Every great organization has a system for getting things done that is clear and concise. In other words, simple rules that everyone knows and can execute consistently. As we begin a new year, it’s always good to review our classroom management plan and make sure it is clear and can be followed consistently. My actual class rules are:
- Follow our Social Contract.
- Follow our Band Procedures.
- All students will display our school code of honor, respect, and excellence.
Keep your rules short and easy to implement. I have found that students are very good at adopting a set of rules that relate to a category. For instance, a social contract is simply how we are going to treat each other. It may list 10 ways to interact appropriately, but they see them all as just one way of interacting as a class. Band procedures as well; I may list 10 things that they need to do to set up, rehearse and put away for class, but after they learn the process, it becomes just one procedure to them. My first 2 rules are very specific, and my third rule is a more generic rule that ties us to the school as a whole.
Social Contracts are a nice way to have the class agree on how we are going to act in band. You start by letting the kids tell you what they think are appropriate ways to treat each other. You can steer their answers by asking questions that bring them to certain concepts that you want in your class. (I.E., “How many people do you think should talk at one time?” They all say one. “Do you think that should be in our contract?” They say yes.) When we finish discussing all the things that should be in it, I print out the list, they all sign it, and it becomes our contract. When someone talks while I’m talking, then I can calmly say, “Are you following the social contract?” They say no. They earn a consequence. It’s an easy discipline plan once you learn the process.
Same with Band Procedures, except I have these already made up. These are my traffic rules. Kids all understand driving laws and why we have them. I have a procedure for entering the room, getting their stuff, and getting set up. After they have practiced the routine, then it’s the same as the social contract. “Are you following the Band Procedures?” No. They earn a consequence. After a short time, kids understand the plan if you are consistent.
Having a band handbook is very helpful when implemented properly and used as a reference for students and parents when questions arise. This should be a resource for parents and students to get to know your program. You will find many examples of handbooks online for you to use as a guide to developing your own handbook.
Discipline, in theory, is easy. It’s the consistent action on the part of the teacher that is difficult to achieve. Kids need to grow and mature. We, as teachers, need to provide a structure that helps them to do just that. A structure that is not meant for growth will not produce maturity. Kids have to move and live in this structure, so it must have the ability to move kids forward in this process. When kids get off track, they need to have boundaries that teach them a productive option by helping them see reasons to stay on track, to begin with. Boundaries that are inconsistent do not move kids forward, which is of no help to the student or the teacher. This is where practicing rules and procedures comes into place. We compliment the students for modeling these structures. Recognize the success first and then remediate students to instill the understanding that these structures exist. Make it a goal that everyone achieves the structures together.
Example: When I step on the podium, talking stops, and class begins. We go over it on the first day (I always discuss why it’s important), and we practice it. Day 2. I get on the podium and wait for them to get it. I commend students who perform correctly with a thumbs up, smile, nod, etc. Then we practice again to build acceptance that this is simply how we proceed with class. It may take days to get this ingrained and sometimes I have to have a side conversation to get everyone on board. It’s not really the discipline of the kids that will create this practice as a procedure, but my consistent implementation of this expectation that will allow it to become class procedure. The atmosphere of your class must be crystal clear. No foggy haze from your actions.
As far as consequences are concerned, you must have them, and you must use them. If you choose to give a warning or a parent contact before the consequence, that’s up to you. It only matters that you are consistent every day. This is where most people get off track. They are so focused on what they are trying to teach that they forget kids will learn more in a structured classroom. The time that you sacrifice from teaching to practice a procedure or make a parent contact will save you an hour or more down the road. On the first day of my second year of teaching, I called a parent to express my concerns because their child was very indignant. The next day that student entered the band hall and exclaimed, “You called my mom yesterday!” The rest of the kids fell silent and hurried to their seats. The kids did a great job listening and learning that year, and I learned the most important lesson as a young teacher; class structure is a skill just like tone, tuning, or posture. So, it must be taught and re-taught as well.
Consequences are a necessity, not as a matter of punitive recourse but as a matter of training. Part of every teacher’s job is to develop the student’s ability to interact within a social structure by accepting responsibility for themselves and their actions. The underlying message I wish to convey through my rules/structure is very simple. When you choose to do something that causes loss of learning during class, you have to repay that time through detention. I prefer to have students serve their detention with me for 2 reasons. First, I want them to accept that I am the person they have to respond to and that I am also the person who adjudicates infractions. Second, parents appreciate that their child is not in the principal’s office. In other words, nobody else knows about it, and principals love it because they don’t want to deal with it either.
Band discipline is not different from classroom discipline in theory. Where the difference comes in is in the fact that we have a lot more procedures they need to assimilate. Band is a skills class. Whether the skill is spitting their gum out in the trash can at the door, sitting with good posture, or getting quiet when I step on the podium, all these skills have to be taught, practiced, and expected.
In life, experience is necessary for development. Help them move from a child mindset to an adult mindset. Most people hate change, and adolescence is nothing but change. As a child we probably all said, “I can’t wait to be an adult.” We are helping them by providing a structure that focuses them and even pushes them through this time in their life. Too much empathy is when we remove these structures, and they stagnate in one place instead of pushing forward for their own benefit. Structure helps them create good habits. It is so important that they repeat behaviors with an adult mindset in order to replace behaviors of a child’s mindset.
Behaviour Bullet Points:
- A lot of behavior issues are created or prevented by how you structure your class!!!
- If your class is unorganized, if you are not on time etc., the students will not respect the class because you are not respecting the class.
- Consistency from you prevents 90% of classroom behaviors.
- If you use banter or jabbing comments, the students will too. Soon your class will deteriorate to that level.
- Teach replacement behaviors. Land on what you want. Lots of positive but honest statements. It’s ok to let kids know what needs to be fixed.
- Keep emotional statements out of the conversation. This is what’s required to be in band. Were you doing what’s required? Here’s your consequence. I want you to be successful here. I hope you’ll make a better choice next time.
- Set appropriate boundaries.
- Context-appropriate emotions. Emotions turn off intellect.
- Whatever is; is nothing more than that. Do not take it personally.
- Drum rules: Their specific roles in class. (Keep friends close, enemies closer, and drummers right beside you.)
- It’s always best to deal with an infraction while it’s small before it causes you to blow up.
I review my classroom management every summer and remind myself of how it should look and what I should be doing. Kids thrive in an environment that they feel is consistent and fair. I want to provide that so we can make as much music as possible. I wish everyone a great year of musical endeavors.
Steve Giovanoni is in his 25th year of teaching. He is currently in his 14th year at Randolph Field ISD in Universal City, TX. He is a graduate of UNT and has provided clinics for Midwest, TMEA, TBA, and T.I.: M.E. conventions.
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