Thursday, June 12, 2014

Managing Behavior: Alleviating Issues Before They Begin

It's never too late to take a look at classroom management in your music room. Regardless of past failures and successes, each new year gives you a chance to start fresh and try new ideas to build community in your classroom and create an environment of caring, cooperation, and collaboration!

A couple of things: First, I work in a "Title I" school full of families with extremely rough stories. Many of my sweet students have supportive families but many of them don't. I have an extremely supportive principal who knows what our kids face and who knows how to deal with it. That being said, every day brings a new challenge. I certainly don't have all the answers, nor am I perfect, but I feel like we've had a successful year learning and growing together. 

Also, I believe that the Kodaly method (specifically the Houlahan-Tacka branch) has transformed my teaching. It has substance and in my experience, the kids respond to substance more than any fun "activity" I could come up with. This has tremendously impacted my classroom as far as behavior. 

Suddenly, we weren't going from unconnected activity to unconnected activity. We were on a journey spiraling through concepts and connecting to things we'd already learned. When my students are succeeding at hard musical concepts and internalizing music like they've never done before, they feel the power of that and don't have time to be bored and get into mischief. 

I recommend that every music teacher out there (middle, high school and university included) get certified in Kodaly or Orff or something that gives them "meat" for the students to sink their teeth into.

Let's get started!

Building Relationships
My number one tip for eliminating behavior problems in your classroom is to build relationships with your students. I took a Capturing Kids Hearts training last summer and it was great! We got tons of ideas for team building and relationship building. 

One of the things I thought worked well was having a class contract. At the beginning of the year, we met all classes in the gym and did "specials" contracts. Then each child and teacher signed it.

Using the Capturing Kids Hearts method, we answered some basic questions as a group: 
1) How do want to be treated by the teacher? 
2) How do you want to be treated by each other? 
3) How do you think the teacher wants to be treated? and 
4) How should we treat each other when there is a conflict? 

Side note: TEACHER HACK!! Tacking stuff to the ceiling is awesome! It saves so much space and the kids can still reference it later in the year. :-) 

It didn't magically solve every problem, but by having that conversation, we opened the door to future conversations about how we should be treating each other. Having a class meeting is HUGE because it empowers every student to have a say.

Of course, being a once-a-week class, it's harder to dedicate time to this or to build deep relationships with everyone. This year, I had lunch duty on a rotating schedule, so I got to eat lunch with one group for a 6-weeks before changing to another group. It was fantastic for checking in with kids, having great conversations and seeing them let their hair down a bit. It also provided a time for them to ask questions about upcoming programs. I was able to use my actual lunch break for meeting with my UIL group, kids that had solos or even lunch detention, when needed.
Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance!
My high school economics teacher used to say that to our class. Every. Single. Day. And I believe it applies even more as a teacher. I am a over-planner by nature, but if I don't plan - watch out! The day will be filled with frustration, behavior problems and a very short amount of patience on all parts.

How do I plan? I'm sure I could write a whole post based on planning, but for now I'll give the gist of it.

1. Goals and Standards: What do you want each grade level to accomplish this year? How long will it take you to teach each unit? What units or concepts can you combine? I like to integrate my instrument identification and listening within each unit.

2. Yearly Plan: Make a rough sketch of each week or rotation and what concepts you plan to teach. Leave a little bit of room at the end of the year so that if you miss school for sickness or snow days, you can bump lessons down the calendar.

3. Individual Lesson Plans: Through my Kodaly certification I wrote tons and tons of lessons. Now all I have to do is plug in warmups, songs, games, practice activities and transitions and I'm good to go!

Whew! That sounds like a lot to do, but the bulk of it stays the same from year to year, so it's not as labor intensive in the short run.

I try to plan way more than I'll ever use, in case of technical difficulty or if the activity just doesn't work that day. I also have a playlist on Spotify and a stack of flashcards handy in case I have extra time! 
Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is so important, I've already blogged a little about it! Check out my post about super cute blue notes here. They are "star student" notes that go home each day with one or two well-behaved Kinders and Firsties. 

My older students can handle a little more teamwork, so we work to reach a goal as a class. If we get our goal each day, we move our magnet up. You can read more about my classroom management here.

Those are some of my favorite tips for having "dazzling discipline" in the music classroom. I can't wait to read the comments and get some ideas to try for next year!


  1. Hi Lori!

    I am loving your ideas! Our district went to a training last year for Capturing Kid's Hearts and are working to implement it in our elementary building this year. Do you have any suggestions on using the training/ideas/methods in the music room specifically? Right now, only the counselors went to the training so the staff is a little confused. It sounds like a great program to create a positive learning environment, I just want to know more from the "music" point of view. Thank you for your great ideas!

    1. Hi Christine! Thanks for your kind words! CKH is wonderful - every person on our staff went through the three day training last summer by the Flippen Group. There is so much to share I will probably write a post about it soon. And Aileen inspired me to start a Pinterest board for it!

      From a "music" perspective, it was fantastic to have a school-wide language that all 550 students knew. (4 questions for misbehavior and 4 questions for disrespect) Besides the contracts, we greet every student that comes in the room immediately when they enter and we launch (almost) every class out the door with an inspirational thought, quote or question. I have to admit, I'd heard of CKH and I'd seen it done poorly (just the counselor and 2 teachers trained) and it didn't seem very worthwhile to me. But seeing it implemented across our entire district has been eye-opening to the power this thing has. I can't wait to blog more about it! Thanks for asking! :-)

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  3. Great post! Is Capturing a Kids Heart a school wide adoption or something you do in your classroom? I love the focus of it:)

    Thanks for posting your link on my blog! I hope it brings you a few new connections.

    The Resourceful Apple

    1. Thanks Tammy! Thanks for hosting the linky! Capturing Kids Hearts is a district-wide initiative. Last summer, every teacher and staff member on my campus took a three day training, which was as much about ordering your own life as it was teaching. I can't wait to see how we will do in year 2 of implementation.

  4. Hey Lori!
    My school is implementing CKH this year and although I am extremely excited about this, as a second year elementary music teacher, I am worried about the 4 questions disrupting my class activities. Most of our activities are group based with very little time to speak to students individually, so my question is:
    How do you counter having to ask the four questions in the middle of a group activity without getting the entire class involved? Do you pull the student aside or wait until the activity is over? I used a cool down system with a cool-down sheet at random desks in my room that they would fill out and we would discuss before they could return. Do you think I could make a 4 questions cool-down sheet and still comply with CKH?


    -Lizzy Rickel

    1. Great question! It really depends on the situation. Usually the misbehaviors happen during transitions in my room. If I can't to the student to speak quietly to them, I call out a general "What are you supposed to be doing?" to the whole class. That usually gets their attention. If all the teachers in the school are asking the 4 questions, after a while, that's the only question you need to ask. It really works!

      Personally, I don't think the point of the 4 questions is to have them sit out of the activity, but rather to think about their actions, fix them, and get back in. I've done a written "think sheet" (required by admin) before and it did not work. It was the same kids sitting out all year. They never learned how to actually fix what they were doing - they learned to write what the admin wanted them to write. The activity is where they're building relationships and building those social skills that they so desperately need. Just my two cents!