The average teacher probably handles classroom management and lesson planning as separate entities. I know I do, especially since it seems like once you have your classroom management plan in place, you just have to worry about enforcing it. This leaves open the mental space to tackle everything else involved with teaching.
I was recently introduced to the idea of integrating classroom management with lesson planning from a fellow middle school ELA teacher, Laura Kebart. I’m part of her Middle School ELA Facebook Group where I both share and receive insight on all aspects of teaching.
Because of her veteran status, as well her experience as a professional curriculum developer, I asked Laura if she’d write a guest post for me on either classroom management or lesson planning. Little did I know that she’d share not only why she blends both, but also how she marries the two.
In this post, Laura explains why you need a comprehensive lesson plan to keep your kids from running the classroom. This is part of a 2-part series, so be sure to come back for more wisdom from Laura!
Does this ring a bell?
Yikes! They still don’t have their pens out and most of them don’t even have their supplies!
What the heck??
The clock ticks, further and further away from the ringing of the bell which signaled the beginning of class. My 8th graders are pretty “good” kiddos, but they just take forever to get started.
I was losing nearly 10 minutes each day in each class just trying to get things going.
Plus, I was always dying to get to the faculty restroom, but I couldn’t because those minutes between classes were spent answering student questions, scrambling to organize papers and to get my mini-lesson PowerPoint started up again.
Then, once we finally, finally got things going, within about 30 seconds the students were chatty, talking again, looking around, dropping things, and it just never seemed to end.
The problem wasn’t that my students didn’t know what to do, and it wasn’t that they were purposely ignoring me.
I just didn’t have my lessons or activities set up in a way that logically flowed from minute to minute in the classroom, which left lots of time and many opportunities for all kinds of things to happen!
I didn’t have strategic points planned out ahead of time and perfectly embedded in my lesson plans that made my students have to be prepared upon entering the room…
… that made their chattiness productive…
… that made them want to work hard with intention and with a sense of urgency (we shouldn’t be taking 12 minutes to turn and talk and write down one little thing).
Why was I struggling every single day just to get things going?
Like so many teachers have discovered, I knew I needed to do a ton of work behind the scenes just to keep my classroom running smoothly. I couldn’t just walk in with the students, scramble to make last-minute copies, and pray that I could find an engaging video to go with the lesson.
It was nearly impossible to get the kids seated while also trying to take attendance and think of a few high-level, rigorous questions all at the same time.
This teaching stuff takes major planning!
Spinning my wheels
So I had two choices: Spend my nights and weekends going down the rabbit hole after rabbit hole of Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, or basic Googling to get ideas, gather resources, and then trying to piece them all together in a way that made sense.
Every day. OMG. This was ridiculous!
Or, spend every minute of free time digging through the plethora (super fun word!) of resources the district provided in order to plan my lessons.
While I had access to iPads for my students, textbooks, workbooks, study guides, you name it, I had too many resources – and I didn’t even know what to do with them. Plus, flipping through some of this stuff made me realize how boring it all looked.
If it was boring to me, then I knew it would be boring to my students.
The exhaustion and overwhelm came from the random piecing together of various resources, only to use my entire weekend to do it all over again for the next week! I needed a system of organization so that each activity for each day flowed logically while being sustainable so I could have a life outside the classroom too.
And I knew so many other teachers who needed that same thing! The irony was that the more cool resources we had access to, the more hours we spent not really getting anything done!
I often wondered:
- Couldn’t I just find interesting articles online about topics that would engage my students?
- Couldn’t I just form my teaching points and objectives around those articles?
- Couldn’t I just toss aside the textbooks and “curriculum” and make my own?
My moment of truth
I decided to stop complaining and spinning my wheels and to actually create the THING that I needed (and that I knew other teachers needed, too), which became the foundation of my online business serving middle school ELA teachers.
So over the course of a year, I worked with teachers online from all over the country and pulled from my background of 16 classroom years plus two as an instructional coach, along with my M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction.
The culminating product was the thing we all needed: bell-to-bell lesson plans that flow logically day-to-day all year long, with best-practice strategies built in to handle everything from differentiation to rigorous engagement to classroom management.
I perfected the lessons not only for my own classroom but for the classrooms of many, many teachers in that initial “beta” group. This ensured that I was creating the exact solution to the problem of spending endless hours planning lessons founded in best-practices that would ensure amazing teaching and learning!
Now, I serve super-crazy-busy middle school ELA teachers who are sick of planning away their lives every weekend. They also demand 100% done-for-you lesson plans all year long that encompass the classroom management we all so desperately need.
Your Lesson Plans Support Your Classroom Management
A classroom is so much easier to manage and actually enjoy when your lessons and activities flow smoothly from one to the other. Too many opportunities for off-task behaviors exist in the transition from one thing to the next if lesson plans aren’t designed correctly.
Consider this scenario:
It’s the beginning of class and you’re scrambling to get your PowerPoint up and running for the mini-lesson while also begging your students to get out their pens and to get seated.
Your computer is running slow for some reason and suddenly you’re not sure where you put the writing activity for the day.
Or, if you’re using Google Classroom, the same craziness applies. Several student computers have frozen, you can’t find your own power cord, and for whatever reason the PDF you thought you uploaded last night is missing!
Meanwhile, your students are ignoring you. They know they now have “free time” because you’re not “doing anything.” The chattiness is starting to stress you out.
The chaos could have all been avoided by prepping for the day ahead of time!
It’s not that you’ll never, ever feel stressed and overwhelmed in teaching. It’s that there are routines you and your students can get into that serve the purpose of vastly reducing the amount of anxiety and overwhelm during class time.
Your lesson plans are a huge part of all this!
Check out this second scenario:
Your computer is running slow, but that’s ok because while you’re waiting for it to boot up so you can show the mini-lesson, your students are working on their bell ringer (or warm up, or “do-now” or whatever you call it).
In order for your students to even do the bell ringer, they clearly have to have something to write with, something to write on, and they are likely seated already. You might even have a timer going and some music playing.
If they finish early (because you’re rebooting your computer for the second time to see if that helps), they know to get out a book or to put their heads down or whatever the routine is.
You’re not stressed (too much), and your students know what to do until you’re ready to move on. The beginning-of-class routine is set. It’s the same each day. The expectations don’t change.
This means you need to know what you’re teaching ahead of time, what the bell ringer/warm-up/do-now topic should be, and have it all ready to go. The more work the teacher puts in behind the curtain, the easier and smoother the classroom runs.
If you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail
Now, this type of setup takes time behind the scenes of the classroom, but it’s worth it because that beginning-of-class battle each day is no longer a “thing”.
For a teacher to move seamlessly between a warm-up that flows into a related mini-lesson, and then into a group or partner activity, and finally into an independent practice component and/or an Exit Ticket takes so much time and planning and forethought.
What really stood out in Laura’s post is that I’d experienced both scenarios. When we first became a 1-to-1 district, there was so much trying, failing, and learning happening. You could almost count on the wifi dropping during the day, student iPads not functioning, or even worse, students messaging during class.
What I and many other teachers didn’t initially do was plan for these disruptions. It’s sad that so many teachers threw their hands in the air and completely gave up on technology. Before they’d touch it again, they wanted assurance that there would be NO PROBLEMS with the tech.
I think a more reasonable solution would be to not only have a plan in place for the worst but to learn how to troubleshoot when something does go awry. Alternatively, telling your students that you’re not good with technology and asking for volunteers to help goes a long way with your rapport with them!
I really agree with Laura that if you have systems and routines in place, almost with the expectation of glitches, your classroom will be a well-oiled machine. Students will take matters into their own hands and continue their learning while you work things out.
Additionally, if you plan your lessons with intention and with an understandable purpose, then each part of the lesson transitions seamlessly throughout.
In Part 2 of this series, Laura will go through her planning process, the rationale for each step, as well as lesson delivery and implementation. There’s SO MUCH value in this process that it’s opened my eyes to new ways of teaching!
You definitely don’t want to miss out on this!