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Here’s my secret for better classroom management

An elementary SmartLab facilitator and longtime tech educator shares how she keeps students on track and on task

At Flagstaff Academy in Colorado, I am lucky to head up the SmartLab facility and offer guided lessons to all K-5 classrooms. Couple this with 15 years of teaching technology, and you could say I’ve learned a thing or two about bringing technology into the classroom successfully.

Over the past few years, advancements in technology have greatly improved the classroom experience for both students and teachers alike. Tools like Chromebooks, SMART Boards, and even virtual reality headsets have allowed teachers to bring instruction to life and make learning more engaging.

But these tools are only as good as the classroom environment in which they exist. Truly successful education depends on teachers’ ability to create and maintain organized instructional environments that keep kids engaged and on task while encouraging the sharing of ideas and questions.

Classroom-management challenges
Unfortunately, that’s much easier said than done. It can be incredibly hard to tailor a classroom-management plan that takes into account all of the various personalities that make up a class. After all, kids learn at different speeds, and some are more likely to speak up than others. It can be tough to understand who needs help, let alone provide effective one-to-one instruction. Likewise, creating an organized structure–both physically and instructionally–is vitally important for focused learning, but often difficult to achieve, especially with larger class sizes.

Classroom management can be even more challenging in a one-to-one device environment. For instance, when every student has a laptop, tablet, or smartphone it can be difficult to tell if they’re doing their work or secretly playing Minecraft. How do teachers monitor kids’ activities and keep them on task?

Centralized classroom control
For me, the answer was a robust classroom management platform that brings all the needs together in one place. I came across a solution called LanSchool about 10 years ago and I’ve found that as the environment gets more challenging, this software provides me with the centralized control I need over all of my students’ screens from my own computer. I can easily see what each student is working on and if they have strayed off task.

If they’ve become distracted or are doing something they shouldn’t, I can correct them by sending them an instant message that only they can see, rather than calling them out in front of the rest of the class. This is critical to avoid shaming students for mistakes and building trust between the teachers and the kids. When I’m speaking or I wish to minimize distractions, I can instantly blank all of their screens so their attention is directed to me, not their computers, without ever raising my voice.

I’ve found that private, one-on-one communications can also help shy children break out of their shells and encourage them to interact with their teachers more frequently. They know the rest of the class is not listening, so may be more likely to volunteer their thoughts.

While this type of solution lets me direct and manage my class with just a few clicks, it also allows me to create more in-depth lessons and easily share them with each of my students. For example, whereas I may have once had to set up 30 different MAP tests on each student’s device, I am now able to plug a single test into the program and it will automatically be accessible by all students. More effective classroom management becomes more impactful education management.

Factors for consideration
Since I have used classroom management technology extensively for many years, I wanted to share my thoughts on a few key features teachers should look for.

1. The ability to easily share information. I recommend solutions that allow teachers to send out links or share information with the entire class. Everyone can get the same lessons on their screens simultaneously. This can help save an enormous amount of time and greatly enhance a teacher’s ability to provide students with relevant insights or facts.

2. Management of a variety of operating systems. Although many schools have gone Google only, many still use a combination of operating systems on various devices. Seek out tools that allow teachers to manage and control all the devices in the classroom.

3. Integrate the best of the offline and online tools. There are many great offline tools like CHAMPs that are integral to managing a classroom effectively. Don’t feel like you have to throw those out to go completely digital. Look for tools that give you flexibility to use what works in classroom management.

Reflecting and improving
Perhaps the most important lesson I can impart is this: Have a plan and be prepared for it to fail. While we can create lesson plans and use the various tools at our disposal to help our students learn, we cannot control our students’ behaviors. Inevitably, things will not go correctly, at least the first time around.

At the end of every day I write down a single sentence outlining what worked and what did not. This allows me to reflect on what happened in my classroom, and it’s helped me grow my classroom-management abilities throughout the years. Technology can help with those management skills, but ultimately, it’s up to us to strive for continuous improvement for the sake of our students.

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