A few years ago, I met a teacher who told me he managed his classroom ‘By Xylophone’. When he said this, my first thought was “say what?”, my second thought was “that sounds cool”, and my third thought was “how on earth do you do that?”. It turned out that what he did was to teach his children a set of tunes, at the start of the year, which covered all the basic classroom routines. There was a tune for ‘everyone fall silent’, there was a tune for ‘everyone line up’, there was a tune for ‘hand out the resources’, and so on and on. To this day, I imagine him stood at the front of his classroom, picking out a tune without saying a word, as the students follow his musical commands. I come across a lot of classroom management techniques on my travels around schools. Many are about getting silence, because silence is something all teachers must be able to get, but many children struggle to give. Mostly, silence techniques are variations on the usual themes – a hand in the air or a finger on the lips. But once in a while I come across a fresh and surprising approach. My favourite ‘getting silence’ technique came courtesy of a teacher who worked in a tricky London school. She had tried everything she could think of to get silence, but nothing worked. So in the end she decided to ask the kids what she should do. And their advice? “You need to speak our language, Miss. So if you say ‘oi!’, we’ll say ‘you wot?'”
This morning I re-read a blog I had read earlier this month about Practising Classroom Routines. Since reading the blog the first time, it had been troubling me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what my unease was about. In the blog the writer describes how all the teachers in his school are trained to use the same set of routines, in what I imagine is a Doug Lemov kind of way. I can see how this approach could be supportive, especially for new teachers. I completely understand the desire to get on with the learning (especially when the pressure to do so is so intense). But when it comes to classroom management, the ‘best’ strategy is not one that someone else tells you that you should use, or one that ‘evidence shows’ is most efficient. The ‘best’ strategy is the one you choose yourself, because it works for you and your children. A strategy that works for one person may fail completely for another; a strategy that works on the first Monday of term may stop working on a Friday near the end. Classroom management is not something to separate out from teaching and learning, or to delegate to someone else; it is part of the deal that you strike with your kids. It is an element of the relationship that you have with each other. I control you, in my own inimitable style, because I want you to learn. And if that means calling “oi” to get your attention, or devising something as creative and bizarre as The Xylophone Technique, then that is exactly what I should do. Because I am exercising my professional judgement.