My Favorite Classroom Management Tool

The KInderhearted Classroom My Favorite Classroom Management Tool

Hey teacher friends - have you heard about using a doorbell in your classroom?  Let me tell you - it is my absolute favorite classroom management tool EVER!  I started using the doorbell three years ago, and I will never go back.

Say What????

Yep - my favorite classroom management tool is a doorbell.  I use it Every. Single. Day - Multiple. Times.A.Day.  It is my signal that instantly gets the students' attention and lets them know its time to do something. It even has its own special hook where I hang it at the end of each day.

The KInderhearted Classroom My Favorite Classroom Management Tool

Don't you just love that little dog bum hook from IKEA!  I thought it was too cute and just HAD to find a purpose for it.  Occasionally, I forget and leave school with the doorbell still around my neck.  One Monday I accidentally left it at home and quickly realized just how much I loved using the doorbell in class.  I even ran home to pick it up at lunch time!

The KInderhearted Classroom My Favorite Classroom Management Tool

The main doorbell unit plugs into the wall (can you say #nobatteries) and the doorbell button is a small piece that I hot glued to a lanyard.  This allows me to wear it around my neck and always have it with me.  The small button does require a battery, however, I've used mine for 3 years and have never had to change the battery!  

What is the doorbell for?

Starting on the first day of school, I begin the process of training my students to listen for the doorbell.  The  sound is a signal to the students that I need their attention.  The students quickly learn that when they hear the sound, they stop what they are doing (freeze their bodies) , stop talking (freeze their mouth) and look to the teacher.  Then I am able to give instructions and I know I have their attention.  

Gone are the days of me going home hoarse from talking over the beautiful sounds of learning chatter.  Gone are the days of me giving an instruction and only 1/3 of the class hearing me.  Gone are the days of students asking "what did you just say?"

You can think of the doorbell like a sound trigger for a learned response.  Yes, for all of you that took Psychology 101, it sounds a lot like Pavlov's Dogs.  And really, it is the same idea, a consistent trigger (in this case a sound from the doorbell) that triggers the students giving me their attention.  It works like a charm and makes our classroom run smoothly and efficiently.

Training is Key!

Whether its a bell or any other classroom routine or procedure, the key to it working in the classroom is in the consistent instruction.  On the first day of school I show the doorbell to the class and explain what it is used for.  I play them some of the sounds and together we choose our favorite.  Then we play a game that goes something like this:

"I want you to talk to your neighbor about what you ate for dinner last night.  But, when you hear the doorbell I want to do three things: 1) immediately freeze your body (I model in a fun and silly way), 2) stop talking (I model in a fun and silly way), and 3) look at me (I model with big silly eyes staring at my students)."

Together, we practice what it means to "freeze" and strike some poses.  We practice what it means to instantly stop talking.  We practice what it means to look at the teacher.  Then we begin.

"OK - now I want you to talk to your neighbor about what you ate for dinner.  Go!"  

At first, they class is usually a little quiet as they try to talk but are really focused on listening for the bell.   I wait a little longer than expected and let them get into a good conversation about dinner before I ring it.  I hold up my fingers as I count how long it takes for the entire class to freeze their bodies and mouths and look at the teacher.  Then we celebrate!  

"Yay!  It only took you 6 seconds for the entire class to freeze and look at me!  That is fantastic!!!  Do you think you can beat your time?"  

Of course they all agree that they can so we start round 2.  

"This time I want you tell a funny story about your family.  Ready, Set, Go!"  

After about 30 seconds I ring the bell and count again.  

"Wow!  You all beat your time!  This time it only took 4 seconds!  High Five your neighbor!"

We celebrate our success and practice a few more times. Sometimes I wait a while (like a minute or two) before ringing the bell and other times I ring it after just 5 seconds.  This is all part of making it fun and feeling like a game.  At the end of our practice game we are consistently at 1-2 seconds in response time.  We celebrate again and I write the best time on the board.  Then I remind the students that throughout the day we will be practicing this.  

At random times throughout the day I will ring the bell.  Sometimes it will be to practice a real transition, while other times I might just say "Your teacher is so proud of you!" when they are all quietly looking at me.  But consistent practice, at different times in the day is important.  After doing this everyday for a few days, their ears become attuned to the bell! Despite the chatter that comes with engaged learning, they hear the bell.  It's a magical thing!

I will say that the first few times they hear doorbell during work time (not doorbell practice time) it does take a little longer for everyone to freeze and look at me.  But with continued, consistent practice their response time improves here too!  The kids in the class are great helpers and reminders to their friends, and they are always trying to beat their best class time.

Explicit Instructions

Explicit instructions are another key to classroom management and procedures, especially if you teach little people.  The students want to do what the teacher says, but all too often we are guilty of making general or vague instructions that have lots of wiggle room for interpretation.  This leaves our students unclear about what to do and filling in the interpretation on their own.  

Picture this: "Class its carpet time.  Please come to the carpet."  The students jump up and make their way to the classroom carpet at the front of the room.  Some students run out of excitement, some students walk, and a couple just sit at their desk looking around.  Some chairs are pushed in but many are not.  Some students push and shove to get to their chosen place on the carpet while another cries because they can't sit where they want.  One student lies down while another sits sprawled out like they are stretching in PE class.

This is a very real picture of what happens in classrooms everywhere.  I know because it happened in my room too! It's no wonder.  The students all did exactly what they were told.  They went to the carpet for carpet time. The problem is that the instruction left a lot of room for interpretation for an activity that many students had never done before.

I have become very intentional about using explicit instructions.  This means I begin the year assuming that my students don't know anything about the classroom or how we do things.  We all start as a blank slate when it comes to classroom procedures.  It then becomes my job to teach and model procedures in a very specific way.  

Picture this: "Class we are getting ready for carpet time.  Here's what we will do when it is time to go the carpet for a lesson.  First,  you will quietly stand up.  If you are sitting in a chair you will need to push your chair into the table so it is out of the way for us to move around.  Then I would like you to quietly walk to your place on the carpet.  Each of you has your own place to sit.  When you come to the carpet you will sit on your star.  You can sit criss-cross-applesauce (or mermaid style if wearing a dress).  Today I am going to show your where to sit.  After today you will go to the same star every time.  OK - I want you to turn to a neighbor and tell them what it means to go to the carpet."

Students then share with their neighbor the procedure for transitioning to carpet time. Next, we practice the right and wrong way.  I ask for a few volunteers who can show us what it means to go to the carpet the right way.   Then a few students practice the wrong way to go to the carpet.  Now it is time for everyone to practice and as they move to the carpet the first time, they are assigned their special spot to sit.  As a class, we give thumbs up or air high 5's as each student practices going to the carpet and sitting according to the instruction.

The KInderhearted Classroom My Favorite Classroom Management Tool

Side Note: I use Sit Spots in my classroom in the shape of a star - thus the instruction to "sit on your star."  Sit Spots are awesome little cut-outs of heavy duty velcro.  They stick to the carpet in my classroom and allow me to assign a space for each student to sit.  They are easily movable so I can move students around as needed.  They come in many different shapes and colors and are so easy to use. 

Baby Steps - It's Worth It!

At the beginning of the year, I teach all of my procedures in this way.  Yes, it takes a little time, but I promise it is worth it in the end.  Those first couple of weeks I am intentionally incorporating new class procedures into everything we do for the purpose of explicit instruction and practice.  Yes, I do start teaching but there is almost always a procedural purpose.  The students may think they are working on writing their name (an important academic skill), but my procedural goal was to teach them how to get out and put away their supplies.  

The first year I began incorporating this into my classroom, it took lots of thought.  Now that I've been doing it for a few years, it comes naturally.  That is also partly due to the fact that I have seen it be so successful in my classroom. 

At first, I wanted to teach all the procedures in the first few days.  That way we could "get started" with our learning.  But I quickly learned the importance of practice and baby steps.  Now, I try to be very patient and introduce things slowly as this has had a much better result.  If I have a specific procedure that I want them to use, then I teach it to them.  Until I teach it, then we don't do it.  Yep, that means I pass out more things at the beginning or do more things on my own.  But I've found that this is better then them learning bad habits.  My mantra at the beginning of the year is 'baby steps' and that is my personal reminder not to rush into things.

Putting it All Together!

Using the combination of the doorbell with the explicit instructions is the magical combination that completely changed my classroom management.  I can allow my students to be happily engaged in work, which often includes moving around the room and some chatter.  I know that with the click of a button they instantly get quiet and look to me for further instructions.  I no longer have to raise my voice over the sounds of learning to get their attention.  Then I can tell them what I need them to do and they do it.

Now that we are about 4 weeks in to our routine, my instructions sound much different than they did on the first day of school.  Today you just might see and hear this:

*Chime Rings* and students freeze and look at me.

"We are about to begin our carpet time.  I need you to put your supplies away and join me on your spot on the carpet.  Pink group will go first."  

Pink group gets up and takes their pencils and crayons to their assigned put away spot. {Yep - another procedure that we learned step by step at the beginning of the year.}  Then they quietly walk to carpet and sit on their assigned spot. 

"Green group now its your turn."  

Same things happens with students in the green group.  

"Now it's time for the blue group."  

The blue group follows in the same fashion.  

Today, 4 weeks into our school year, I can give instructions that quite often involve 2 or 3 steps.  We took it slow at the beginning, but now we make up so much of that time with quick and easy transitions.  And . . . these procedures are in place for the rest of the school year!  The students have a sense of security because they know exactly what to expect throughout the day.  Although we don't practice listening for the doorbell any more, sometimes, just for fun, I'll ring that bell just to say "You are a great class!" 

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