Structured classrooms do not just happen. To have a structured classroom, teachers have to be intentional with implementing classroom systems and expectations for students.
Why is having a structured classroom important? A structured classroom will increase student achievement substantially. Students are able to concentrate better and hold their focus. Some may think a structured teacher is someone who is very strict and one who may not be student-friendly. However, that is the exact opposite. A structured teacher is someone who has set boundaries, behavioral and academic goals, and expectations for students and pushes students towards reaching those goals and expectations.
Students in your classroom should NEVER have to guess what is expected of them. Students should fully understand your expectations and how to meet them. As a teacher, it is your responsibility to teach students your expectations and give many examples of how to meet them. Take a minute and think about this: How do you want students to act in your classroom? What do you want them to accomplish? After you have answered these questions, then think about what it’s going to take for them to accomplish these things. Are they going to have to be quiet while working, give their best efforts, etc?
What is it going to take from you for students to reach the high expectations you have for them? This could be words of encouragement, one-to-one help, or positive reinforcement. This part should be specific to the needs of your students. This is specific because each student is working toward different goals.
Everything in your classroom should have a place or system. Students should turn in assignments a certain way, have a system for lining up for lunch, have a system for sharpening their pencils, etc. Do not leave it up to your students to decide what they should do. This will cause chaos. Think about specific systems you need to develop and start implementing as soon as possible. Having established systems is an important part of having a structured classroom.
When I was a new teacher, classroom organization was something that took practice for me. Truth bomb: I am not an unorganized person by nature, but my first year of teaching was overwhelming. I didn’t really know where to start and did not have much organized to start off the school year. It didn’t take me long to find out this had to change. I had a large class and a variety of personalities. Setting up and maintaining an organized classroom helped me, as well as my students, stay on track. I was teaching 3rd grade at the time and students were asked to have a three-ring binder. We started organizing student notebooks first. This helped reduce stress for students and me because students knew where to put what and the binder system reduced the number of papers being lost. I also figured out what worked for me when it came to writing lesson plans. On Wednesdays, I would start brainstorming activities and assignments for the upcoming week. On Thursdays, I would make copies and gather supplies for science labs or math manipulatives. On Fridays, I would put everything together, type in a Google doc, and separate it into my lesson plan organizer. These practices reduced my anxiety and helped my classroom take shape. These practices were also great in the case that I had to have a substitute teacher unexpectedly.
If you have lost control, or never had control, you have got to change that today! Are students not following classroom rules? Or do you need to revamp your rules? Do you have too many rules? Remember, you are working with children, and rules should not be overwhelming or too numerous for their age level. If you have 8-10 rules, that’s a lot for a child to follow and remember. Stick with important rules that are meaningful! Say what you mean, and mean what you say!
If a rule is important enough to be a rule, you should take time to teach and reteach. This is NOT wasted time, trust me. Roleplay with students the correct way and the incorrect way to behave. Give examples, and assign interactive activities for students to practice. This is ideally started at the beginning of the school year. However, if you are reading this and the school year has already started, start now! If you do not have control of your classroom and student behavior, it’s time to take back control.
An important step of having a structured classroom is having effective procedures for classroom management. Take a minute to reflect on your classroom management. What does it look like? Do you have problems with classroom management? If you do, let’s work on that. You are the authority in your classroom and students should be aware of that. Students will know you are the authority in the classroom because of your actions and expectations. See, everything does get back to making sure to set high expectations for students! To establish yourself as the authority in your classroom, you do not have to be mean, yell, or scare anyone. Just make sure you are holding students accountable for their actions and they are following classroom/school rules. When they are not, correct them with a reminder of rules and consequences.
If a student breaks a rule, what are the consequences? Are students aware of the rules and consequences? I would suggest you have these posted in your classroom. When the opportunity presents itself, make reference to rules and consequences. As much as you possibly can, catch students being good and making good choices. This will hopefully encourage other students to make better choices.
Pay attention to the noise level in your classroom. Is all the noise necessary? There should be a time to talk and a quiet time. Quiet time should be when students are working. However, you should offer designated talking time for students. I implement and love a classroom doorbell to ensure the noise level stays at the appropriate level. If students become too loud, I play a doorbell chime using my wireless doorbell remote. This immediately alerts students they need to stop whatever they are doing and find me with their eyes. It’s a quick attention grabber and highly effective for all grade levels!
Another great option is www.bouncyballs.org. If you haven’t heard of this FREE website, you must check it out! Bouncy Balls are so much fun and truly hold students accountable. No installation or Google extensions are needed. Just pull up the website each time you want to use, and the bouncy balls do their thing! Students have a visible reminder and help keep noise levels in check. You can change the type of “bouncy balls” to your liking and can even use the eyeballs during October to have some fun for Halloween! Start implementing this today!
A structured classroom is a HAPPY classroom! Please don’t be overwhelmed. You just have to remember you are putting systems in place and setting high expectations with the goal to maximize student potential.