Every Student Has a Story

As a new teacher, it is so easy to get all-consumed with the teaching.

Yet, it is important to remember that we are teaching students … we are teaching children.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Pink Sherbet Photography

Some of my students, my “little characters”, are not easy to teach.

Some make me laugh, some make me cry. Yet, I enjoy working with, and teaching every one of them.


I believe in building bridges with my most alienated, challenging students. I invest significant time and effort in building trust and mutual respect. I try to find that connection, that one little thing we have in common … and I’ve learnt “that from little things, big things grow”.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m preoccupied with my own teaching and learning, but today I received a powerful reminder about the foundation of my teaching practice.

A student told me her story.

It wasn’t an easy story to tell, and not an easy story to listen to. Yet, it was a first step, a little breakthrough …  from which, I believe we can move forward.

Every student, every child has a story …

But as teachers, do we take the time to listen?

Guest Post: Classroom Management – Donald Trump Style

guest post succ


In today’s guest post, Sam Rangel (@samrangelSITC) from SuccessintheClassroom.com explores some of the key elements of an effective classroom management approach, sharing the benefits of his 20+ years middle school (Yrs 6-8) teaching experience in California, USA. 

As a new teacher, I’ve found the SuccessintheClassroom blog to be an extremely relevant & practical professional learning resource. Sam’s grasp of the everyday realities and challenges faced by new teachers around the world is second to none, and I hope he continues to share his expertise for many years to come.

Now, on that note, we proudly bring you:

Classroom Management – Donald Trump Style.

When I tell people that I teach middle school, I always get thewow-you-deserve-a-medal look or the sorry-you’re-stuck-with-that-job look or the and-you-haven’t-gone-crazy-yet look.

When I tell them that I’ve been teaching 12 and 13-year-olds for over 20 years now, and I’m still loving it, they can’t believe it.

Why is that? Why did my college dean tell the other teacher prospects that I was going straight to heaven when I died, because I wanted to teach middle school?

It’s because we all know 12 and 13-year-olds. We know how they behave. We know how they think they know more than anyone. We know how they want to push the limits. We know how they don’t like rules.

Of course, not all 12 and 13-year-olds act like this, but we know enough who do, and having 35-40 of them in a room together for close to an hour at a time can be scary.

That’s why you will find very few teachers who actually want to be middle school teachers. Most of them want to be elementary or high school teachers, which I totally understand.

When I first started teaching, I looked too young to be a high school teacher, and I didn’t have the patience for elementary kids. They require you to smile too much, and you have to dance and sing and decorate your room in a bright pastel colors, and that’s just not me.

When I got a long term substitute position in middle school, however, I knew I had found my place.

To teach middle school, you have to be an expert in classroom management or else you’ll be eaten alive by these hormone-driven, drama-seeking, argumentative, push-your-buttons, trying-to-find-out-who-they-are students.

So in this post, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned over the years about classroom management, and hopefully I’ll be able to help newer teachers find a little more success in the classroom.

I truly enjoy what I do, and middle school kids are amazing. I know, however, if I didn’t have my classroom management skills, I probably wouldn’t be teaching anymore, and I probably wouldn’t still have all my hair.


Here we go:

1. Make Great Lesson Plans

The best way to keep students from misbehaving is to keep them engaged. This will only happen when you have a great lesson. The times when I’ve had the most problems with my classroom management were those days when I just winged it. For some reason, I came to class with no plan. It’s a rarity, but it served to remind me of the dangers of not being prepared. With 8th graders, five minutes of nothing to do will turn into 10 minutes of redirection.

Lesson plan preparation is the most important element in great classroom management. I always plan for more than the time allows. If I have a 40 minute period, I plan for 50 minutes. I also always have a mini lesson, like a vocabulary activity, in my back pocket just in case I have too much period left after the lesson.

2. Remember That They’re Just Kids

I often hear teachers talk about how a certain student made them so mad that they wanted to kick that student out of the classroom, call their parents, place them on the terrorist watch list, etc. You have to remember that these are kids. They are going to do things that we adults know better not to do.

Once we remind ourselves that these are just kids, then we won’t get so upset. We won’t get into a shouting match with a 12-year-old. Do we excuse the behavior? No, of course not. We hand out a consequence and make that a teachable moment. Some kids just don’t know why what they did was wrong.


3. Show Them You Care About Them

For a lot of teachers, this is an easy one. You probably wouldn’t get into teaching if you didn’t have a heart for kids. There are times, however, when we lose focus on this, especially when the students are acting out or when we have other more personal issues occupying our thoughts or when  the administration is pressuring us to improve test scores, etc.

Many times the student who is acting out the most is doing so out of a need for attention that he/she is not receiving elsewhere. It would be a good idea to take a look at the student’s records to see if there are any home issues that would help explain his/her behavior.

This takes time. You’ll have to spend that valuable prep period or time before or after school to do the research, but if you can conceptualize a day when that one student is not causing problems in your class, it may be worth the investment of time.

I’ve had many students who are terrors in every other class except mine, not because I’m a better teacher, but  because I’ve made a connection with this students, and he/she doesn’t want to break that connection by making me mad.

Taking time to show some sincere concern to this student will make so much of a difference in how he/she behaves in your class. What I like to do is bombard that student with positive comments. “You’re so smart.” “That was amazing.” “Nice job.” A lot of times, these students have only heard negative words coming from the adults in their lives. They’ll behave better in your class, because they know they’ll get some verbal pats on the back for a change.

4. Act Like Donald Trump

One thing I’ve noticed about Mr. Trump is that he is in charge everywhere he goes. Even when he’s not the person in charge, he acts like he’s the person in charge. It’s all about his presence.

That is what I notice about teachers who have problems with classroom management. They don’t have the in-charge presence. It’s almost like they’re afraid of the kids. The kids will ask them a question like, “Why do we have to do this?”, and they’ll go into a long and confusing explanation describing the reasons why the lesson that they are about to begin is important or they’ll get offended and kick the student out of the class.

Would Donald do that?

When a student asks me that question, I stop and give him/her my I-can’t-believe-you’re-questioning-my-lesson look. Most of the time, the student will say, “never mind”, and I’ll continue as if the question was never raised. It’s all about presence. It’s your class. You are the expert. You know everything, and the students are so fortunate to be spending 40 minutes of their lives learning from you.

This is a change in mindset for many new teachers who are unsure about their abilities and are still learning how to teach. The sooner they get past this and move into the I’m-in-charge phase, the sooner they’ll see a decrease in their discipline problems.

It’s not being mean or tyrannical. It’s being in charge. It’s all about presence. Go ahead and fake it if you have to, but don’t let the students get any idea that you are not the one in charge. By the way, Mr. Trump, if you’re reading this, how about hooking up my students with some new laptops? It’s worth a try.

These are just a few ways to help you with classroom management, and although I’m definitely not the world’s expert in this area, I have been teaching 8th graders for the last 20+ years, so that gives me a little bit of an edge.

I love what I do. I have a great day almost every day, because my students don’t (or can’t) ruin my day. I can see how many teachers leave the profession just after three years. It is an often thankless job with very little pay and little support, and on top of all that, you have a bunch of kids who want to see how far to the edge they can push you.

There are many, many benefits that come with being a teacher, however. You don’t make a lot of money, but you do make a difference. Getting your classroom management skills perfected will help you not only make more of a difference, but you’ll have fun in the process.

I share some more specific tips on my other website: TipsForNewTeachers.com, so feel free to take a look.

I would welcome any comments, questions, criticisms, etc.



Reflections on Classroom Management (Index)

My Experiences, Philosophy, & Reflections

  1. My Jigsaw Approach to Classroom Management
  2. The Conscious Competence Ladder (Skill Development)
  3. The Four Stages in My Teaching Practice
  4. Classroom Management – Summing Up

The 3 R’s of Effective Learning Environments

  1. Setting the Scene
  2. Overview of the 3 R’s
  3. Transforming a Year 3 class into a learning community
  4. The Third ‘R’ – Shared Responsibility for the Learning Process
  5. My experiences with the Third ‘R’

‘The Theory of Bumps’ (Bennett & Smilanich, 1994)

  1. The Key Principles
  2. Explanation & Suggested Strategies

The 3 Keys to Working with Challenging Students

  1. Introduction
  2. What is a “problem” or challenging behaviour?
  3. Part 1: Building Positive Relationships
  4. Part 2: The Classroom Learning Environment
  5. Part 3: The Teacher’s Attitude, Actions, & Management Approach
  6. Responding to Anger

Building Positive Relationships

  1. Small Talk: “From little things, big things grow”
  2. Relief Teaching – Chalk & Small Talk!
  3. Get Involved with Breakfast / Lunchtime Clubs
  4. The Importance of Active Listening

Top Tips for Teachers – Behaviour Management (Video)

Cracking the Hard Class

The 3 Keys (Part 1): Building Positive Relationships

When formulating my “Jigsaw Approach to Classroom Management” back in 2008, I made the following observations:

A safe learning environment relies on positive teacher-student relationships and positive peer relationships.

Teachers can develop such relationships by taking a meaningful interest in their students’ lives, and promoting an anti-bullying ethos through their words and actions.

Make an effort to forge positive, respectful relationships with your more challenging students.

Study the purpose and triggers of their behaviours, and learn about their backgrounds. Use behaviour management strategies which target the cause of their misbehaviour, and remember they too have the right to a safe learning environment.

In my teaching experience, I have found these two factors to be absolutely critical in successfully working with challenging students. I am not alone in thinking along these lines …

… one of the most common objections which comes up when we talk about this subject… “I’m a busy teacher, I don’t have time to build relationships with challenging students?”

The answer to that is “You don’t have time NOT to build relationships with challenging students.” 

Think about the amount of time spent mopping up incidents, and dealing with students who don’t follow instructions – THAT is a huge waste of time. 

Many teachers complain that they are unable to do their jobs purely because of the time spent dealing with behaviour problems. Students are more likely to behave for a teacher they respect, trust and get on with so spending time building relationships with them is going to SAVE you time in the long run.

Chris (June 15, 2010). Making Time to Build Relationships with Students. From the Behaviour Needs Blog

Coming Up: Relationship Building Strategies

1) Small Talk: BIG Rewards
2) Get Involved with Breakfast / Lunchtime Clubs / Activities
3) The Importance of Active Listening

The “Theory of Bumps” Explained

This is a summary of the key ideas & strategies I learnt to employ while applying the ‘Theory of Bumps’ framework in my relief (substitute) teaching practice.

For detailed explanations and descriptions of the framework and management strategies, I recommend obtaining a copy of Classroom Management: A Thinking & Caring Approach (Bennett, B. & Smilanich, P, 1994)


Bump 1: Low-Key Responses

Purpose:  To clearly communicate that the teacher is aware of what is happening in their classroom by managing classroom routines, and swiftly and quietly dealing with student misbehaviour before it becomes a problem.

Key Characteristics

  • Winning Over – Meet students at the door, take a genuine interest in their lives, develop positive relationships
  • Explicitly teach & reinforce signals for gaining attention and procedures for lesson transitions – Specify the WHEN, WHAT and WHO of the transition. Practice (repeatedly) and give explicit feedback on students performance. (This is an art)
  • Vary your position in the class. Be a moving target. Don’t be afraid to move in amongst students to ensure compliance, especially when seeking their attention prior to issuing instructions
  • Facilitate interesting learning experiences – use instructional learning strategies
  • Non-verbal/Minimal Verbal Responses – active scan, use of proximity, “the look”, use of student’s name, dramatic pause, hand gestures, assertive body language, planned ignore (of attention-seeking behaviour)
  • Demonstrated respect & polite attitude towards ALL students, particularly those who are misbehaving
  • Be careful using proximity / touch – beware of & respect students’ personal space & cultural differences. Seek to avoid ‘standing over’ or ‘backing students into a corner’.
  • Your allies, those students who are actually demonstrating their best behaviour, are an asset. Reinforce their positive behaviours, and try to avoid collective punishment
  • Focus on the behaviour, not the student. This communicates to the student that they are accepted in the classroom, but their negative behaviours are not.

Bump 2: Squaring Off

The teacher bumps up to ‘squaring off’ when the use of several low-key management strategies have failed to stop the misbehaviour.

Key Characteristics

  • You pause (and stop talking)
  • You turn to towards the student (square off)
  • You give a minimum verbal request to stop
  • Finish with a “thankyou”
  • Resume the lesson

Bump 3: Either/Or Choice

Stop, make eye contact with the student, and offer them a either/or choice. Use an assertive, unemotional voice. For example: “You have a choice – you can choose to behave, or you can choose to go to buddy class. What do you want to do?” Wait for response, and end with a “Thankyou”.

This process doesn’t have conducted in public. Students hate to be shamed or humiliated, and a public reprimand is not always the best approach. In some cases, it is very important to remove the audience. Taking misbehaving students aside for a quiet chat, or keeping them behind for a few minutes at Recess can prove extremely effective, particularly if you are dealing with an angry / attention seeking student. Waving an Office Referral slip under their nose can also be surprisingly effective.

Bump 3 makes the student responsible for their own behaviour, and the consequences they will face if they choose to continue their misbehaviour.


Bump 4: Implied Choice

If the student continues to misbehave, follow through with the consequence from Bump 3. “You’ve made your choice, please …”


Bump 5: Power

If a student tries to draw you in a power struggle, you need to recognise and circumvent it. This is NOT easy, but essential if you wish to maintain your sanity in complex behaviour situations. I will go into more detail about this in an upcoming post about aggressive/ violent/at-risk children.

If the student moves to power, it is often best to take a step back from the situation, ignore or calmly describe the behaviour, or ask the student to leave the classroom due to severity.

If you are faced with a situation where the student has lost control of their anger (e.g. throwing chairs), it is important to remove the audience (either the class or the student) to avoid shaming them, and to allow them to calm down. This also allows the teacher time to consider an appropriate course of action.


Bump 6: Informal Behaviour Contracts

This usually involves formal/informal agreements between the teacher and the student. It may also involve the formulation of Individual Behaviour Plans, in consultation with parents, specialists, etc.

Bennett, B & Smilanich, P. (1994). Classroom Management: Thinking and Caring Approach. Bookstation Inc. Toronto, Ontario

Department of Education and Training (WA): Behaviour Standards and Wellbeing Directorate (2007). Classroom Management Strategies Awareness Workshop Notes.

Julien-Schultz, L. (2008-2009). Preventing and Responding to Misbehaviour through Low-Key Responses. Nipissing University: Faculty of Education. Accessed (2/8/2010) from: http://www.nipissingu.ca/faculty/ronjc/EDUC4454Management/powerpoints/class4_bump1.ppt

Part 3: The 3 R’s of an Effective Learning Environment

The 3 R’s: Relationships, Respect & (Shared) Responsibility

In the course of their everyday work, a teacher takes on many roles – teacher, guide, role-model, learner, authority figure, confidante, disciplinarian, communicator, and the list goes on. Teaching is so much more than “chalk and talk”, and our students are not the “empty vessels” of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times.

As a relief teacher, I have worked with and observed the practice of experienced classroom managers, and realised that their classes have several important features in common. They are characterised by positive, open relationships (with students, parents, and colleagues), mutual respect, and a shared responsibility for the learning process. These are the “3 R’s of an Effective Learning Environment”.

The Teacher’s Attitude is Key

Student misbehaviour, in most cases, is not a subversive challenge to the teacher’s authority. Yes, some students can be extremely frustrating, distant and downright irritating, but they are children, and should be treated as such. Their behaviour can be extremely challenging and disruptive, but it often purposeful and influenced by their social environment.

Research shows that effective classroom managers treat student misbehaviour as a natural and normal part of schooling. They take proactive steps to prevent or reduce the severity of their students’ misbehaviour, seeking to minimise the disruption to the teaching & learning process.

As many experienced teachers have taught me, through their words and actions, the creation of a safe learning environment and the development of positive student-teacher relationships are key elements of effective management practice. 

A focus on the students’ needs

As human beings, we have three basic needs – the need for food, shelter, and safety. It is a symptom of modern society that a significant proportion of our students only feel safe at school. In some neighbourhoods, many students turn up to school hungry, having skipped breakfast. Therefore, teachers and schools play an important role in their students’ lives. 

A safe classroom learning environment is created by the teacher, developed through their words, attitudes, actions, classroom management approach, and the kinds of relationships they develop with their students. 

I have two fundamental beliefs:

  • No student should fear their teacher.
  • No student deserves to be intimidated, bullied, or provoked into violence by their classmates. 

To feel safe, our students:

  • Need clear guidelines or rules for appropriate behaviour. They need to own those rules, and understand the consequences they face if they choose not to abide by them.
  • Need to be treated with respect; as individuals with diverse interests, skills, and talents.
  • Need to feel like they belong, a sense of identity as part of a class, a school community
  • Need a sense of purpose, and degree of shared responsibility for the learning process

Finally, EVERY student has the right to feel safe at school, especially those students who exhibit challenging/violent behaviours. Some of the best teachers I have ever worked with, including my own Year 1 teacher, strive to make this happen. This is a difficult, long-term process, and you will have your successes and failures. This is why I became a teacher. 

Part 2 – My Jigsaw Approach to Classroom Management

Back in 2008, my reflections on my school experience and professional reading led me to develop a practical construct to describe my classroom management approach. The result was:

My “Jigsaw” Approach to Classroom Management
Key Ideas

1. The classroom teacher’s attitude to student misbehaviour underpins the effectiveness of their management response.

2. A safe learning environment relies on positive teacher-student relationships and positive peer relationships. Teachers can develop such relationships by taking a meaningful interest in their students’ lives, and promoting an anti-bullying ethos through their words and actions.

3. Make an effort to forge positive, respectful relationships with your more challenging students. Study the purpose and triggers of their behaviours, and learn about their backgrounds. Use behaviour management strategies which target the cause of their misbehaviour, and remember they too have the right to a safe learning environment.

4. A proactive classroom management approach relates to the facilitation of the teaching and learning process as well as the preventative management of student misbehaviour.

5. Fairly and consistently apply your system of graduated consequences. Ideally, such consequences should foster student self discipline and bring about behaviour change.

(Michael Graffin, November 2008)
What does it all mean?

The “Jigsaw” construct represents the four interrelated dimensions of a harmonious and productive teaching & learning environment. If one or more of the jigsaw ‘pieces’ are missing, the classroom environment becomes dysfunctional. Looking back on my 2008 experiences, I believe the key to the transformation of my class into a vibrant learning community was the creation of a safe learning environment, the missing piece of the puzzle.

Translating Theory into Practice

As my early relief teaching experiences soon revealed, there is a significant difference between having professional knowledge about classroom management and actually applying that knowledge in your professional practice.

As mentioned above, each “jigsaw piece” is critical to a successful classroom management approach. While I thought I was relatively competent in each dimension, I soon discovered that I had a lot to learn.

Engaging in frequent reflection on my classroom management strengths and weaknesses as a relief teacher, I

  • Engaged in extensive professional reading, focussing on excerpts from Classroom Management: A Thinking & Caring Approach, by Barrie Bennett & Peter Smilanich
  • Discussed my situation & potential management strategies with experienced classroom teachers and Deputy Principals
  • Set goals for improvement; experimenting with and refining my use of various management strategies.
Through this long-term reflective process, I have become a more confident and competent classroom manager, and a more effective relief teacher. I have undergone significant professional growth in this area, but recognising the different challenges of different classes and schools, the reflective process continues to this day.

The Value of Relief Teaching for New Graduates

Relief teaching is a challenging, and sometimes frustrating business, but it can also be intensely rewarding. 

Relief teachers come from all walks of life. Some are retired teachers seeking to supplement their retirement incomes, there are the few career relief (one colleague has been working as full-time relief for 20 years – she taught me!), others are in-between jobs, and some are new graduates, forced to work as relief while looking for more permanent/fixed teaching positions.

I fall into the final camp. I certainly didn’t choose relief teaching as my preferred career path; rather it was a decision forced upon me by circumstances beyond my control. At first, I was intensely disappointed at my “failure” to obtain a full-time teaching position; however, with the benefit of hindsight, I now understand that this was the best possible thing that could have happened to me.

Relief teaching was a rude, and extremely stressful introduction to the true realities of teaching. As a newbie graduate, I had no conception of the planning, instructional, and behaviour management demands of the teaching profession. I was in for the greatest shock of my life.

I am so thankful, that as a part-time casual employee, I had the ability and the time to adjust, reflecting on my experiences and actively seeking to address my major professional weaknesses. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that my relief teaching experience in so many schools and classrooms has helped me grow as a person and a teaching professional. 

As I will detail in later postings, I have used my time as a relief teacher to clarify my understanding of effective curriculum planning, instructional strategies, and assessment. I have learnt how to teach from K-7, and developed professional relationships with colleagues from a diverse range of teaching backgrounds. 

These relationships have proved an invaluable professional learning resource, as my conversations with teachers about effective behaviour management, literacy organisation blocks, quality curriculum resources, and instructional strategies have significantly influenced my evolving teaching practice. I have met some incredible teachers, and I am truly grateful for their advice and support. I hope to emulate them one day.

While gaining valuable classroom experience, I have been actively preparing teaching resources and programming materials (syllabus overviews, units of work, activity planners) for teaching Years 4-7. I am confident that my curriculum resource database, which now contains well over 3000 documents, is unique for a graduate teacher, and will will significantly reduce my stress and planning workload when teaching across a range of year levels.

One day, I hope to be able to share this treasure trove with my teaching colleagues, but in the meantime, I will continue to explore ways to improve my teaching practice & curriculum understandings with the ultimate intention of supporting those “difficult”, “hard-to-teach” students I meet and work with on a regular basis.