Teacher Follow Through and Classroom Harmony

Is this your classroom?

Let’s take a moment and envision our classrooms in the middle of the school-year. It’s January, the most productive time of the school year. You lose track of time because the children are normalized. They are working diligently, while you are giving non-stop lessons all morning. There is a gentle lullaby of productive activity resonating through the room like a morning mist. The children clean up their work every time they use a material. There is not a crumb on the floor in the snack area. Children work out their conflict seamlessly in the peace area with little to no supervision. No one walks on a mat. Chairs are pushed in every time; and, you could leave the room for a cup of coffee and come back 15 minutes later and the children wouldn’t have missed you.

"Classroom management takes years of practice, and even the most experienced teachers have difficult moments and sometimes difficult whole school-years!"

It’s a nice vision isn’t it? After all, that’s what they told us would happen when we were in training? Does that sound like your classroom? If not, you’re not alone! Classroom management takes years of practice, and even the most experienced teachers have difficult moments and sometimes difficult whole school-years! Like the children, we are lifelong learners who continue to learn through our own experience and discovery.

Actions Speak Much Louder than Words

Many teachers find the children in their classroom not following the ground rules mid-year. In response they will go back to square one, and start reminding the children of the ground rules and giving lessons on ground rules that were given at the beginning of the year. Teachers will often comment that they feel as though they’re nagging when they keep reminding children of the ground rules. While reminders may be appropriate for a short time after a long school break, it may not be the long-term answer to the problem.

If you have had the experience of going back to the drawing board, mid-year, and re-teaching ground rules, a good question to ask is, “Did the children forget the ground rules?” Most likely, they did not. The problem is, usually, that after the ground rules were introduced, that the follow-through by the adults began to dissipate as the children became more engaged with the materials in the classroom.

Follow-through is simply means acting upon what you said, without using lectures, constant reminders (nagging) or punishment. Reminding children of what they already know is disrespectful. But following through, in a kind and firm manner, makes it possible to meet the needs of the situation while maintaining dignity and respect for all concerned.

The Importance of Follow-Through

During my first year teaching, as a Lower Elementary teacher, I, like many first year teachers, found that the most difficult task in creating a peaceful classroom environment was not in the lesson giving or preparation of the classroom, but in managing “misbehavior” of the children. My lessons were being interrupted; children were disrupting the morning work-cycle; they were disrespectful to one another and to me; and didn’t follow the ground-rules!

Meanwhile, my mentor, Margaret, a veteran teacher of over 20 years, would enter the room and all the problems that I had just encountered seemed to vanish. It was discouraging! She seemed to handle the behavioral difficulties with such lack of effort that I wondered if I just didn’t have what it took to be an effective Montessori teacher.

I’m happy to say that my mentor was not only effective with the children; she was effective with inexperienced teachers. She was experienced with Positive Discipline, and was able to pass on effective and concrete tools that I could put into practical application. One of the greatest lessons she passed onto me was the importance of follow-through with children.

My first lesson in the importance of follow-through came during one particularly frustrating day on the playground. I approached my mentor, Margaret, and asked for her guidance. I told her I was feeling guilty because I felt I was too harsh in my handling of a situation, as I had just metered out a “consequence” to my elementary class for demonstrating unsportsmanlike conduct. I told them that they would have to run laps at PE for the rest of the week to get their exercise.

"After this experience and learning to practice follow-though at Margaret's suggestion, the children in my class began to become more cooperative and respectful."

When I spoke to Margaret, her response surprised me. I was certain that she would be supportive of my plan to apologize and to address the problem in a more positive manner. However, she knew me well and my weaknesses as a new teacher. What she asked me to do was to follow through with my “consequence”. She agreed that I was being punitive, but felt that it was more important, for the safety and security of the children, that they knew that I would follow through with what I said I would do. She added something like, “They’ll be fine. I’m sure you won’t run them too hard.”

I didn’t, but it was still a long week.

The children’s response was actually quite profound. After this experience and learning to practice follow-though (outlined below) at Margaret’s suggestion, the children in my class began to become more cooperative and respectful. They began to show more cooperation, not only with me but with each other. They seemed much more secure in the classroom. I also became more confident, especially after seeing that I was capable of implementing respectful classroom management tools that actually worked.

Children need to know that they can trust the reactions of the adults in the classroom. They need to know that the adults will mean what they say, and say what they mean. This promotes autonomy and self-regulation. When the reactions of the adults are consistent, kind and firm, children can make accurate predictions as to what is coming next, and this helps them to regulate their own actions and reactions. It helps create an environment of social-emotional independence and security.

Steps for Follow-Through (Ages 4 and Older)

The Steps for Follow Through is one way to follow through with older Primary students and Elementary and Middle School students. This tool works very well when a child is engaging in a repetitive misbehavior (not cleaning up their lunch, shoving in line, distracting others, etc.). When I teach Positive Discipline workshops, there are a few specific tools that I recommend that teachers post on the back of their closet door for quick reference. The Steps for Follow Through is one of those tools.

Here’s how it works:
  1. Find a time when you and the child can give the matter your full attention.
  2. Have a friendly discussion is held to gather and share information about what is going on for both the teacher and the student regarding the problem.
  3. Make a decision (with the student if appropriate) about what you will do in the future.
  4. When the issue arises again, the teacher simply follows through with a brief statement of fact, such as, “We had an agreement,” or “It’s time to go inside.”

Suggestions for Effective Follow Through

  1. Choose a “neutral” time to have this conversation (not right after the misbehavior).
  2. Be open and honest about what is going on for you when the behavior occurs.
  3. Truly listen when the student is expressing what is going on for him/her when the behavior occurs.
  4. Agreed upon solutions or consequences should be reasonable, related, respectful and helpful, long-term.
  5. Be honest about what will work and won’t work for you when agreeing upon solutions. Encourage the student to do the same.
  6. When appropriate, be specific about deadlines and consequences.
  7. Keep comments very concise. (“I notice you didn’t_______. Would you please do that now.”)
  8. Understand that most children and adolescents will test the limits that they help set. Limits are not limits until they’re tested. Students want to know that the adults will mean what they say. When objections to the agreement arise, simply ask, “What was our agreement?”
  9. In response to further objections, be quiet, say nothing, and use nonverbal communication to follow through: point to the item that needs to be picked up; smile knowingly; take the child kindly by the hand and lead them to/away from the issue.
  10. When the student concedes to the agreement, express appreciation. “Thank you for keeping our agreement.”

"When adults take time to be honest and open, to listen, and to engage students in problem solving, students are more likely to cooperate."

When adults take time to be honest and open, to listen, and to engage students in problem solving, students are more likely to cooperate. In this way, they are no different than adults. Have you ever had a boss who solved problems by talking about them openly with those who worked for him/her, and involved them in the problem solving process? How did people respond? How did you respond?

By using the Four Steps for Follow Through teachers are able to work with students to set clear and appropriate boundaries, encourage cooperation, and create an environment of trust and predictability.[JN1] Reminding and nagging by the adult is no longer necessary when adults have an effective and respectful alternative to set limits and follow-through. This approach not only decreases stress within the children or adolescents, but within the teachers.

Until next time…

Have a wonderful school year!

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About the Author

Chip DeLorenzo

Chip DeLorenzo

An experienced Montessori Educator who has served in a variety of roles since 1995, Chip DeLorenzo is a certified Positive Discipline Trainer who has worked with hundreds of teachers, parents and schools to help them improve classroom management and boost social emotional learning (SEL).

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