A Classroom Management Book That More Than Manages

Reviewed by: Amanda Fransham

Book: Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE Teachers by Michael Linsin

Reading time: about 2 hours

Why you should read it: Linsin’s instructive guide marks an ‘X’ on the map of possibilities for your classroom management, and provides actionable strategies to move you –  and your class –  toward that X.

Live It Learn It Star Rating (5/5):

Full review:

“Ms. Fransham!” a child shrieks at me, “someone’s clipboard fell over the side!”

Cue Inner Teacher Panic (ITP).  It what?  

I’m thinking: Where did it land?  We’re on the second floor of the National Museum of Natural History.  It fell 20 feet and thumped someone on the head, didn’t it?

As calmly as I can manage, I stride over to the side and spot the offending clipboard.  Yep, definitely fell over.  

But it’s squarely stuck on the ledge—maybe it’s salvageable.   I take stock of my arm’s ability to recover it; not long enough to reach over the top, nor thin enough to squeeze between the pillars.  Panic, panic, panic.  Face turns red.  Heart starts hammering.

I open my mouth and halfway-roar, “WELL,  let’s continue with our lesson as PLANNED.  If ANYONE is confused as to how to HOLD ON to a clipboard, please ask now so I can show you.”  

I pause.  I silently glare down the end of my nose at my huddle of students.  They silently stare back down their noses at me and wait to see what’s going to come out of my mouth next.

My colleague gets the silent You-Take-Over-And-I’ll-Run-Around-And-Try-To-Fix-This look from me, and like a well-oiled machine, she leads the students into the Rocks and Minerals gallery, albeit one clipboard short.

As I write this post, I am multiple months removed from The Clipboard Occasion. I can vividly remember how not-funny it was then, compared to how funny it is now.  But it is an example of the situations I regularly find myself in because I teach in a non-traditional setting.

I left the classroom to teach at Live It Learn It, which is an experiential education organization based in Washington, DC.  What makes our organization sparkle is that we are invited to “take over” another teacher’s classroom for three half-days.  On Day 1, I teach a pre-lesson to prime my students for Day 2.  Day 2 is a field experience, or a trip outside of the classroom, that matches what I taught on Day 1 and makes the content come alive.  Our field experiences focus on anything from farming techniques at Mount Vernon to the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial.  Day 3 is spent back in the classroom, where I facilitate a post-lesson in which we roll-up and review all the learning we’ve done together.  

I do this at 9 different elementary schools, in 58 different classrooms, with 1,000+ different students.  It’s a crazy and insanely beautiful job, but I very regularly find myself in classroom management situations that are Clipboard Occasion-esque.  So, I started looking for new ways to think about and respond to them.

Linsin’s blog, Smart Classroom Management, became a lifeline for me while I was learning to teach. When I needed to end a stalemate with a particularly challenging student or I’d lost my voice trying to project over a thunderous class, I’d pop in and see what the 27-year veteran educator had to say about it.  So naturally, when I saw he’d written a book for specialist teachers, I jumped right in.

From the start, Linsin sets the tone for the book in a way that mirrors his approach to classroom management: simple and straightforward.  While the book is geared towards specialist teachers (Art, Music, PE, etc.), my hunch is the bones of the book can be applied in most settings.

I poured over this 156-page book and ran out of not one, but four different colors of Post-It flags while I was reading  The covers are perpetually bent open.  It’s too good.

I’m going to call the two biggest classroom management mindset shifts I learned from this book my Linsin List.  Because what teacher doesn’t love “‘literation.”

Linsin List

  1. Care without caring–it’s not about you
  2. Do less–give your students the space to do more

1. Care without caring–it’s not about you

What he says:  Linsin introduces and returns to the idea over and over again, that “no strategy in the world will work as well” as maintaining a calm and pleasant demeanor to build and maintain positive relationships with your students, which will in turn provide the leverage needed to manage your classroom.  He posits that students feed on the energy that emanates from you as a teacher, so you get to choose the tone of the day.

While this is definitely not a new idea, he acknowledges the challenge of actually remaining calm every moment of every day, and gives actionable strategies to get there.  My favorite is called decide-first.  It’s so simple that I almost feel silly explaining how it goes.  You just decide to remain calm, no matter what happens, every day, before class starts.  That’s it.

In other words, yelling, lecturing, and berating can never be a response to misbehavior because it undermines your calm and pleasant demeanor, which erodes your relationships with your students, which decreases your leverage in managing your classroom.  Linsin goes on to say that you have to “care enough for your students’ long-term success” that you can’t let misbehavior, “get under your skin, or disrupt your day.  Not one iota.”  You have to care without caring.

How I’ve used it:  I borrowed the exact mental picture Linsin describes in his book and visualize it before I step into any classroom.  It only takes 30 seconds to envision “a herd of water buffaloes stamped[ing] right through [my] class,” while I remain “as serene as a mountain lake.”  I do it every day, multiple times per day, and have found two positive results so far.  

The first is: I smile more.  I can remain calm, find the redeeming pieces of an outrageous classroom management situation, smile, and move myself and my students through and beyond it.

The second is: I am more direct.  I used to shy away from giving direct feedback to students when they broke a rule or made a mistake because I knew I could not give my feedback without a side of sarcasm or an eyeroll.  

During the Clipboard Occasion, pre-Linsen-me would have said something to the offending student along the lines of, “Do you know how to hold a clipboard? (sigh) Yes? No? Hello?”  I now recognize that the student did not drop the clipboard to offend me. And even if s/he did, my being miffed about it is not the way to repair the situation and move forward.

2. Do less–give your students the space to do more

What he says: In part 3 of his book, Linsin clearly outlines the complexities of listening and following directions.  He talks about how a teacher’s voice is a powerful classroom management tool that can cause students to “turn toward you instead of away from you,” if used correctly.  He follows with ideas about how to give directions, and then spends three pages on a chapter called A Chance to Succeed.

It’s important to note that students have a low chance to succeed if the teacher does not clearly give and model directions, but students have zero chance to succeed if they are never given the opportunity.  And how in the world can a classroom be effectively managed if the students in the classroom have lost their independence?  It cannot.

So Linsin says, use your voice as a tool; give and model spot-on directions, then “fade into the background and let them struggle,” and “in the long run they’re far better off if you refrain from getting involved.”  In all likelihood, the students will crash and burn, but Linsin says to wait until they have reached the point of failure to step in.  Then, marry this mindset with the first (care without caring). Offer no lecture and no admonishments. Simply repeat the same directions, word for word, and have students try again. They will be, “one step closer to the sharp, independent class you want.”

How I’ve used it:  I am doing less for my students, so they have the time and space to do more.  They are highly capable human beings and I am beginning to remove myself from being an accidental-but-active participant in fostering learned helplessness.  Learned helplessness occurs when people, in this case students, have internalized the message that they need help and cannot make a go of it on their own.  This often is a result of well-meaning adults stepping in and “doing too much for them.”  So far, I have changed two things in my practice to begin to remove myself from the learned helplessness beast.

This first is: I repeat myself less, on purpose.  Linsin posits, and I agree, that if students know you will repeat directions or expectations, they are conditioned to not listen the first time and become dependent on you–which is the exact opposite effect that we are going for.

The second is: I offer help later, on purpose.  When a student is productively struggling, there is no need for me to step in or I run the risk of sending the message that, “they need [my] help, that they aren’t good enough.”  Before, I thought I was just helping, just being a part of their learning process.  But now I see there is a super-fine line between providing support and paralyzing students.

If I had the chance to replay the Clipboard Occasion, I hope it would go something like this:

“Ms. Fransham!” a child shrieks at me, “someone’s clipboard fell over the side!”

I cue up the image of water buffaloes and a serene mountain lake in my mind.

I open my mouth and calmly say, “That’s a problem.  How can we fix it?”

I pause.  I silently wait while students fidget from foot to foot, gears in their head slowly grinding for a solution.  After a minute or four, one small hand bursts through the huddle, “We try to find someone who works here?”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” I say.

What image could you cue up in your mind next time you encounter a “Clipboard Occasion” of your own? Comment below!

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