Screaming. Whining. Snarky comments. Broken pencils all over the floor. Bickering. Piles of papers cluttering the desk. Dried-out glue sticks with no caps to be found. Students slumping in their seats. Eye rolling. A phone call from the office because you forgot to submit attendance. Again.
Does this sound like your classroom?
If so, I’m here to offer you hope: it doesn’t have to be this way.
Honestly, the classroom I just described is unacceptable. No one wants to learn – much less even be – in this environment.
It’s time for a change.
Don’t wait until next school year.
Don’t wait until a new month or a new week.
You are the teacher. You have the power (and the responsibility!) to make positive changes today.
Now, I don’t know you, but I can assume that you want your classroom to feel like a peaceful space where:
- students are valued
- teachers are respected
- risks are taken
- kindness is modeled and encouraged
- a love of learning is cultivated
How do I know that? Because you’re a good teacher. You want what’s best for your students. You want your students to enjoy coming to school. You want to want to come to school!
Pause with me for a moment. You may be thinking, “Jessica – you have no idea what my classroom is like! I have a super difficult student (or ten!), no support from my admin, and so much work to do that I’m always falling behind!”
And it’s true – Some things or people in your classroom contribute to the chaos and lack of peace may be out of your control. But there are still things you can control that will help set a peaceful tone to your classroom. I’m going to focus on those things today and give you action-steps to take back your classroom!
So – how can we make our classrooms more peaceful?
1. Prep for each morning the night before
Before you leave school, you need to take 15 minutes and prep for the next day. Build this into your after-school routine:
- Tidy up your desk/workspace
- Look over your lesson plans
- Prep any materials you’ll need for tomorrow morning
- Change the date on the white board
- Copy/hand out the morning work
- Do anything you’ll wish you had done when you arrive tomorrow.
You’ll feel so much more peaceful in the morning when you walk in and things are clean, organized, and ready to go. As a bonus, if you need to call out for any reason, you won’t have to drive to school at 6am in your pjs, with a fever, trying not to throw up, just to prep for your sub (not that I’ve ever done that or anything!)
At home, before you go to bed (at a reasonable hour!) you’ll want to make sure your lunch is packed, your bag(s) are ready to go, and any materials you’ll need are prepped. Pick out your outfit (down to the shoes!) and end your day reading and/or praying. You’ll sleep better than if you binge Netflix right until you get in the bed. This way you’ll wake up rested, recharged, and ready to get to school and champion peace in your classroom! And if you do happen to run a little late, you won’t be a panicky, hectic tornado zooming through your room to get ready for the day, because you already did the work the afternoon before. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself for starting this simple habit and you’ll be amazed at the peace it brings to your classroom, before the students even enter the doors.
2. Organize your classroom
Your classroom needs to be clean and organized if you want it to feel peaceful. Does it need to look like a Pinterest-perfect picture out of the Container Store magazine? Definitely not. But it needs to be neat and functional so that you and your students are ready to focus on what you have to teach them, and to try new things.
Say it with me now: Everything has a home. Every item in your classroom needs to have a place and serve a purpose. Your class sets of the novel you teach at the beginning of the year needs to have a shelf in your closet (or bin in your cupboard) so they stay in good condition and you know exactly where they are when you need them. The 5,000 empty toilet paper rolls you’re saving in your cabinet in case you ever need them for the perfect learning project? Chuck them! Your students can all bring one in from home if inspiration hits you and you think of the perfect activity to use them. The big bin of construction paper scraps? Have your students take 30 minutes to make cards for their reading buddies and then donate all the leftovers to the art teacher (or straight into the recycle bin!). As teachers we often operate out of a mindset of lack – we don’t always have extra money to buy supplies, so we hoard what we have. If you have a set of 8 grammar posters you inherited from the teacher when she retired three years ago, but you never remember to use them or they have outdated information, they have no place in your classroom! Get rid of them!
Your teacher desk or workspace needs to be organized, decluttered, and optimized for productivity. Your students need to have space for their backpacks, coats, and personal supplies. Include them in keeping the classroom neat and organized – they spend 8 hours a day in here, so they need to take ownership of this shared space. Find a system that works for you and your students – and stick to it!
3. Prioritize Respect in Your Classroom
In order for your classroom to be peaceful, you need to cultivate an environment of mutual respect. You respect your students, they respect each other, and they respect you, their teacher.
Here are some tips to help your students feel respected (and you too!):
- Greet your students at the door
You want your students to feel welcomed, valued, and wanted in your classroom. One simple way you can do that is to stand at the door and greet each student by name when they enter the classroom. Your students need to see that you are calm, prepared, and looking forward to a great day of learning. This peaceful start sets the tone for the entire day.
- Watch your tone
Are you speaking to (and about!) your students in a kind, respectful tone? The words we use matter – but so does how we say it. You wouldn’t speak down to your spouse, your children, or your friends – so don’t do it to your students. Honor them and their reputation.
- Model respect
You have the opportunity to model respect with how you treat, speak to, and share stories about your family, your coworkers, and your administration. You’ve heard the expression “more is caught than taught” and it certainly rings true in this situation. Children are in our classrooms to learn more than just the parts of speech and their math facts – we have the opportunity to model for them how to respect not only people we like, but more importantly, those we don’t always get along with or agree with.
- Don’t tolerate teasing, name-calling, or jokes at the expense of another
You need to be firm and consistent about this. No exceptions. You are a class, you are a team, and you are in this together for this school year. You want to encourage a peaceful classroom atmosphere where kids can share their ideas, make mistakes, and feel important. You are the teacher, so you set the bar high. Hold yourself- and your students – to a high standard when it comes to showing respect to everyone.
3. Have a plan for what students do during downtime
Think through your day – is there a specific time when the classroom feels hectic and disruptive? Most of the chaos comes when students are not actively engaged in the learning or have down time before the class is ready to move on to the next activity.
To keep your classroom a peaceful one, you need to have a plan for these times. What are some activities or assignments your students can do if they finish early? (silent reading, extra credit, jump-start on homework, teacher’s helper, brain boosters, practice their math facts on a white board, complete an act of kindness, work through task cards, write notes or cards to friends/family, etc.) Having pre-planned options will help minimize distractions, keep your students engaged and on-task, and create a peaceful environment for the students who are still working.
Do you have a weird chunk of time before lunch that seems to turn your sweet students into crazed hooligans? Or maybe a lull in between science and going to special? Take ownership of your classroom and plan for that time to maintain peace. Maybe you use those few minutes to read a chapter from a gripping read-aloud. Take a few minutes to play a spelling review game or Bible verse practice activity. Pull out some trivia cards and test your students’ knowledge of random (or funny!) facts. You need to decide how you will capitalize on the downtime to maintain peace instead of chaos.
4. Make a prioritized to-do list
Stephen Covey said, “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”
Maybe the feelings of chaos and a lack of peace stem from you trying to juggle all the things when that is not only not doable, but also not necessary. When you look at your week (or your day) and make a master to-do list, I encourage you to sort the items by order of priority. Are there things that you could delegate to someone else? Are there things you could just cross off completely?
Sample scenario: You’ve blocked off time to get your lesson planning for the next week done. Halfway through your time you check your email inbox and get a request that needs your attention (the urgent). Instead of writing it on your to-do list and getting back to your lesson planning (the important), you drop everything and spend the next 30 minutes searching for the answer to this question. And honestly, you weren’t even the right person to be answering this question. Now your planning period is up, you didn’t finish your science lesson plans, and now you’re going to stress out about squeezing it in at home when you want to be spending time with your family.
As a teacher, your work is never done. You need to be organized and disciplined about tackling the important things first and then the less important things later (or not at all!). You’ll be amazed at the peace you feel (and communicate to your students) when your tasks are prioritized and your time is valued.
5. Give yourself grace to rest and unplug
Teaching is a wonderfully rewarding and oh-so-challenging job that requires lots of servitude, for the sake of meeting our students’ diverse needs and keeping the classroom running smoothly. But this job should never come at the expense of your relationship with the Lord or your family, or your physical and mental health. Some of you need to stop doing all the things and settle for less. Now, as a do-er, that is hard for me to hear (and harder still to write!) because I pride myself in being a producing machine (and a cheerful one at that). But a life well-lived is one of balance. You will not feel fulfilled or at peace if you are giving everything to the school and coming home drained, exhausted, and downright cranky.
I encourage you to set specific and strict “office hours” when you will answer e-mails, be available for conferences, do lesson planning, and grading. When that time ends each day, you need to force yourself to stop. Close your e-mail, leave the stack of papers for tomorrow (or hand them back/throw them out if they don’t actually need to be graded), and shut off your teacher brain (I know, I know – easier said than done). But you will be amazed at the difference it makes in your mood, your energy level, and your desire to go to work. Taking time each day to unplug from your classroom will be life-giving and peace-bringing!
These changes may not be easy to implement. Your classroom won’t immediately turn into a peaceful haven overnight. But you have the power and the responsibility to take action and do what you can to promote a peaceful atmosphere in your classroom.
I recommend a class meeting with your students. Talk to them about the lack of peace you’re feeling in the room – trust me, they feel it too. Be honest. Own your part in it and hold them accountable for the changes you are going to make together to revolutionize the atmosphere in your classroom.
We serve a God of peace and He wants our lives to be marked by His peace.
Some of your students do not go home to peaceful environments. We can share the love of God with them by giving them a peaceful environment in which to learn, grow, and explore.
What steps will you take today to cultivate a peaceful classroom? Commit to make changes today!