Classroom management

A guest speaker shared the FLIP system of classroom management with us last week. Her presentation resonated with what many CI teachers have shared.

To begin with, she said that the first response to any situation with behavior is for the teacher to breathe. Students end up mimicking that response, and it calms down both parties in any conflict. Everyone comes with “Ick,” or background that might interfere with learning or with connection, and sometimes that “Ick” is in the foreground. It makes all of us respond in primitive ways. Fight, flight, and freeze are the three ways our brainstem reacts to sudden stress, and breathing slows those reactions, giving us time to think.

Ways of replacing unhelpful responses to “Ick” include creating attachment, taking initiative, using self-regulation, learning coping skills, and concentrating on the strengths as well as the challenges of those people in front of us. But those areas may not click in until a person is a 25-year-old (if then…).

“Creating attachment” reminded me of what Susan Gross has taught me about “putting funds into the love bank.” We want to greet students, show interest in them, share what’s going to be interesting and fun in the classroom, and when we part, give them something to look forward to the next time. That makes later need for guidance easier, and keeps difficult situations from arising to begin with.

What do we do in the meantime if challenges come up?

We breathe.

Then we start with F: Feelings. By acknowledging how our students feel, we may take all the heat out of a situation. Several teachers I know have “feelings charts” so that students can register their “Ick” (mad, sad, tired, energetic, anxious, excited) as they enter the room. Justin Slocum-Bailey has a signal students show teachers as they enter a classroom to request hands-off treatment that day. That means sharing and teaching students in advance that we care about their feelings and that we support their right to “have Ick.” And Bryce Hedstrom’s Special Person interviews go far to helping everyone bond and support others.

L stands for Limits. But instead of telling students to “stop” doing something, we remind them of classroom guidelines in a positive way. With little ones, when they push, we can say, “In this classroom we use gentle hands,” and with older students, we can point to the positive rules: “We listen when others are speaking.” Many CI classrooms use printed guidelines that teachers simply point to when students have forgotten. We don’t need to lecture and explain, and we aim for “do” rather than “do not.”

I stands for Inquiry. Here we can ask students how they might solve a problem. “I understand that you’re upset about … Is there another way to handle … How might we solve…?” in discussion with students. Depending on whether “I” is for the group or private, and what students tell us, we may go to P.

P is for Prompts. Here, we can offer suggestions about how to solve problems, though they may have to be specific guidelines as mentioned above. Ideally by starting with acknowledging feelings, we can relate prompts back to the student, and sometimes a prompt is no longer necessary because the other steps have already solved the problem.

No matter what, we remember that students are learning and growing. We have to teach behavior, model it correctly, reinforce it, and often reteach it. By having steps, from “breathe” all the way through FLIP, we can stop our own automatic (knee-jerk) reactions to behaviors and take the time to work with learners.

Although our speaker was talking to us about how to work with preschool students, I suspect that “FLIP” will help at any level. In fact, she urged my high school kids to try this system with their parents. When their parents are hyperventilating because of what students have done (for instance, coming in too late), the students can take a long, deep breath in front of the parents. Then they can acknowledge feelings: “I know you’re angry with me because…” They can use “L” to verbalize the limits they didn’t follow. “I” can be a question about how they can make it right (e.g. doing extra dishes for a week), and “P” might be the chance to agree with the parent (e.g. parent says to do extra dishes and take care of siblings for a month on weekend nights). The FLIP system teaches how to negotiate conflict in a positive way, and I feel very lucky that we had a chance to share it with both teachers and students.

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