Keeping students engaged, whether online or in-person, requires strong classroom management skills. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to Dr. Kathleen Tate and Dr. Greg Mandalas about setting classroom expectations, providing feedback, creating motivating incentives, and other tips to help engage students in any classroom setting.
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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This is episode number 89. This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge today I’m Bethanie, your host. I’m here with Dr. Kathleen Tate and Dr. Greg Mandalas and we’re going to be talking with you about that very important subject: classroom management. So wonderful to have you, Greg and Kathleen.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: Thanks so much for having us again, we appreciate it.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Bethanie, it’s great to be here. Thank you for having us.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Absolutely. I’m super excited to talk with you today about classroom management. At the time of this recording, when this is coming out for our listeners, they’re going to be thinking about January. Of course, this episode is great any time of year, but as we’re thinking about the coming year, classroom management is just one of those things we all want to tap into, refresh, and have a great start with.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Bethanie, those are great points. Often, especially in the K-12 system, kids will come back from the holidays and the long break, maybe a little more grown-up, maybe hormones are going. Maybe they’re just not focused and ready to get back to school, so there are those kinds of problems.
With adults, adults are busy during the holidays and winter break, and there can be some challenges for them returning to school as well. One question I often receive from teachers and professors is what to do about students who do not seem to be listening or engaging in Zoom rooms, which a lot of instructors are using these days for synchronous learning activities.
So, one thing I suggest is to make sure there’s accountability. Let’s just jump right in here. So sometimes I hear from my colleagues that they’re in a Zoom session and it seems like their students, even graduate-level students, do not seem to be listening. They miss out on important announcements and things that the professor’s discussing.
I believe that is because they could be not showing themselves on the screen. They could be chatting, they could be emailing, they could be doing house chores, they could be doing anything other than engaging in the classroom learning.
So, one way to avoid that situation is to make sure everybody is on screen, build in participation points where students of any age, whether it’s in elementary school, high school or college, have to participate a certain amount of times each live session. And also have maybe quick questions. I don’t want to call them quizzes, but just check-ins to see where they all are with listening and so forth. Greg, what do you think?
Dr. Greg Mandalas: Well, when I was thinking about this question, my background is in kindergarten through third grade, that’s where I spent most of my career. And I was thinking about in a Zoom classroom, how can we make it even more similar to a face-to-face classroom where we have classroom management strategies built right into the room? For example, I know a lot of teachers use, here in Western Pennsylvania, called “clipping up” and “clipping down.” And I don’t know if that’s a local thing to the Pittsburgh area, but have you heard of that before, Kathleen, clipping up and clipping down?
Dr. Kathleen Tate: No, I have not.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: So the idea is the entire class, every student in the classroom, their name is up on the board someplace and they have a red, yellow, green status. And the clips are often like paper clips or they can be clothes pins. And in real-time, if a student is not paying attention, the teacher just casually walks over and clips them down or clips up when they’re doing something well.
And I was wondering, what do you guys think of strategies that we could do in the online world for something similar? Could that be somewhere built right into the Zoom platform where you could send a private message to a student that, “Hey, that was excellent participation. I see you just clipped up to green.” Have either of you heard of anything like that before in the online world?
Dr. Kathleen Tate: No, but I think that’s a great idea. And even if the teacher or instructor online is showing that in the background, I think that can work. It’s important, especially for students with special needs to be able to work their way back up. If they’re in some kind of system where they’re taken down, they can give up for the day, or for the week and we don’t want that. So, if they can go up and down and know that they can redeem themselves, so to speak, and do well and receive praise for it, that’s a good thing.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Okay. While we’re talking about strategies right here, I have to chime in on this because when I was teaching live classes, I was teaching grades K-6 in general music and in band, the last part of my career in public education, which was a few years back. But there was a great app, I’m going to link it in the podcast notes where you could have all the players on your screen, like on an iPad. And you could walk around with this in the classroom and just kind of touch on it when a student did something great or touch on it, when you needed to give some feedback. And parents could see that too, at the end of the day where their child stood, and what was happening. I could see screensharing that in Zoom. If you’re doing this online, having an app like that’s kind of fun. They were little monsters, something like that, but having some interactive, interesting, real-time way of showing that would be fabulous.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: And there’s that old-fashioned, good-quality teaching of positively reinforcing. Some gurus in the education field say it’s not good to point out or call out positive aspects of what students are doing, but I disagree with that. So, for example, if students are on task and participating, there’s nothing wrong with saying as the educator, “I really appreciate how you all are engaging and participating and answering questions” and so forth. There’s nothing wrong with giving that positive feedback face-to-face or online. So, that’s an old, traditional-type of teaching method that really applies still today and in both types of settings.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: That leads exactly into another question that I get from time-to-time. And when I was thinking about this podcast, we know that positive behavior support is essential for our classroom management plans, but there are times when negative consequences have to occur as well because in negative behavior. At my level, as I’ve mentioned, K-3 principal, students are sometimes sent to the principal’s office for a conference. What do we feel is an equivalent in the online world, which is a great question? I’ll start, Kathleen. And then maybe you can chime in with some thoughts as well.
But I know that in the online world, especially when we’re considering our younger students, parents and caregivers can play a much larger role because they’re often active in the classroom. They can oftentimes hear what’s happening in the classroom. I think that’s an opportunity for us to get them involved. Not in, I don’t want to focus strictly on discipline, but when there are consequences that need to happen, at least parents and caregivers can see exactly what we’re talking about. Billy is laying down on his bed and not paying attention to the Zoom meeting and the caregiver or parent can obviously see that happening. So I think that’s an opportunity for us in the online world. How do you feel Kathleen?
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Yes, absolutely. And I think it’s good to go over expectations. I remember when I was an elementary school teacher in a traditional school setting, I would make sure the students and I interactively discussed the expectations for behavior at the beginning of the year. And we did this before every single lesson. And I sent those expectations, class rules and so forth home to the parents the first week of school. So, they knew what the expectations were.
And I even had the student sign a little behavior contract agreeing to the rules and expectations. So I think that’s important and should not be forgotten when teaching online. And some of those rules may look a little different. Like you said, no laying on the bed during a school lesson or something like that. And it’s important maybe to have those conversations with families when engaging in remote learning.
And then I think when those expectations are clear and agreed upon, it’s easier to have those conversations when those expectations aren’t met, because everyone knows, “Hey, this is what we’re supposed to be doing and why.” So, I think it translates very easily.
And when we think about adult learners, it’s the same thing—adults, whether it’s face-to-face college classrooms or online, they may want to go over on Facebook and look at photos and see what their family members are doing. There needs to be a way to keep them engaged by constantly asking questions, checking in with them, doing small-group work in breakout rooms and coming back with accountable steps for their activities.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: Yeah. And I think it’s huge as well to get our students involved with that process. When we create our rules, we know that that’s a strong classroom management technique if we can get students involved with creating those rules. And I think that’s important even for our adult learners as well.
Bring up the fact that, “Hey, we know we can’t see you all the time and if you’re on Facebook, yeah we won’t know it, but you’re not going to be able to get out of this course what we’re trying to put into it. So let’s agree as a team that that’s going to be one of our rules that students, you will not be on Facebook while we are trying to conduct a Zoom meeting.” So I think it’s good to get them involved as well.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: With coming back to school in January or after the holidays, or those kind times or after a long break, it’s a really good time to revisit the expectations- and things change. Maybe Pinterest is more popular now, or Facebook is, whatever – and touch base and make it clear. These are things that we are not looking at during school time.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: So, I’m hearing a lot about real-time feedback for parents, for students so they can correct. And also looping in parents. I know we are talking also about some adult learners in online higher education as well. It just seems like what may come up most often is challenges with engagement. Is that something we should talk about?
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Yes. I’ll go ahead and chime in here, Greg, if you don’t mind. So, even graduate students, any level of student, it’s very easy in a live session, especially, to disengage and to do other things. It takes a little more effort, energy, and thought for the instructor to think beforehand on how he or she is going to set-up activities to make sure the class is engaged.
So, my recommendation is, teach about something interactively and then shift immediately to pair or small-group breakout rooms, where students are forced to engage with that content and come back in and go back out, come in, go out. If you keep doing that, it’s going to be very difficult for any student to be working on something else, especially if you put them in pairs. So, there’s that level of accountability with a little bit of energy and forethought.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: I think that’s great. I think what you’re referring to really is trying to hedge off those problems before they even start. So when you’re designing your lesson, think about times when students are going to become disengaged. I had a great mentor when I was doing my student teaching and he told me to always quit before it gets boring. So, when you’re doing a certain activity, think to yourself, “Okay, when is the attention level going to end for my students based on their need? And move on before it gets boring, quit while it’s still fun and then move on to the next set of engaging activities.”
And I love the idea of doing the group work, I think that’s a great idea. I also think that accountability is big here, too. And Bethanie, I think what you’re referring to earlier in the podcast was Class Dojo. Does that ring a bell?
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That’s the one.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: With the little monsters in that… and now it is much more of a K-6 app, and I would say solution for this engagement, but some sort of a positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement as far as engagement levels, a tool like Class Dojo is great for that.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah, absolutely. So just taking this online management a little bit further, I’m thinking about my husband, who’s a fourth grade teacher and he was giving some tips to someone recently. And one of those tips was to tell the children to pay attention to what’s going on in the background. I guess sometimes a parent would get up still in their pajamas or even just underwear walking around in the background as the child is attending class. So, I’m curious what your thoughts are or if there any questions have come up about online classroom management in terms of the environment.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: Absolutely. And that’s a tough one because parents are at home and they’re doing what you do when you’re at home. We’ve had incidents where a student’s dog might be barking in the background. A TV can be on very, very loud in the other room. An unexpected visitor might show up at the house and just barge into the student’s room not even knowing that they’re in the middle of a class. And sometimes it can be embarrassing, too, because, hey, I’m a dad and sometimes I do dad things right in front of my kids. So, they’re like, “Dad, please.” So, it’s important to handle that – I would say, with sensitivity and kid gloves at the same time, addressing it right off the bat.
So, at the end of the course or at the end of the class session, it might be a great idea to say, “Hey Billy, can you get mom on? I need to talk to her for a second.” Once the other students have left and just in gentle terms, but firm, say, “Hey mom, when we’re doing this class, we have to have silence in the background. It’s distracting to the other kids.”
And sometimes parents don’t even realize that they were a distraction or maybe they don’t realize that the camera is on that they can be seen. So it’s another opportunity for education. And I think we’ll probably get better at this over time. The more schools go online. I know during the pandemic, it was a lot of schools doing it for the very first time, so we had all of these issues pop up that were very, very interesting to tackle. But, like I said, I think it’s an opportunity for education and we just have to be sensitive about it.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: And I think those are great examples of what to do when you need to be reactive and thinking proactively, I think it’s a good idea to teach children, adolescents, teens, K-12 schools as well as adults to set up certain parameters to help them when it’s time to be online in live instructional sessions. For example, close the door, put up a certain sign that says, “Please do not disturb. I’m in school session now.” Things like this are very simple steps that can alert the entire household as to what’s going on and make sure there is that space. And sometimes there isn’t a lot of space, especially if there are multiple people in the house who are working from home or schooling from home. But I think it is important to find a little nook somewhere and set up those signs to alert one another when they are in live session.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Kathleen, what I’m hearing you say here sounds a lot like the advice I often give online educators: Set your boundaries, tell everyone around you what to expect. It sounds like our students have to learn to do the exact same things.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: These are good skills for academics and they’re good skills for life. As we see more people working from home and working remotely, it’s the same types of skills, just learning how to operate and function. And even at the workplace in your cubicle or in your office, setting up the those boundaries when you’re in important meetings or phone calls or so forth. So these are important skills that apply in a lot of places.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Now, are there other things that happen when you’re say doing a live video class that you might want to consider in your classroom management? Like maybe the chat space or things like that?
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Yes. I would like to say that the chat feature can sometimes be distracting. The chat feature is useful at times when students have questions, need clarification, it’s an opportunity for an instructor to clarify misconceptions. But at the same time, if there’s too much chat going on, that can be very distracting to the instructor and to the learners. So I think it’s a good idea for the instructor and the learners to work that out and have parameters.
I know in work meetings, sometimes it’s a social aspect to connect and just like in a live classroom, for example, when I taught math and I’d get out the math manipulatives. You have to give the kids a few minutes to just play with the manipulatives, do whatever they want, build little shapes and towns, give them a couple minutes to get that out of their system. And then go over the rules and expectations on what to do with the manipulatives during the lesson until it’s time to use them.
It’s the same kind of thing I think with the chat, go ahead, have your social time, chat and then let’s stop the social chat perhaps and focus in on chatting when we have questions or comments germane to the content that we’re teaching at that moment. I don’t know what you all think about this.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: I think that’s a great idea. I like the idea of parameters. And I also know that some platforms allow you to disable the chat, which is an option that you could do while you’re teaching. But I love the idea of how you mentioned that you allowed your kids just to play with those manipulatives for a while before you jumped in.
I like that idea with the chat feature. When you’re face-to-face, especially at the K-6 level, there are times when you’re in the classroom and you say, “All right, we’re going to take five minutes. Just go ahead and you guys can chat to yourselves.” And that’s important for kids, that social interaction. So I think it’s important to build those times into our classroom as well so students get that social feedback from one another.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: And I like the disable chat feature that Greg mentioned. I think that may be really important with adult learners to squelch the temptation for them to have those private chats during instructional time that’s live. That’s another way to keep them engaged, hopefully. I know they can still text or do other things, but if we can set those parameters and discuss them with students, I think it can help.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: There are a couple of other settings in Zoom for folks that are using Zoom, I realize not everyone here that is listening today uses Zoom as their online video platform, but if you are, I’m just familiar with the fact that if you are using the chat, you can set it so that individuals cannot private message at each other, but they can private message the host, or you can set it also to let participants save the chat or disable saving the chat. So, there are some of those settings that I know if you go into an account, you can set up for certain meetings or for all your meetings, that might be helpful to think about too.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Bethanie, I’m glad you mentioned this isn’t necessarily all about Zoom. I have heard over the years before Zoom became so prevalent, there are a lot of graduate students in the university programs we teach who take digital classroom management and so forth. One challenge they often have is the chat feature and children or teens kind of just chatting too much. So, I would say this is probably something that can be disabled in most systems beyond Zoom. So that’s important to note.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: So, I’m curious about one more to topic before we close out this interesting subject: classroom management. We talked about tracking behavioral feedback, giving real-time feedback, managing video and the chat area, setting some expectations for engagement. And some of that could be asynchronous some of that could be real time. I’m curious some of those preventative or even, I guess we could call them disciplinary side of things can be very motivating for people. But what about incentives? What are some of the things that can be used online in particular to help with classroom management that are on the positive end of things?
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Bethanie, I love this question because I think incentives are very important. There are a lot of experts in the field of education who would argue that there should be no external motivating factors in the classroom applied, but I think we get to internal motivation sometimes through external motivation.
For example, I think it’s a motivator if you pay your mortgage early, you may get a discount. Or if you pay your student loans off early, you get a discount. If you don’t speed, you may get an insurance discount. If you work hard, you may get a bonus or promotion. Incentives are a part of our lives.
So, in the classroom, I think it’s important to have some motivating factors. At a distance, I think it’s important to remember we can still mail things rather inexpensively at times. We can also send things like certificates and make them and create them on our computer or send a little virtual card or something.
When I was a face-to-face elementary special ed teacher, I gave what I called “happy notes.” And I chose about 5 to 10 students every single day and I’d write on a little sticky note, a positive statement like, “So-and-so did a great job of participating today.” “So-and-so had all of his homework and did…” Some kind of positive statement and I draw a smiley face and sign my name and date it.
I found out years later that these children and families would keep those happy notes on their fridge, on poster boards, in their bedroom. They kept them for years, I couldn’t believe it. So equivalent to that, why not send a virtual sticky note or just a quick email, or like I said, a certificate. There are so many ways we can acknowledge our students for the good things they do and encourage them by just taking a few minutes each day to do that.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And you mentioned that there are some experts who feel that students shouldn’t be rewarded for what’s expected of them. And I can tell you from experience, that I simply don’t agree.
I think there’s a difference between a bribe and an incentive. I think they’re two totally different things. And I have been lucky enough to lead two different buildings to statewide recognition for schoolwide positive behavior support. And I could tell you, it changes the whole entire atmosphere of the building, the environment that the kids are working in.
So one thing I was thinking as you were talking, it would be great if it was schoolwide somehow the ultimate incentive that was built in. I don’t know what that would look like. I don’t know what the schoolwide reward might be. Maybe it’s a virtual assembly that the entire school gets to participate in, but something like that, where it’s schoolwide, where the entire student body is participating with the exact same type of incentive, I think could be very, very powerful. And it’s something that we can do in the online world and certainly something we can do in the face-to-face world. So, again, difference between bribe and incentive.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Greg, and that makes me think of that we can have virtual parties with students where they can wear a costume or a crazy sweater, or whatever the theme is, have a certain type of drink, punch, or tea, whatever. There are so many fun things we can do, too, as a reward for entire class, or that can be schoolwide. So great. Yeah. Great thoughts there.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: One more thing came to my mind while you were sharing positive incentives. And the intrinsic motivation is when we think about what we do in live classes, that works really well and whether or not that can work online. One of those things I used to do as a K-6 educator for a couple years was the routine, the habit, right? Like how we walk into the room, where we pick up the book, go to the seat, and how we exit the room, and we’d practice those things repetitively until it was amazing. And then on a rough day, they already know what they’re doing. There’s no problem getting kids into the room, if there’s a substitute teacher, they all come in the same way. They already know what to expect.
So, when we’re doing the same things online, I’m thinking those things might look like the way we greet the class in form of announcements, or the types of activities we might engage in. Maybe there’s a certain part of the week that is different every week, but it’s that one part and not all that we’re doing. But there’s some sort of repetitive structure that we give our students so they can rely on it, know how to show up. Any thoughts about routines you can do online like that, that might help?
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Bethanie, I’m glad you brought that up because we barely discussed routines at the beginning of our discussion. I’d like to highlight something Greg does in his university classes. He often puts a video of himself informing students about how the week’s going, or what’s coming up on Wednesday, like midweek. And this is for asynchronous teaching. And I think that’s a great routine, the students already see their Monday announcement, then they get a more personal announcement from him midweek. These kinds of things, just help tether and keep structure and keep focus on where we are in the week and so forth.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: Especially in the asynchronous world, I think that’s really important. I think it’d be great if you can point out something that your students are doing by name in the video. “Hey, I saw Tim and Sally in your conversation this past week that was awesome. I liked how you guys worked together.” That sort of thing is really, really important to kids. And then you’re right, if it’s routine, they’ll look forward to that and that’ll create that intrinsic motivation we talked about earlier as well.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: And we glossed over routines, like I said, but I do want to highlight that it’s important to have those routines set up for online teaching, especially K-12. But even with adult students, and especially if it’s synchronous live adult learning, to go over those procedures every time and be consistent with them. So, greeting the class, having social time for a few minutes, so everyone can get that out of their system or sharing with younger kids, maybe show and tell a certain day of the week, or maybe a few minutes every day of the week. And yes, so those kind of routines are very important, Bethanie.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Thanks for sharing those extra ideas. Our listeners are certainly going to appreciate the idea that they could plan most of this classroom management in advance and really build it into structure and also have ideas for preventative things and putting fires out, I guess, as we might call it.
So, as we wrap it up today, I’m wondering if we could just give each of you a chance to give your last thoughts about classroom management online and any additional thoughts you might have for takeaways. Let’s start with you, Greg.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: I always bring up this kind of corny phrase that everybody’s heard before, but kids or adults don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And I think that goes a long way with our classroom management as well.
When students know that you’re invested in them and you want to see them succeed, I think it creates that intrinsic motivation we talked about earlier where they want to do well for their teacher. And I don’t think that’s only for a K-12. I think adults feel that way too.
I know as an adult instructor, I’ve had students reach out to me who are same age as me, which is I’m not going to say, but they reach out to me and they say, “Hey, I really appreciate that feedback. You’ve been an excellent professor. I hope I did what you wanted me to do here with this last final project.” You can tell that they want to succeed and that means that we’ve built some sort of a relationship and I think that’s what it’s all about.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. How about you, Kathleen?
Dr. Kathleen Tate: I would chime in and add that it’s important, whether it’s face-to-face, live, which is synchronous, or whether it’s asynchronous, to put the energy and time into setting things up for success. So, thinking through how you’re going to need to be reactive to situations, but also be as proactive as possible in setting things up and going over expectations, routines, collaboratively and this can be done with adults—talk with them about engaging and not being on social media or something during teaching time.
Having those interactive conversations and reminding everyone of the expectations every single time you get together to teach. It’s not fair to the students to go over rules and expectations the first day of class and never do it again. It should be continual so that everyone is clear. And I think almost everything that you can do face-to-face translates in some way, maybe just needs a little modification, in the online setting.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Thank you again, both of you, Dr. Kathleen Tate and Dr. Greg Mandalas. We’ve been talking about classroom management. For our listeners today, we thank you for being with us and we wish you all the best in your online teaching.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast to share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit BethanieHansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.