You're in either one of two camps: you're about to start the mad dash to back to school, or maybe you've already even started (in July? eeeeeww, I'm so sorry). OR...
You just gave me the biggest eye roll EVER at the mere mention of BTS.
I'm sorry y'all, but it's coming. And BTS time has the biggest way of sneak attacking us, no matter how great of a job you've been doing at resisting the school supplies at the Target Dollar Spot. Which have been there since June. So I've given you some time.
Today marks the start of... *cue drumroll, brass band, cartwheels and glitter*
Your guide to the best start of the school year EVER. Over the next couple weeks I'm going to get you as prepared as possible for the upcoming year as possible. That way we can turn all those "I don't knows" and "I'm not sures" into, "oh yeah, I've got this."
What a fantastic segway into today's topic, all about preparing your kids for the most successful year in your music classroom. Let's get crackin, shall we?
First things first, let's define some terms, shall we? Rules are the things you have in place to define and enforce your classroom expectations. Some describe it as a discipline plan, some describe it as classroom management plan, it's all pretty much one in the same. I often find that my kids know the general rules of school life--even in Kindergarten, they tend to catch on pretty quickly. I once had a great mentor tell me:
The best classroom management plan is a good lesson plan.
It's all about pacing, transitions, and well practiced procedures. Because, after all practice doesn't make perfect, but it does make permanent. As in, a well practiced procedure will be embedded in your kiddos and help the pacing of your classes to be footloose and fancy free. (<— that’s a good thing!!)
Here are a few examples of procedures I have in my music classroom:
- coming into the classroom
- lining up when it's time to leave
- finding your seat
- moving to stations
- fire drill, lock down drill, etc.
- transitions to different zones (I'll explain more when we talk about classroom set up!)
- transitioning to different formations (seated to circle, etc.)
- getting materials
- going to instruments
- needing a drink/bathroom/nurse
- asking a question
- finger talk (nonverbal answers as a class)
Although I always do my best to do lots of active music making from day one, there is something to be said for taking the time to practice procedures the very first day. I won’t take the time to do this whole list the first day, but I do take the time to practice entering and exiting the classroom, any safety drills, and transitioning to different formations (i.e. circle, longways set) or activity areas in the classroom (i.e. story center or stations).
Taking the time to introduce procedures the first day and practicing them briefly the next couple of classes (or anytime students don’t transition efficiently) eliminates future problems with transitions and students getting off task.
Now, it’s important to mention, none of these procedures or processes are earth shattering or complicated. For example, practicing finger talk or raising a hand to ask a question is not something that requires 10 perfectly scaffolded steps. But it is worth it to address and practice, regardless of what you expect your students to come into your classroom understanding. The music room is a very different setting than every other learning environment in the building, so it’s important to reinforce expectations that may be school wide. This leads to...
I have found that with proper procedures in place, the only concrete rules I might need in my music classroom are those that are established campus wide. Often these include ideas like safety first and respect people and materials, etc. Procedures help to ensure that these rules are put into place, but it’s worth it again to establish the expectation that the music room is another learning environment in the building that subscribes to the same rules as the rest of the school.
If you want some specific music room rules (that likely reflect some of the expectations as I outlined above) I LOVE these two sets: (1) Editable Owl Themed Music Room Rules by Music With Miss W & (2) Rainbow Brights Music Rules Posters by Pitch Publications
The Dreaded Discipline PLan
Does anyone else's stomach drop when they hear this phrase? I feel like discipline plans are so heavily emphasized in our teacher training and also a big focus in job interviews. Classroom management is one of those things that takes a lot of time to develop, particularly in the music classroom when we don’t see the kids as frequently. But let me re-iterate what I said above…
The best classroom management plan is a good lesson plan.
If procedures are well practiced, transitions are musical and an integral part of the lesson, and your lessons are active and engaging, classroom management will become second nature to your teaching style. However, there are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years that aren’t necessarily a formal discipline plan, but aid in keeping classrooms rocking and rolling. Here are some ideas for those one or two students who seem dead set on de-railing your beautifully designed lesson.
- Name Drop - Often times if I have a student who is just not paying attention to what is going on, and taking down another student with him, I insert their name casually into the lesson that I’m teaching. Rather than stopping everything to address the behavior (which might be the exact attention he wants, and could encourage other students to follow suit), I simply say his name so he knows I see what he’s doing. It’s all about creating awareness.
- Get Close - Proximity is your friend. Just like saying a name casually creates awareness, moving a little bit closer to the problem area is generally enough to squash any shenanigans that may be taking place. This is especially effective when teaching and playing singing games and play parties. Moving around the room and anchoring yourself next to those kiddos who might need that extra awareness is so super important. Bonus points if you can use a couple of kids as the example or leaders while teaching a game. You can kill two birds with one stone this way--using proximity like no one's business, but also giving those kids a chance to get some positive attention.
- Emphasize the J-O-B - There are times that you can't discreetly address student behavior through proximity or name dropping. In this case, taking a quick moment to (1) get down on his level, and (2) use a whisper voice asking what his job is can create awareness. Here's what it looks like in action: Student is participating in shenanigans. You have name dropped, gotten close and shenanigans ensue. So you crouch down and whisper, "Hey Henry, what's your job?" the student responds, I don't know. You say, "your job is to listen and follow directions. What is your job?" the student repeats. You say, "Awesome, you may do that."
- Spectator Sport - The last resort is giving your student a chance to take a watching turn. Particularly if he has repeated his J-O-B and still can't figure it out, invite him to watch because "I'm not quite sure you know what to do, so I want you take a quick second to watch." Then invite him back swiftly so that he has the opportunity to be successful.
- Phone a Friend - Even after trying all of these steps, there are circumstances that a kiddo just gets away from you. Early on, if you sense that someone is going to have trouble in your classroom, I highly recommend enlisting the help of two key players--the classroom teacher and the parents. The odds that at least one of these folks will be in your corner is extremely likely, although it's ideal if both are. I often ask grade level classrooms what is effective in their experience with students, since they see them more frequently and can maybe even help extend some of the classroom resources into the music room to help a student be more successful. Also, an early positive parent phone call to "touch base" when you sense a kiddo might be headed down the road of a not so positive phone call can really soften the blow when you have to talk discipline strategy. Make sure you enlist the support of others who care about your kids as much as you. It really does take a village.
A final note - Remember that kids are not usually intentionally trying to make your life miserable. Often times, they are just being curious, aren’t engaged, or aren’t well practiced in the expectations for their behavior. By creating awareness and opportunity for success as outlined above, you’re sure to notice a real difference in your students’ engagement.
Celebrate (Even the Smallest!) Successes
If you are lucky enough to be part of a PBIS school, be sure that you are participating in the school wide incentives to keep things consistent and motivating for your students. If there isn't a system in place, touch base with grade level teachers to see if there is anything you can use in your classroom.
Creating carrots, whether they are school-wide, grade level-wide, or just in the music room, are a great way to encourage engagement and reinforce expectations. I have used all three levels of positive reinforcement, and all can be incredibly effective.
Hey, how about a Freebie?!
If you're looking for something to give your students an extra boost this year, brag tags are a great tool! I've used them both as recorder and general music classroom incentives and have loved the excitement they create! Just for you, I've included a couple free tags in the resource library to get you started. Click here to go there and get them now!!
If you're looking for something more comprehensive, check out my music room brag tags here.
When it comes to this Sparkle & Shine BTS Series, you don't wanna miss a thing!! (Oh Aerosmith...) Don't forget, there are going to be some freebies and goodies along the way as well!! Here's a peek at all the good stuff coming up:
- Part I - FOOLPROOF classroom rules & procedures (...scroll on up if somehow you missed it!)
- Part II - create the perfect OPENING routine to get your kids in gear
- Part III - set up your music classroom to optimize ACTIVE music making
- Part IV - plan for the WHOLE year at a glance
- Part V - IMPROVE parent communication
If you want to make sure you're ahead of the game on getting any of those freebies, make sure you're signed up to be an Anacrusic Insider below!!