By the time school begins in the fall (or late summer as the case may be) Waldorf teachers spend countless hours getting the classroom ready, repainting walls, bringing in new supplies, learning new circle games and finding time for home visits. All of this preparation will be met by students, from 12 to 22 or more and even if you had them last year, forming your class through rhythms and expectations is essential every single year.
Students whom you’ve known for years may test your boundaries as they are going through their next developmental stage. Not only do they come to rely on your consistency in presence and boundaries, but they strive on the structure that allows them to feel safe while they grow and change.
Classroom Management & Transitions – Set the Bar High
Classroom management begins the first day of school and setting the tone is extremely important. Setting the bar high in the first two weeks of school helps the whole year! There are daily tasks that the children do as a class and when they are done well, these small acts of self discipline can bring a more enjoyable experience for everyone. As the class relaxes into the school year you may find that they get more lax during transitions. When the bar is set high in the beginning of the year, it is much easier than trying to improve later on.
- lining up and moving from one classroom to another
- standing for morning verse
- saying morning verse
- moving desks out of the way to make room for circle time
- moving from sitting to circle
- participating in circle
- getting out main lesson books
These are just a handful of examples of routine movements that need to be formed when school begins and upheld throughout the year. Many a teacher has ignored children acting out during these transition times just to get the classroom move don from one thing to the next. Have you ever seen the teacher and his class that chose not to rush from one thing to the next in the first couple weeks and wondered why he was so adamant about the children lining up so perfectly? Or standing up so perfectly? Or getting out their recorders so perfectly? Perhaps they sang the same song each day to move the desks from place to place or perhaps the teacher played a recorder song to transition from desks to circle. This teacher did not settle for a hurried or sloppy transition from one place to another.
Self Discipline and Good Manners
This teacher knows that these small steps will not only set the tone of behavior for the whole year, but that they will assist the children in building their own self discipline and will. He showed the children how he wanted them to stand for verse. He modeled for them to simply to stand up from one’s seat, push in the chair, stand behind it (without touching others) and be alert to begin the verse. When a child crawled under the desk rather than standing he simply stated that that wasn’t quite it and they all sat down and tried again. This might have taken 2 tries or 20, but the teacher did not begin verse until they all got it together.
Whether it was lining up, getting out the recorders or other daily routine tasks they took the time to get it right, especially during the first 2 weeks of school. There were days they were late to the next class or missed 8 minutes of recess because it took so long just to line up! Some days other teachers wondered what they were doing, but the result was that the children knew what was expected of them and had very good manners when they did these things. Forming your class from the beginning lets them know you expect them to control themselves and have good manners.
Do Overs and Getting Back in Gear
Other teachers often asked when they saw this class in transitions – is it really that important that they line up nicely or that the whole class stands when you ask them to? Many experienced teacher will tell you: Yes! Having a Do-Over for lining up or standing up is essential in order to set the bar high. You need to do it over until it is right! Children can be in control of themselves, but they may need practice to realize it. Even if it takes a lot of extra time it will be worth it later.
One teacher laughed as he told us of having his students do things over 20 or 25 times until they got it right. He explained that many times later when it really mattered the students knew what to expect and did great. Teachers that know this also use good transition habits to help them get a class back in order when it falls a part. For instance, in a classroom with too much side talk, a teacher may just ask every one to stand. Standing for a minute or two can shift the energy away from the distractions and give the teacher a moment to give clear instructions.
Part of forming your class and keeping good classroom management is remembering to use clear instructions. For instance, if the teacher tells the class to get out the main lesson book “quickly”, he may find that different temperaments have varying ideas of what “quickly ” means. Another way to handle it might be to say, “You’ve got 90 seconds to get your main lesson books out, sit down, and be ready to learn. Go!”
Using the same method for a transition helps students because they know exactly what to expect. For instance, teaching them during circle that when you play Mary Had a Little Lamb on the recorder, that you expect them to come to you and make a quiet circle around you awaiting instructions can be a huge help through out the year. On a field trip when the children have had their lunch and are playing on a park playground, simply playing that song on the recorder will bring them all to you without have to yell, “Come on class, everyone line up!” over and over in the middle of a park.
Remember that when using these techniques kindness is essential! Instead of getting angry or showing exasperation, just simply state, “Oh, lets try that again.” or, “is that they way we do it?” Becoming angry with the children during these do overs will undermine the whole process. Keep a smile on your face!
Other articles that may interest you: Home Visits