Four Classroom Management ideas for the Middle School Chorus Classroom by Mr D

People change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change....whether they are children or adults.  Many people stop speeding (at least temporarily!) when they get a ticket. People are more likely to eat healthier foods and start exercising when the doctor tells them their cholesterol or blood pressure is too high, and they are in danger of having a heart attack or stroke. Smokers often stop smoking when they feel that nagging never-ending cough that is the first sign of cancer.

It's human nature.

Our students are no different.

When they aren't meeting our expectations, they have to be respectfully, compassionately and swiftly held accountable.  Note those adverbs...they are the key to the solutions....No matter which way you decide to solve the issues at hand, do so Respectfully, Compassionately, and Swiftly.

How does that look?  What does that mean?  How do we get there?  What foundations do we have to lay?

A few ideas...

Many people watch my S-Cubed Sight Singing Teaching Example videos on my YouTube Channel and see my approach to teaching, and they may think that it's all fun and games. with life, it isn't quite that simple.  I certainly try to laugh with my students, have fun with them and motivate them, but ultimately, as middle school teachers, we will encounter behavior issues.  We have to be willing and committed to following through when it comes to discipline and grading.  

When we do so, ironically, it makes more laughter and fun possible in the classroom than when we don't.

These are middle school children.  They do what we allow.

Here is an example I've experienced recently.

An assignment was due.  I'd told the children that if they don't meet the deadline, they will get a "0". Student "A" doesn't meet the deadline.  I put the "0" in the electronic grade book immediately. 
No yelling.  No screaming.  No lecturing.  I simply followed through.  I allowed the child and the parent to see it online.  Voila...the child brings in the assignment.  The pain taught the lesson.  I changed the "0" to a "50" some sort of credit for the late assignment to acknowledge that the child made an effort to turn it in.  Doing so shows compassion, but there is still some pain involved.  That pain is what teaches the lesson. Without it, change is less likely to occur.  

Whatever the behavior is (repeated talking while you teach, not bringing required materials to class, etc.), there must be a tangible consequence that is felt by the student.  We don't humiliate.   We don't repeat threats.  

We just follow through.  

It doesn't take them long to learn that you do.

Here are some questions to ask yourself?

1)  Have you TAUGHT your daily procedures effectively?  Do they understand the daily routines?  They thrive with structure, and we must TEACH it the same way we teach how long to hold a whole note.

2)  Are you using positive reinforcement with the children?  Are you publicly acknowledging and praising the children who are doing things correctly.  This solves so many issues and saves enormous energy.

3)  Are you treating your children with respect? Some teachers balk at this.  They have the attitude that "I am the adult, so I deserve respect."  Forgive me for this...but you don't.  Respect is a circle in every to adult....child to to child.  We are the adults, and it is up to us to set the tone.  When we don't set that tone, we set ourselves up for disaster.  When we DO set it up well, we get to ask the question to the child whose just disrespected us in some way, "Have I ever treated you poorly or without respect?"   When they have to say "No", you are in a position of strength to move toward good results with that child.  If they answer "Yes", then you've got some introspective work to do.

Always treat them with respect. Do not call them out and embarrass them in front of other children. Find discreet ways to handle behavior issues while you are teaching (proximity, a "look"), but never publicly embarrass.  It won't turn out well.

4)  Have you set up strong communication systems that are very easy to use to help you communicate better with parents and students? is an easy to use tool for quick short messages.  I don't use this, but lots of my peers do, and they love it.

I cannot emphasize how important #4 is.  When we have an easy ability to reach out to our parents when we need support, it makes everything easier...from getting chaperones for a trip, to making costumes, to partnering with you to help their child.  When we have to take the time to dig around to find an email address, it diminishes the chances we will communicate and that hurts everyone.  I use our school email system.  I request all of the parents email addresses on the syllabus they sign.  Using that document, I create a contact that says "Parent of Jane Doe".  I place the contact into a list of all of the students in that particular class period.  I also add it to an "All Chorus" list so that I can send an email to all chorus parents at once.  This gives me three ways to easily access and use the information in a variety of circumstances that help me communicate with groups of people as well as individual people.  

This way, when Jane Doe misbehaves, and my strategies haven't worked with her, I can immediately go pop an email out to her.  Every communication is documented.  

Personally, I don't like phone calls.  If you get into a difficult situation with a parent, it becomes "he said/she said".  With email, it's all there in black and white.  Sometimes, phone calls are necessary, but 99% of the time, I handle everything with an email.

In the emails, I start and end with something positive.  When I state the issue that precipitated the email, I do so 100% objectively.  I do not accuse.  I simply state, unemotionally, the behaviors that led us to this point along with any strategies I used with the parent, and I ask for ideas from the parent about how to get better results with that child.  We are partners.

For me, this solves the issue 95% of the time.  No administrative referrals needed.

If it doesn't solve the issue, I call the parent in for a meeting with the child present.  By then, I've taken meticulous, clear, non-judgmental notes about specific behaviors the child has exhibited in my room.  In the meeting, I state those.  I usually offer to do a daily contract of some sort that perhaps results in something positive for the child if he upholds the contract.  I get the parent to sign the contract daily.  It is returned to me daily.  It becomes a log.  I give a score of 10 if the child was perfect in the behavior that day.  The score is lower if he failed to meet expectations.  

Middle School children enjoy immediate feedback.  

I prefer not to deal with administration.  It's just too cumbersome.  I make sure my work is focused, first, on helping the child.  It helps us form a relationship with the person who matters most.  When it becomes clear that he cannot do it alone with me, I reach to the parent.  

The goal is a better behaved child who feels successful and begins to take pride in doing the right thing.  

They are just children who are trying to find their way.  We have to help them.

I hope that this gives you some ideas that can help you in your classroom!

Hundreds of teachers all over the world are using S-Cubed: How to Teach Sight Singing to Middle School Beginners.  I am grateful that it seems to be helping teachers with far more than just sight singing.  If you are using it, please share the news of it on social media sites in your home states and countries as well as the large group Facebook Pages like Music Teachers and I'm a Choir Director.  I do not advertise in a traditional way. I'm just a teacher like the rest of us!

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  1. Another superb blog post on classroom management! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you Jennifer! I am so grateful for all of your support!

  3. Teacher should make the good relationships with all the students.It could help for teacher to lead them without any problems.
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  4. I was just reading your blog about classroom management on the first day. I teach middle school general music, not choir, but I'm curious for what your tangible consequences are for talking during class? This is my biggest problem in my classes and "the look" just doesn't work anymore. I feel silly giving a detention for the student not keeping their thoughts in their head, but something needs to be done because I can't take another year of this, it's exhausting. Your thoughts?

    1. I understand your frustration. Here are some ideas:
      1) When they are talking, just stand in front of them and look at them. Stand completely still and wait. No need to say anything negative. Usually, their peers will realize what is happening, and they will pressure them to stop talking. Once they stop, proceed.
      2) If the problem persists, talk to them one on one. Ask questions like, "Have I ever been disrespectful to you?" (Make sure you haven't!) "Would it be rude of me to talk while you were giving a project you'd worked hard on?" Answers will be obvious. Then, proceed to share how it makes you feel. Be as human and real as possible. Tell the child that he can fix it himself, and if he can't, you will have to be in touch with his parents. Keep it light-hearted and use humor when possible.
      3) If the problem continues, treat it like any other disruption. Parent contact, conference and turn over to administration for referral and punishment for chronic disruption to the learning process. do not have to tolerate. You have to move toward a solution. You have to take deliberate, clear steps toward that solutions each day. Some students will do exactly what we allow. So, do everything in your power not to allow it...with a smile on your face. Stay focused on maintaining student dignity and keeping learning possible. People change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. They will stop talking when they have to and not a second before.