Anyone who's lasted in teaching longer than 4 seconds has undoubtedly been the beneficiary of some sound advice. Conversely, if you hang out in the profession long enough you're also bound to hear some terrible advice. Among my least favorite is the adage, "Don't smile before Christmas." If you haven't heard this, count yourself lucky. If you have, you recognize it in the context of a conversation related to classroom management. Veteran teachers often pass this advice to new teachers as a means of offering up a solution to the omnipresence of classroom chatter and general student defiance. Believe it or not, those who peddle this phrase are trying to help. They recognize the importance of classroom management, and their goal is to help you set the stage for a classroom environment in which your voice is heard and your authority is unquestioned. Sadly, what they may fail to recognize is the importance relationships and joy have in a healthy and successful classroom culture.
It is true, you can't teach in chaos. What is also true is that students deserve teachers who value an attitude of "and" as opposed to an attitude of "or". That is to say, those first few months teachers can establish expectations for behavior AND cultivate relationships in a joyful learning environment. I mean seriously, we tell teachers "Don't smile until Christmas" and then wonder why kids hate school. That's like gargling bleach for five months and wondering why your teeth fell out. Sure...the intention is to do good, but the outcome is not. Some out there will read this, and in January point to classrooms of silent and obedient students as evidence of this saying's truth and value. But is that really the goal? Rows of silent kids whose only contributions to the class are to listen and obey? I've been in hundreds of classrooms like this. At first glance they look great, but the sound of consistent classroom silence echoes a level of discontent and student ambivalence that is almost deafening.
Instead, I encourage all teachers in this first few weeks of school to set expectations that go beyond compliance and are grounded in more than fear. Cultivate a culture of high expectations for behavior in an environment that also offers feelings of safety, support, and belonging. Here are some ways we can do that: