Managing your class at school is one thing, but keeping control of a less-structured class like Sunday school, a club, or a youth group is a completely different matter.
In school you can be super structured and controlled, and you can give consequences when needed. But in a church or club atmosphere, that’s not normally the way you want to go. Typically the goal is to be more laid-back and informal. And you probably don’t want to come down strong on a kid unless things are really getting out of hand.
This Is Embarrassing.
Our church has a Wednesday-night program for kids called Glory Stars, and my husband and I teach 6th grade. Normally I just have a handful of girls in my class, but due to a different schedule and a larger-than-normal turnout, I found myself standing in front of a mixed class of about 13 on this particular evening.
And they were hyper. To be fair, I had wound them up with a silly activity. But now they were just not listening. Okay, I’m being kind to myself – they were pretty much out of control. My husband was even mouthing to me from the back row, “You’re losing control.”
I know, honey. I know. This is pretty embarrassing. I’m always writing to all these teachers about classroom management & I am definitely not managing this very well right now.
Now if you have a strong, booming voice that commands authority (like my husband does), you can just yell “Quiet!” and you’re pretty much good to go. But I do not have that voice – and that’s not really my style anyhow.
So what do we do in these situations? As you can tell, I’m no expert. But I have picked up a few ideas over the years – ideas I’d better keep in mind next time the boys crash my class.
How to Keep Control of an Informal Class
- Use class response sayings. I haven’t pulled these out yet with the 6th graders because I never thought I needed them till the other night. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe this is something we should teach them preemptively – then they are used to them when we do need to get their attention quickly. In case you’re not familiar, you teach your kids to respond to a prompt. For example, if you say “1-2-3” you teach your students to respond with “eyes on me.” The fact that they have to say “eyes on me” automatically helps them stop their own conversations and focus on you. Or, you can use a clapping pattern where when you clap twice they clap 3 times in response. It doesn’t really matter what the pattern is (as long as it’s easy to remember). The key is that you’ve got to practice it at least 3-5 times with the kids and then continue to practice and review periodically. If you do this right, though, you can quiet a full classroom of kids in about 10 seconds – without yelling.
- Have a talk with the kids. Sometimes you’ve just gotta’ lay the cards on the table. If they’re getting out of control, tell them that. Get their attention and say something like, “I want this to be a fun time, but you guys are getting out of control. When I’m talking you need to listen. Thank you.”
- Drop their names. After you regain their attention, you want to work a little harder at keeping it. So if someone’s starting to disrupt things, just drop their name as you’re talking. If that doesn’t work, stop talking, look at them, and say their name. You can even stare at them for a little bit after they look up if you want. They’ll normally get the idea. If they respond with a “What!?” say something calm like, “I’m trying to teach right now, so please be respectful. Thanks.”
- Move a disruptive kid. If a kid is not responding to your gentle correction, don’t be afraid to move him. Simply tell him to move to the back row. If he tries to argue just calmly say, “Yes, please move now. Thank you.” Then stop and wait for him to move.
- Use your workers. If you have other workers or helpers in your class, talk to them and tell them how they can help you. For example, ask them to sit with the kids so that they can help you get control when needed. It’s also a great idea to discuss with them how you want the students to behave and when you want them to step in and correct a student.
- Give the “What were you thinking?” look. This is a great way to subtly correct a kid without having to say anything and without having to delve into the details of the situation. If it looks like something questionable is going on, just give the kid(s) a half-confused look with a shake of the head that says, “what were you thinking?” That way they know that you know. And that’s often enough.
- Don’t forget all the things that work in your classroom. Even though the class is less structured, there are a lot of strategies that do carry over. So continue to develop relationships with your students. Get the parents involved when needed. Deal with problems while they’re still small. And when a problem is persisting, talk honestly with the kid to deal with the root of the problem not just the surface issue.
I’d love to hear your ideas. What else helps you keep control of a less-formal class?