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[Kindergarten Classroom Management] The Difference Between Peace and Pandemonium

[Kindergarten Classroom Management] The Difference Between Peace and Pandemonium

Teaching kindergarten can sometimes make you feel like the ringleader of your own personal circus. And, hey, as a former kindergarten educator myself, maybe that busyness and chaos is part of why I liked it so much. After all, there is something almost electric about teaching the initial grade of full-day schooling. You get to define the framework for acceptable behavior and often set into motion how these little learners feel about the whole idea of school. While all of that is exciting, it can also be intimidating. Here are eight key areas to plan for as you’re defining your classroom management strategy for your next round of incoming four- and five-year-olds.

Eight Essential Classroom Management Procedures:

1. Defining Personal Space

Children in this age range often don’t have a great concept of personal space—that is of course until you hear: “Mrs. Michell, he’s touching me!” Avoid those painful cries by clearly discussing what’s appropriate and inappropriate. Then, do yourself a favor and account for as many different situations as you can think of. Are students often in line in the hallway or your classroom? Use those 12x12 tiles on the floor to your advantage—everyone gets a square. Are you a big fan of carpet time? Patterns may create squares for you. If not, a little duct tape will do the job. Do you have other cozy spaces like classroom libraries or learning centers? Decide how many students can occupy the space at once, and make it clearly known.

2. Organizing Supplies

This one comes into play from the first moment a child enters your room with a backpack weighed down with pencils and hand sanitizer. First, decide if students will be sharing supplies or using personal supplies, and then ask them to label materials appropriately. Personally, I was a big fan of shared supplies (pencils, crayons, erasers, scissors, etc.) at this age, and I purchased caddies for each table to share. Still, there’s the matter of where you will put folders, journals, and tissue boxes. Make room to accommodate each of these before they pile up on YOUR desk. One tip I picked up to avoid the chaos on day one: label paper grocery bags with each supply and have your students dump their materials in each bag. You can sort through it all much more easily at the end of the day!

3. Asking Questions

Students have questions to ask and news to share all day long—it’s just a fact of life. Help coach them to know how to share, when to share, and whom to share with during different times of the day. For me, when we were engaging in whole-class instruction involved simple hand raising. I also added a few gestures, such as patting your head to acknowledge agreement, which helped greatly with my students who became frustrated when their “answer was taken.”

During other times of the day, such as center time or independent work, students were encouraged to ask at least one peer before coming up to my table. Similarly, there were times when asking questions simply wasn’t in the cards (unless there was an emergency). My small-group instruction time was sacred, and my students knew that. If they had trouble logging on to the computer, they could ask a friend or start working on a different activity. Whenever my tiara was on (my signal that students could not interrupt me), those precious 15 minutes with my small group were being used with intent.

4. Lining Up

Some days, it felt like my students spent as much time standing in line as they did learning—and that idea infuriated me! I was constantly strategizing ways to help students line up quickly, while also looking for opportunities to infuse a little learning. To start with, I was a big fan of establishing a line leader and a caboose. That way, I had one responsible student who knew where in the hallway to pause while I caught up and, similarly, a student to flip the lights off and close the door as we headed out. Additionally, I was a stickler for encouraging students to walk in an orderly fashion, lower their voices, and keep their hands to themselves —especially because my school had a policy of keeping classroom doors open. Whether students tried “trapping a bubble in your mouth” or some other silly little charm, I was determined to not have my class be the cause of any distractions.

Now, to account for all the time students spent in line. Between the fact that kindergarten couldn’t have been further away from the lunchroom, library, or specials and not having an in-class bathroom, there was a lot of time spent in line. I quickly learned to bring math and alphabet flashcards everywhere we went for quiet in-line activities and, similarly, often made getting into line a sight-words quiz of sorts, giving others the time they needed to grab items such as their lunch or jacket. It wasn’t always perfect, but with these tricks, I didn’t lose my mind with all the in-line time we spent.

5. Getting Your Students’ Attention

Whether it’s just to reset when things have gone awry or to add clarifying instructions before students get back to work, there are several tricks that always worked for me when it came to getting the attention of my class. The simplest is known as “give me five.” I held up an open hand (often silently) and waited for students to return the gesture. Each of the five fingers suggested a different action: legs still, eyes watching, ears listening, hands to yourself, and voice quiet. Attention getters, also known as callbacks, were often very popular as well. A few of my favorites included: “macaroni and cheese, everybody freeze” and ”one, two, three, eyes on me; one, two, eyes on you.” Now, just try to refrain from using these with adults during frustrating situations—you probably won’t get the same response.

6. Improving Transitions

Transitions can be another big “time suck” if you don’t create an intentional procedure behind it. We started with focusing on improving transitions during the Daily 5, and practiced responding to a timer, picking up quickly and quietly, and migrating to the next center in just under two minutes. Students self-assessed and discussed what could be done better until quick transitions became a priority for everybody. During other times of the day, such as after math calendar time, I noticed that my students really needed to get out their “wiggles” and used transitions to help. We quickly made the move from the carpet back to their tables a game. One day, we’d bunny hop and count by fives. Other days, we moved like sloths and counted backwards from 10. Everyone was smiling by the time they got back to their seats, and little time was wasted.

7. Assigning Jobs to Students

Not only were student jobs actually helpful to me, but the idea of holding on to one encouraged a lot of positive behavior from my students. Whether it was electing table captains, selecting a messenger, or choosing a calendar helper, each job was special and treated as a privilege. The biggest tip I can offer here is to pay close attention to the interests of students and the needs in your classroom. During springtime, having a room close to an outside door meant it was necessary to have a cricket collector on deck (and there was a lot of pride in playing this role). Likewise, my students were begging to get to hold the hand sanitizer during bathroom breaks, so it became a coveted position I was happy to offer.

8. Completing Assignments

Does it feel like each separate task, activity, or assignment has its own set of directions and procedures? I often found it tough for both me and my students to keep up with. That was until I started using simple visuals and steps to summarize the “order of operations” for any given project. With the help of these directional icons, which I laminated and added magnets to, students weren’t ever guessing if they needed to write, draw, color, cut, or glue first. Not to mention—there’s a pretty helpful “write your name” step that was always good to reiterate!

Make Your Expectations Last All Year

Classroom management can be a thorn in your side all year long or the reason you get to focus on learning instead of making frustrating phone calls to students’ homes. With each of the eight expectations outlined above, it goes without saying that you can’t just spend one day laying down the law and expect all of your kiddos to remember each procedure. So, as you’re defining your chosen classroom rules, I recommend rolling out each one in a similar fashion.

  1. Describe the expectation clearly and simply. Use visuals as much as possible. I often posted anchor charts around my room for different expectations.
  2. Model the procedure. Then, ask students to model the same procedure. If you want to have some fun with it, ask students to model the wrong way to do something too. Then, let your learners “grade” their peers to note the things that were done correctly and incorrectly each time.
  3. Hold students accountable! Rules are only rules if they have actual consequences. Hold your students to them and conversely, recognize students who are exemplifying your desired expectations.
  4. Reteach. Reinforce. I can’t say this enough. There may be times throughout the school year where you feel like you’re starting all over (ahem, right after winter break). Take a few deep breaths, and put in the time to reset. You’ll be glad you did when things are running smoothly again in no time.

By no means is this a complete list of every rule and expectation you’ll need to cover, but it should help you get the ball rolling on a successful school year! Looking for even more classroom management tips? Check out this post on Implementing Tech Tools Without the Headaches.

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Madison Michell

Madison Michell has been a member of the Edmentum team since 2014 and currently serves as a Marketing Manager. As a former Kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher during her time as a Teach For America corps member, she believes education truly has the power to transform lives. She is passionate about connecting educators with online programs, best practices, and research that improve teaching and learning for today's students.