In brief: If you’re planning to revamp your classroom management by reading Michael Linsin’s Dream Classroom, read this review for some of his tips and tricks.
In brief: If you’re looking for new classroom management ideas, read on for ten takeaways from Smart Classroom Management Michael Linsin’s book Dream Class.
When I was a just-graduated teacher, I had a vision of my future classroom and of my future students…
My classroom walls would be bright, filled with posters lovingly displayed. Motivational posters of historical figures and art projects by students would inspire everyone to greatness.
Shortly after the bell, students would enter my room quietly, talking excitedly with their peers about their last night’s short story assignment. After sharing their experiences writing their masterpieces the night before, they would sit at their assigned seats, taking out their homework, a fresh sheet of paper, and an already sharpened No. 2 pencil.
Ready and hungry for knowledge, each student would look expectantly at me. A hush would fall over the room. The lesson is about to begin!
And that silence would be my cue. I would be there, at the blackboard, chalk in hand, smiling, ready to teach, ready to change lives!
And then…reality hit.
Oh, how naive I was.
The reality of the situation is that to attain the dream class I’ve described a teacher must expend tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work.
And I just didn’t have the knowledge or the experience to make my dream class possible. Instead, I floundered. In my first year of teaching, my aromatherapy diffuser and favourite mug–both sources of comfort in the darkest days–were broken by rowdy students. The student posters I put up yellowed after gathering dust from one year to the next. Like a hunter, I tracked student homework. I even cleaned up after my students, picking up half-eaten sandwiches and dried orange peels from the back vents. Running on empty, just trying to stay afloat and not resent my students, the piles of paperwork were neglected and grew.
Some days, I came to school just hoping to survive.
Something had to change.
I’m happy to tell you from experience that effective classroom management can be learned.
Michael Linsin, author of blog Smart Classroom Management, was a lifeline for me in those dark times. That’s why I’m so happy to review his books, including Happy Teacher Habits and my most recent read: Michael Linsin’s Dream Class: How to Tranform Any Group of Students into the Class You’ve Always Wanted.
Thanks to Linsin, it has has been three years with no raising my voice in the classroom! I hope his wisdom will help you achieve the same, and I do recommend you buy the book; I go only into the basics here.
The Top 10 Takeaways from Michael Linsin’s Dream Class:
- Great teachers allow freedom within boundaries. Unlike many thinkers in education, Linsin does not promote student freedom and “voice and choice” over everything else. To have a successful teaching practice, he insists on having high standards and clear boundaries in which students can enjoy healthy freedom. Such high standards require clear, explicit modelling of good behaviour and expected procedures. In classrooms of effective classroom managers, when rules are broken, there is no negotiation between student and teacher. There are merely consequences. In a healthy classroom, the greatest consequence is being physically removed from a class students love.
- Great teachers show students how to behave. Instead of reading your procedures and expectations from a syllabus, why not show students how to behave? Linsin discusses how he shows his grade five students a step-by-step procedure by acting as a student. With humor and self-depreciating jokes, he shows the most mundane actions– lining up outside after the bell, putting away his backpack, walking up the stairs to class on the correct side, taking out a pencil, and so on– to make proper behaviour perfectly clear to his students. Though you may not be the best actor or actress, this is a strategy worth trying. When I tried this with my grade eight students, despite my mediocre at best acting skills, it was a break through.
- Great teachers build rapport. Having great rapport with students makes classroom management much easier. But how do you build it? According to Linsin, too many teachers attempt to build rapport through a no-nonsense, no-smiling, rule-with-an-iron fist demeanour in the classroom peppered with shows of interest in students’ lives outside of it. Unfortunately, this is weak influence. Instead, Linsin does recommend smiling and incorporating fun, even in the first week of school. You don’t have to engage students in lots of one-on-one conversations, either. These can be awkward for students and make you look desperate. Instead, Linsin recommends you remain pleasant, good-humoured, and consistent with your classroom management and solid rapport will build itself.
- Great teachers give worthy praise. A common trap teachers fall into, according to Linsin, is praising students for routine acts, such as pushing in their chairs or showing up to class on time. This cheapens our praise and suggests we have low expectations for student behaviour. Instead, Linsin recommends saying “thank you” or sharing a smile for such routine forms of politeness. When students really achieve something great, or go the extra mile, on the other hand, they need to be praised and recognized. Failing to recognize students for their improvement and consistently good performance is as harmful as a principal never praising his or her teachers.
- Great teachers cultivate independence in their students. Do you hover over students as they do their independent work, vigilant for any signs of confusion or helplessness? Do you rush in to save these students with a re-teaching of your lesson? According to Linsin, such actions make our students dependent, and they also teach them that they can tune out during our lessons only to be re-taught later. Instead of hovering over students, Linsin suggests that you tell your students honestly why you’re reluctant to help them after the lesson. As a result, he says, students will pay more attention to the lesson, ask more questions, and rely on each other and their notes before turning to you for help. And, most importantly, students become independent.
- Great teachers address students’ limiting beliefs. Common student complaints such as “I can’t do this” and “This is too hard” or “This doesn’t matter anyway” need to be addressed. Unfortunately, many of our students come to us with low self-images, reinforced by many failures. To counter this challenge, Linsin acts as if his class is so intelligent they will surely overcome any academic challenge; i.e., he treats his students as capable. He doesn’t accept poor work either, appearing incredulous that a student he knows to be capable of more is producing such work. He forbids complaining and negative labels. When students succeed or get closer to learning goals, he points out these victories emphatically. He teaches positive visualization before a test. He demonstrated passionate care and concern for his students.
- Great teachers take responsibility. According to Linsin, many teachers believe they are at the mercy of their students. They “teach the grade five class from hell” or “THAT class” or “THOSE boys.” Unfortunately, Linsin points out, such comments show a lack of responsibility. If a class is acting out, Linsin says, it’s due to a lack of authority or classroom management skills in the teacher. Fortunately, these skills can be learned. Authority can be improved by our posture, our manner of speaking, and our decision to never send students to the office unless it’s very serious. It can be improved by crystal clear expectations and firm, unemotional follow-through with consequences.
- Great teachers hold students accountable. They don’t make empty threats of consequences that never materialize. They don’t make excuses for poor behaviour because of a student’s family background or socio-economic status. They don’t engage with student or argue against back-talk or rationalizations for poor behaviour. Instead, they calmly and unemotionally hold students accountable– they deliver a consequence, and if back-talking occurs, they walk away and or ignore. When a rule has been breached, there is no room for negotiation. Linsin offers these rules for classroom management situations where consequences must be doled out: 1. I treat them respectfully–even kindly. 2. I don’t criticize or personally lecture them. 3. I don’t talk to them more than I do other students. 4. I don’t hold a grudge. 5. I do exactly what I said I would do.
- Great teachers are great storytellers. Central to Linsin’s teaching philosophy is the importance of stories in teaching new material. Stories work because they’re memorable and engaging. Linsin offers several ways to build a story, including anecdotes and interesting details from your daily life.
- Great teachers help shy students flourish. According to Linsin, about 40% of our students have a shy personality. Linsin was once shy himself. As a result, he has a lot of ideas for engaging with shy students, including never praising them publicly, never engaging them on one-on-one pep talks about their shyness, never labelling them as shy, never singling them out with special attention. Instead, Linsin recommends calling on them randomly as you would any other student, pretending you don’t notice symptoms of their shyness, and accepting them for who they are instead of “curing” their shyness– this shyness may be introversion.
These are only ten takeaways from the book, though there are many more, including tips for making parents your allies, helping your students grow in maturity, cleaning out your classroom, and preventing student arguments.
And here is a podcast from the Art Class Curataor with Michael Linsin reinforcing many of these ideas:
Are there any other classroom management books that made a difference to your teaching practice? Please, share your ideas in the comments below!
To your teaching success and work-life balance,
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