this was my favorite way of connecting with my students. Some teachers might say that you have to be serious for the first few months, but I disagree. I think it’s all about timing (just like in comedy). We learn how to adjust our timing based on our students’ reactions. Below, is an example of a plan I used at the beginning of each year when I taught K-3rd Grade.
- a puppet or other prop. I used a ceramic bust of Beethoven.
- It’s the first week of school and you’re either introducing or reviewing the classroom rules.
Action Plan Introduction
- As students filtered in the room, I had Beethoven sitting on one of the chairs. This immediately piqued their interest. The kindergarteners were always new to this, so they were curious. The older grades had experienced this, and were already smiling because they knew what was coming.
- Pay close attention to your students’ reactions. Are they curious or do you sense anxiety? Are the older students smiling in anticipation or do they seem bored and apathetic? You’ll use these reactions to inform your future lessons. Over time, you’ll learn to make adjustments in the moment.
- I reviewed students’ names (name game or other activity) as I normally would. When I got to Beethoven, I explained that he was a new student, and I had everyone welcome him to the class.
- Be sure to join in with your students during the name game or other activity. It’s my belief that our passion for music can be shown through our physical energy. So, dance, sing, hop, and skip with your students. If you’re sweating after the lesson is over, then you’re probably doing something right!
Modeling the Rules
- After the welcoming activity, I talked about the first rule of the classroom. Then, in the middle of speaking, I gasped dramatically and looked over at Beethoven. The more emotive I was, the more entertaining it was for the kids.
- I asked them, “Did you see what Beethoven just did?!” They would answer, “no….”
- From there, I improvised some over-the-top behavior that broke the rule I’d just talked about. For example, perhaps Beethoven picked his nose and wiped it on the person next to him. Or maybe he ran over to the piano and jumped up and down on the keys. Maybe he grabbed some rhythm sticks and licked them like a lollypop. If it makes your students smile or laugh, roll with it.
Modeling what not to do
- Then, I had students show me what not to do and then what they should do. For example, if the rule was to “listen to each other”, then I would have them talk over each other all at once. If the rule was to “stay in their personal space”, I would have them wander around the room aimlessly. Then, after a few moments, I asked them to show me what they should do.
- As they were showing me what they should do, I moved on to the next classroom rule.
- I continued in this format until we’d gone over all of the classroom rules.
Thoughts To Go From Here
If you’re struggling with classroom management, you’re not alone! I mentioned in my previous post, that classroom management was one of my strengths. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t struggle with it; quite the opposite. In fact, I’d say that it was a daily struggle. It took all of my physical, mental, and emotional energy each and every day. I was far from perfect. If I was extra tired or in a negative mood, it showed in my classroom management. Some days, it was all I could do to smile and bounce around as though the three espresso shots I’d had for breakfast had any kind of lasting effect. It was exhausting, but it was always worth the effort.
Links to the Classroom Management Series
- PART ONE: keep them laughing
- PART TWO: be consistent
- PART THREE: let the rules speak for themselves
- PART FOUR: be the role model your students deserve