How to gain classroom management skills
February 16, 2015 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Okay, so technically I don't have a classroom, but an entire library. I'm a new school librarian and I'm really enjoying the job a lot more than I thought I would. Most of the kids are pretty well-behaved and the teachers are great at keeping them in line when they visit the school library. However, when I notice kids misbehaving or generally being disrespectful in the library, I really find it hard to speak up and "discipline" or "manage" them?

I find myself afraid of being "mean" when I have to correct their behavior, I'm afraid that I'll hurt a kid's feelings even though, for example, they're tearing books off of a library shelf? I've worked with kids, but in more casual environments where I wasn't expected to keep them in line.

I suspect that it's difficult for me because I studied library science in school and not so much any of the classroom management strategies that my teacher colleagues have learned. I want the library to be a warm/fun place for the kids to go, but I need them to be respectful. Are there any resources I can read to help me better understand classroom management techniques/behaviors? How can I be more firm in correcting their behavior without feeling like I'm being "mean"?
posted by modesty.blaise to Education (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Remember, they're more afraid of you than you are of them. A light touch is probably all you need. Plus, a couple of funny/snarky catchphrases will probably cover the majority of their transgressions. Something like "you know, it's much harder to read books that are all over the floor"
posted by sexyrobot at 2:23 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

The first rule of classroom management is that anything you don't structure to your benefit, the kids will structure to theirs, and you probably won't like it. You need to have a routine for how they come into the library, how they choose books, how they check them out. That doesn't mean that they need to be little robots, but they need to know how going to the library works. Are they always going to come in first, be seated and wait for instructions?

I've seen some librarians give kids a small plastic ruler to mark the shelf where they pull a book from to look at so that if they change their mind, they know where to put it back.

Younger kids need controlled choice. Put some books out on a table for them to pick from instead of picking from the shelves. Read a story to the class while five or six kids at a time pick out books. Have one or two students per class that are trained to be your helper. They can learn to check the books in and out.

When you need to correct a student, tell him or her what they should be doing rather than what not to do. We use our inside voice in the library. We take turns with our friends. We only look at one book at a time. Come sit down. Make wise choices.

Ask several of the teachers that you see using good classroom management skills if you can come observe in their classrooms. Even ten minutes here and there will teach you a lot.
posted by tamitang at 2:49 PM on February 16, 2015 [15 favorites]

Don't be snarky or sarcastic. Express clearly and directly your expectations (this can be verbal or posted somewhere all the students can access) and the consequences that will follow if those expectations are not met. Follow through.

What age group are you working with?
posted by Schielisque at 2:51 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Do you get whole classes at a time, do they come on their own, or is a combination?

When I was in school we had an "introduction to the library" visit where the librarian explained how the card catalogue worked, how to check out a book, how to behave in the library, etc. If you can set up something like that, and make the behavior part clear and straightforward "treat books with respect, use your inside voice, etc... " then you can reference it when you need it. And maybe post it on the wall.

Also, kids can sometimes be redirected. You can say something like "Hey, are you looking for a book? First let's pick up these books and you can tell me what kind of book you need."
posted by bunderful at 3:00 PM on February 16, 2015

Harry Wong's The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher can help.

Do you have lesson plans? Do you have themes and read alouds? If not, it may be too much unstructured time for the kids. Have you had an interactive lesson going over appropriate behavior? What to do and what not to do? You can make it a game for the kids. All you need to remember is that most kids are doing their best, and they're often acting up because they don't really know what rules are in place.
posted by kinetic at 3:01 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

How old are the kids? If you let us know how old they are people might be able to give you more specific ideas.

I wouldn't worry too much about being 'mean,' based on what you've said (if you're this worried about it, you probably won't be). Being firm isn't the same as being mean, and as long as you're genuinely interested in them as young people and seem happy to see them and work some fun and/or kindness into your interactions with them when it's appropriate you won't come off as mean when you're firm about rules and behavior.

Try to be proactive about controlling behavior--have a set of library-specific behavioral guidelines, don't let them start any activities until you've finished explaining them--for younger kids I like to tell them 'we're not going to start until I say 'chocolate chip cookie' etc, set up positive consistent routines, prepare the room for them so everything is ready to go and you don't lose their attention while you're prepping things last minute, and nip problems in the bud, rather than being reactive and letting problems spiral out of control and showing anger.
posted by geegollygosh at 3:02 PM on February 16, 2015

Try to keep in mind that you're not being "mean" by correcting students' behaviors. Learning appropriate library behavior is part of the educational value of their visits to the school library. It is therefore part of your job to teach them appropriate behavior. Needlessly scaring or insulting children would be mean. It is not mean to let them know when they've overstepped the bounds of good behavior, and teach them how to behave better.

Do you have a list of library rules, and is it communicated clearly to students? You may be able to head off some problems by starting the year with lessons on appropriate behavior, and by reviewing the rules several times in subsequent weeks. Try to phrase rules in positive terms, when possible: "Take only three books off the shelf at a time" rather than "Don't pull all the books off the shelf," or "Speak respectfully at all times" rather than "No disrespectful behavior."

Once you're satisfied that the students KNOW the rules, when you see them misbehaving you can intervene with a question, which may feel less "mean" than a direct correction. ("Joe, how many books did you just take off the shelf? . . . And what is the rule for how many books we take off the shelf?")

You might also be able to shape students' behavior for the better by giving them frequent, specific praise for following the rules—positive reinforcement, or "catching them being good." I taught college for a while, not grade school, but I learned a lot about classroom management from reading about behaviorist principles in that Shamu article in the New York Times.
posted by Orinda at 3:07 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was in the same boat as a school librarian who just sort of fell into it without taking any of the school librarian-oriented classes in library school. I can't say I ever got very good at classroom management before I bailed (it was absolutely the most physically stressful job I've ever done, and I've done a fair amount of manual labor -- and the pay was terrible), but I did come up with some tricks that worked for me.

All disputes over books in my library were resolved with Rock, Paper, Scissors, because I could not be bothered to referee that stuff. That worked pretty well to curb bickering over things I didn't care about ("Ms. Librarian, I saw that book first!") and turn it into something they enjoyed.

I'm not sure what ages you're responsible for, but if the kids tearing books off shelves are old enough to have a clue how to reshelve appropriately with instruction, that's the best punishment you could possibly give them. They're much less likely to mess the place up when they're helping maintain it (even if it is under duress). More broadly, you could turn the last few minutes of a library period into a tidying period, where all the students do a little to get the place shipshape for the next class.

One thing I don't think gets addressed well for school librarians or teachers is voice preservation. The job is really ridiculously hard on the voice, and anything you can do to lessen the amount of speaking you do is a good thing. Especially with older elementary and up, consider introducing them to audiobooks as part of storytime. This has a few benefits aside from just saving your voice: you can supervise better when you're not reading yourself, they get to hear how other readers might interpret the text, and they become familiar with another method of accessing text that may help them later. Note that there are often audio versions of picture books available, too, and you can make eye contact and point out parts of the pictures while the recording plays. Classroom management's much harder if you've talked yourself hoarse, so try to develop good habits to avoid that early on.
posted by asperity at 3:12 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

What ages are the students? Your reprimands will sound different when you're talking to second graders than if you're talking to High Schoolers, who should KNOW better.

Use positive directions of what you want them to do,

"I need you to be gentle when you're selecting books."

"If you take a book off the shelf, please bring it here so that we can re-shelve it."

"Please use your inside voice."

Now if someone is going buck wild, it's perfectly okay to say, in the loudest voice you possess, "KNOCK IT OFF!"

Also, you should know what your schools discipline and referral process is, and have the forms you need should anyone get up on their hind legs and challenge you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:12 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Good stuff above for preventing problems/lack of clarity on rules. So, what about when problems come up anyway? Often, you don't even need to give them direct instructions on what to do, though this might vary by age. (With some kids, particularly older ones, that can set you up for a power struggle.) My first line of defense is just describing the results of their actions.

"Hey Jimmy, having your books spread out through the aisle like that is going to make it hard for people to walk through here."

"I think that table next to you is having some trouble concentrating when you're speaking at that volume."

The vast majority of the time, that's all that's needed. If that fails, giving choices helps too. "If you want to have your books spread out like that, feel free to use one of those tables over there. Otherwise, let's move them off to the side where they're not in the way."

Ultimately, if a kid is having a ton of trouble controlling him/herself and is disrupting the activity, just make it clear that certain standards of behavior are a condition of being part of the activity or the environment. "When you talk over other people, Jill, it makes it hard for people to enjoy this activity. It seems like you need a minute to calm yourself down; go ahead outside, and come back in when you're ready." (Adjust the last part as needed if the child can't get it together. Occasionally, you may need to give them a set amount of time, but it's usually better to let them figure it out themselves.)

Note that the last one only works if the kid actually wants to be there. If not, well, you probably want to work on that, too.

If you're looking for something to read on interacting with kids, Haim Ginott is a great place to start.
posted by SpiralT at 3:12 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Practical tips:
-Proximity is one of the best low-energy tools around. You'll learn to ID the feistier students when they come in, and you can be in their general proximity to head off the off-task behavior before it gets destructive. (Knowing names helps a lot with this as well.) Students rarely misbehave intentionally when they know they're going to get caught; if you're right there and they know you're watching you'll head most of it off before it starts. Plus, when things do start to go off the rails, you'll be right there to redirect when it starts.

-Redirection is key. If you tell them just to "stop doing that" without giving them an alternative, then the only thought in their heads is still about misbehaving. You can generally ask them "what are you supposed to be doing right now?" and they'll tell you and you can shuffle them off to that activity. Presumably they're visiting the library for a reason, so they should be able to tell you. If not, have a redirect ready: "I've got a good book over here that I think you'll like..."

-De-escalate whenever possible. Correcting a student in public, in front of their friends, might seem like a good tool because it will embarrass them, but that almost always has the opposite effect: it forces them to do something so they can save face, which will escalate the conflict more than either of you wants. When you need to have the serious talk with a student do it in private, away from their friends. They will be much more likely to treat you honestly and with respect when they don't have to put on a show for their friends.

-Know what consequences you have available to you, and follow through with them. Don't ever dangle a consequence in front of your student that you are not willing to follow through on, hoping they won't call you on it. Assume they will, so you'd better be willing to put your money where your mouth is. So it's best to start small and build from there, and that's where your specific situation comes in. What behavior intervention systems does your school have? They almost certainly have some sort of Response to Intervention system already in place that you can slot into. What privileges do you control? Some school libraries have computers, for example, which means you can limit their free time on the computer. Talk with their teachers for a better handle on it. The absolute worst thing you can do is come up with some consequence and then back off on it, or (worse) not have your admin back you up on it.

-Students have to know the consequence of their actions before you enforce them. Give them a chance to back down and ensure that they know what will happen if they continue doing whatever thing they shouldn't. That means the ball is in their court and they decide what happens next. This might mean having a list of "library rules" posted somewhere, or it might mean reminding a student of the consequence before they escalate to the next level. If you don't have a set of clear library rules and feel you need to create some (or that students/staff need reminding of them), tell teachers that the next time they come in you need 5-10 minutes for a "how to use the library effectively" lesson.

General thoughts:
You also need to divorce yourself from the situation -- you are not the one deciding to inflict punishment upon these students, they are the ones deciding to suffer the consequences of their own actions. You see yourself as "mean" when you think your actions are unjustified, which means you need to set up your library so that you're not the one making the decisions: every student needs to know what the library rules are when they walk in the door and the consequences for not following those rules. That way, when a student breaks a rule you're not arbitrarily coming down from on high to inflict some random punishment: both you and the student know the rule and the consequence for not following it. Then it's their responsibility for what happens, not yours.

That means really removing yourself from the situation -- don't show anger, don't show frustration, don't show anything, really, beyond a pleasant-but-firm demeanor. They are not angering you and you're punishing them; they are simply causing a consequence to happen when they pull books off the shelf. You get to stay pleasant, even sympathetic, when you're enforcing the consequences: you wish this didn't have to happen, but they can't go out to recess because they pulled books off the shelf and have to help clean them up. If one of them gets really angry about it, shrug it off because it is 100% not about you: it's what needs to happen to ensure the library remains a useful common space for everyone, and yeah this consequence totally sucks but it's less than the harm inflicted on everyone if the library isn't cared for.

You'll notice some reframing in there as well, away from punishment/discipline and towards consequence. That helps reframe it in both your and students' minds that this isn't some arbitrary action taken by you (which would be mean), but rather the natural result of students breaking known rules. That helps you take yourself out of it.
posted by lilac girl at 3:15 PM on February 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

There's also this old thread about how to deal with a 7-year-old boy coming to your house and causing havoc that might be useful to you. I'm assuming you're dealing with elementary students given the example in your post.
posted by lilac girl at 3:22 PM on February 16, 2015

I appologize that this comment ended up long, I found this issue personally challenging when first thrown into the topic. Hopefully this can help add to the other excellent comments you are getting.

Before learning more about classroom management, and importantly getting to have some experience (both with classes that were amazing and supportive of peers, with a strong cohesive community — and where seeing/needing to address and deal with bullying was common and daily), I was very much not a fan of that part of learning about education. I had it put before me best when I had to face the idea that "problematic/disruptive behaviour x" would not only have some result/outcome for the 'perpetrator', but also I could consider how 'bad' (disruptive, violent, hateful, bullying, destructive) it can effect the learning environment, other learners, and even the learning facilitator; and it definitely harms the effectiveness of the learning environment. How the learning facilitator will deal with such a disruptive situation can have serious follow on effects for the fellow students (in terms of models of classroom management, the one in a textbook I used [and summarized -excerpted here- to present to classmates], and found benefit from implementing the "CALM" model of classroom management. If only because saying it out loud is like the metonymous "tl;dr" of the classroom management model itself. Most of the steps are about considering and thinking about how situations are playing out, rather than implementing discipline.

Some things worth telling yourself when feeling wary of discipline, or keeping fair (always make rules fair, and keep logical consequences [i.e., if you rip the books up, which means that jimmy and saline can't read the book next year you will not have book privileges until you can reach an understanding of why it is unfair to rip up the books which are in limited supply on a fixed budget/or just to agree stop and then comply with not damaging the books]) results for unacceptable actions. Try to avoid the whole idea of punish or discipline — make students aware that actions and behaviors have consequences.

—Teacher intervention can promote prosocial behaviour:
generate peer relationships that enhance the four components of self-esteem: significance, power, competence, and virtue. Teachers (and school librarians can establish/enhance positive group standards (a classroom where fellow classmates are not respected is not going to get the best learning outcomes from everyone.

—Interplay between peers exerts tremendous influence on classroom culture.
Too frequently ignored by teachers (perhaps too focused on teacher-student dynamic).

A sort of quick summary of the CALM model. Consider, Act, Lessen, Manage. A four stage engine for driving positive classroom dynamics. Disruptive behaviours initiate a "response process pattern”.

When disruption occurs, teacher should consider whether the behaviour:
changes, affects... or disrupts the classroom learning environment, teacher, or other students.
Does disruption affect ability of teacher to teach and/or ability of students to learn?
NO: teacher may choose to disregard the situation rather than alter the current, positive, learning-focused dynamic. No reason to unnecessarily disrupt flow of lesson, or divert other students attention (I am thinking that in the library worrying about interrupting a lesson or learning session will be less of an issue most of the time, though still an issue to deal with, such as when you are doing some group learning elements, or showing them a new skill as a group).

Some situations require teacher to respond quickly to avoid jeopardizing the learning environment. Teacher must now determine if the disruption requires an immediate action. It may be best to respond to the situation later. But we all know some situations will not resolve themselves.

At this level of CALM, the teacher has considered the situation, and will now determine if it is necessary to ACT. The question to consider at this point is: "Do I need to act now, or can I postpone action"? Non-verbal cues powerful action during a disruption. The Look (if you don't have one, just imagine you do, and then you do), "Proximity”, etc., (with a clear awareness that this means a student will face logical consequences should they persist).

'Act'/action can lead to larger disruptions/escalation if not applied equitably/fairly or if students feel targeted.
3 Broad Stages of action and intervention:
Action Stage A (actions will not affect flow of lesson, minimal, don't miss a beat)
Action Stage B (Brief interruption, direct, names, timeout, conference [later])
Action Stage C (hopefully rare, teacher must solve issue with interruption of lesson)

The third stage is Lessen.
Not Lesson; this stage is not about making intervention into the focus of the learning environment)
Minimize focus on discipline & disruption.
The last stage is the how we will now act to MANAGE the classroom, and the return to an effective learning environment. Refocusing directly on lesson, not on disruptive student(s), or their behaviours.

That is all just to say, your instincts are actually seeming very correct already, and it is always better to deal with situations outside of the moment, when tempers are cool, and there is no pressure on a student to "perform" anti-authoritarianism in front of the class. Discipline is always challenging to have to use. Ideally set up some positively reinforcing systems; maybe something like a discussion of how tight budgets are, with an explication of "why" it is unfair to future students/library users for a library user today to treat books with a lack of care. Ask who has a favourite book/dvd/comic. Everyone has a book they like. Ask how they would feel if that book was unavailable because the grade above them was not told the trouble with being careless with library books. Or something (I am sure you can come up with better ideas than I can! [I always told any teacher learners I met to make friends with their school librarians because while teachers might know some speciality and subject matter, the librarians can help them to learn all the things and stay current with tech and become better educators and be more engaging communicators of knowledge])
Good luck.
posted by infinite intimation at 3:32 PM on February 16, 2015

Response by poster: Great answers so far!

I work at an elementary school, so K-6.
posted by modesty.blaise at 3:57 PM on February 16, 2015

Maybe think of this as you teaching them how to be responsible users of the library? Then it's not mean; you are helping them learn.

Also, is there a teacher whose style you respect? Ask him or her for tips. They won't think less of you for asking.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:48 PM on February 16, 2015

Do you have any special jobs or roles you can dole out to encourage good behavior? Special Library Assistant, Check-Out Helper, Chair Person (puts back all the chairs that have been moved around), Scribe (if you're writing up rules or takeaways from the day's lesson, a student can help)...they could also be lower-profile tasks. I remember my elementary school librarian took me aside once and told me in confidence that she wanted me to help her review some books and decide which ones were good for a section that I was interested in. I assume this was a way of getting me to sit and focus, or some other goal, but wow was it an effective tool - from then on, I was on her team, keeping an eye on my library, etc. Giving a kid a job is powerful.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:26 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am an elementary school teacher in my fourth year and I also found this difficult in my first year. I sympathize with taking it personally to have to reprimand a student and that feeling of hesitancy. It will get easier as you gain experience.

One of the most helpful things you can do for yourself and your students if you are not already is to have a list of very clear routines, procedures and rules for the students, as well as a clear system of what happens when children violate the rules. For example, if you would like the children to come into the amphitheater and sit boy-girl-boy-girl, have them practice the routine of coming into the amphitheater and sitting down as many times as necessary, usually at the start of school but the middle of the year is fine if you need to do it now. If children aren't doing what you expect, stop them and have them practice again. Usually when I'm having children practice a routine (especially after breaks, etc.) the first time they do it incorrectly, I'll say, "Oh, it looks like we need to practice the routine for _____!" and give students the benefit of the doubt. If they do it wrong the next time, I have them practice during recess time, which they don't like, but I tell them in a matter of fact, impersonal way which I think is important in order to give them the ownership of the behavior rather than being something that you're doing to them but feel sorry for. As the librarian your system of consequences would be different since you obviously can't take away recess and that sort of thing, but still you could institute some sort system of reporting to the teachers - a star system to reflect how children behaved in library each day, or any system to give teachers feedback about how the whole class did and problematic individual students.

Procedures children need in school generally are: What is the routine for entering the classroom; what are the norms for speaking/turn taking/being called on; what are the expectations for noise level; how will the teacher get my attention (practice as frequently as needed and don't give instruction until you have all students' full attention); what are the bathroom procedures; in your case, what are the procedures for selecting, reshelving and checking out books? All of these should be clear to the students, possibly written out and posted, practiced as a whole group, and re-taught if necessary.

Be explicit about your rules and be as impersonal as possible when a child breaks one. It is not about your relationship with them, it is about a choice they made to break a rule, etc. You might consider some small behavior incentive system for whole groups or individual students. We are a PBIS (positive behavior) school and while it sometimes resembles bribes a bit too much, it's been effective. If you haven't read the First Days of School by Harry Wong, that's a nice resource and place to start for management and routines.
posted by mermily at 10:12 PM on February 16, 2015

One more thing that I use constantly in my elementary classroom and I consider to be a lynchpin of my management and things flowing smoothly-- For any routines or behaviors you want to reinforce, objectively name everything you see the students doing, with an emphasis on the positive/prosocial behaviors. E.g. as children are arriving in the morning, I basically do a running play-by-play, naming behaviors I see, "I am seeing children quietly taking their folders out of their backpacks. I notice boys and girls at the blue table working so diligently on their editing work. I am seeing Alex greet her classmates in a kind and friendly way. Did you notice how Victor pushed in his friend's chair as he came to the carpet? What a helper." Etc. As if you are a sports commentator objectively stating what is going on in the game. Or when it isn't going well: "I am seeing some children running to the line. Let's try that again." It's powerful.
posted by mermily at 10:23 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I teach high school now but started in elementary and remembered what our awesome librarian did. In the beginning of the year, after holidays, and when the kids had forgotten, she played a treasure hunt game with them. The kids had to work cooperatively in small groups to find books labelled as various treasures (also a nice meta lesson on the importance of books). They had visual checklists and had to find various authors and other things, removing the books, using book markers, then reshelving.

She also had several baskets filled with book markers that were multi colored 12" long flat foam pieces, and the winners (spoiler: all the kids won) we allowed to decorate them with stickers and markers. These baskets were all over the library and at the entrance. As soon as the kids came in weekly, they had to grab two book markers that they'd put in place of books they took off the shelf. Over the course of the year, she'd have the kids make new ones in different themes: characters from Harry Potter, Beatrix Potter, Curious George, Eric Carle, Black History Month, etc.

She ALWAYS met the kids and greeted them at the door, mentioning she had a few new books about dogs or Teen Titans or whatever the kids had expressed interest in. She had some type of lesson planned for the first part of class; a read-aloud, author appreciation, historic celebration (she once dressed up as Captain Underpants. Boy, did THAT get the kids reading), videos.

She also worked with a few classroom teachers on projects, where the kids were allowed to choose something and library time was learning how to research. Back in class they learned how to take notes and create reports.

The last 10 minutes of class was for checking out materials and quietly reading or listening.
posted by kinetic at 4:45 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

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