3 Ways to Build a More Joyful, Efficient Classroom

Most of us are just about a month into the school year, which means the honeymoon phase is over. Grades are in and students have started to feel successful or unsuccessful in the context of our classes. Their “best behavior” has transitioned into limit testing. What happens if I show up late? Will he notice if we pass notes over here? Is she actually reading my homework, or just putting a check-mark on it? Am I accepted in this room? Do I belong here? Over the first 3-4 weeks their questions have been answered and they’re responding accordingly.

Time for a tune-up!

Joyful, efficient classrooms are teams that work together effectively toward a common goal. Want to see joy and efficiency in action in your own community? Use these 3 strategies to build your team!

1) Pair-Teach-Present:

Divide students into pairs and assign each partner to either be “Partner A” or “Partner B.” Assign each partner a topic or problem to teach to the other. This works really well as a review of reading or homework, or at the end of class to summarize what students learned. Give each 2 minutes to teach their topic to their partner. Afterward, ask students to raise their hand if they think their teaching was effective. “Who did a good job teaching topic X to his/her partner? Who has confidence in their partner’s understanding of topic X after teaching them?” Allow the “teaching” partners to volunteer the “learning” partners to share out what they learned by presenting to the class. If the presenter struggles, turn back to the teacher: “How could you explain it differently so your partner understands?” Then switch.

How does it help build a joyful, efficient team? Students are responsible for each other’s performance, which demands cooperation and a team-approach. Presenting is low-risk because the presenter’s struggles are framed as a teaching problem, not a learning problem. All students are engaged and responding to a prompt, topic, or question with an incentive to do well – they might be called on to present!

2) Stars and graveyard reflection

Give students a way to reflect on the process of their learning by asking, “What made our work joyful and efficient today? What happened today that we can aim for every day?” and “What did we do today that we shouldn’t repeat? What stood in the way of a joyful, efficient class?” Record student responses and put them up on the wall or white board under a field of stars (things to aim for) and a gravestone (things to avoid).

How does it help? First of all, most kids don’t even know that a joyful, efficient classroom is the goal! They interpret rules as attempts to control them, not ways of organizing a community to achieve a goal. Bring them into the process and ask them to contribute — it makes a big difference!

3) Talk about leadership and set “being” goals

Help students mature as leaders and take ownership over classroom culture by carving out specific time to reflect on leadership, teamwork, and responsibility. What do good leaders do and not do? How do you build integrity? How do you manage your reputation? Kids can see the relevance of these skills and competencies to their life goals and academic ambitions.

Print out slips of paper with various qualities written on them (kind, thoughtful, generous, smart, organized, careful, risk-taker, shy, quiet, calm, excited) and ask students to sort them into piles: necessary to being a leader, nice to have, or not useful. Have them choose the top three most important qualities they think a leader should posses. Have them select three qualities they think the have now, and three they want to develop.

Spend 10 minutes each week setting “being” goals and identifying actions that would lead to success. Ask kids, “How do you want to be seen by others? What kind of leader or person do you want to be?” Academic goals are great (“I want to get an A”) but “being” goals are also essential to a good classroom culture (“I want to be kind,” “I want to be generous,” “I want to be inspiring to others”).

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Categories: Stage 2: Joyful and Efficient

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