Calm the Chaos!

:Stop classroom chaos by re-ordering your words:

Here's how it went down:

The students were engaged in learning and exploration and a buzz filled the room. This group of kids – the challenging ones – had a wonderful morning singing and playing instruments, and despite multiple changes in their routine, they were thriving.

Now it was time to transition to lunch. Unstructured, chaotic transition times are often difficult for students, and even the most experienced teachers have hair-pulling-out moments during these intervals.

I then communicated an instruction I immediately regretted. Even as it left my mouth, I knew I said it wrong. Perhaps this will be familiar to you.

The scene went something like this...

Me: Great job this morning! It's time to go to lunch..

(All students jump up to rush and grab their coats, leaving the room in a complete mess and line up at the classroom door.)

Me: NO! I didn’t say it’s time to go to lunch now!

Student 1: But you told us it's time to go to lunch.

Me: Yeah you’re right, but I didn’t say to line up.

All students: (Confused looks on their face as they take a minute to get settled again. I could see them thinking, "He told us it was lunchtime but now he says it's time to do something else?! What gives, teacher?! Just say what you mean!")

Me: I'm sorry I communicated that poorly. (I sit in front of classroom hanging my head staring at the floor.). Let's tidy up the room, then line up.

I had created chaos and confusion in the classroom, and it took a few minutes to fix. Worst of all, we were late to lunch and my students had to wait at the end of the queue. I wish I could say this is the only time I’ve done something like this.

What I really meant…

I wanted them to put their instruments and items away.

I wanted them to calmly have a seat at their tables and get settled.

I wanted them to have a brief moment of calm before an hour of unstructured lunchtime.

I wanted to tell them how great they had been that morning.

I wanted to dismiss them one by one.

A quick fix: Re-ordering your language

By re-ordering our language, we make our expectations clear; we keep our ducks in a row. Whether we are giving instructions for a lesson or preparing students for an activity or transition time, by slowly doing so we give our students extra processing time and sequential steps to follow.

What I should have said is:

"I am looking for kids who have...

(1) put their books and instruments away, and

(2) are seated quietly in their chair."

Once they do this, I can give any instruction because they will be in a calm state. I still want my students to line up for lunch, but there are a few things I want them to do first. All I need to do is communicate these things in order.

Next time I'll keep all my ducks in a row!

Whether you are a novice or a seasoned pro, give it a go!