Calming Classroom Chaos

Stop the chaos by re-ordering your words

Setting the scene:

The students were engaged all day and a buzz could be felt throughout 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.

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 we’re going 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 my own classroom, and it took a minute or two to fix.

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.

I wish I could say this is the only time I’ve done something like this.

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!