Crowd control

7 12 2010

Is it important to be able to control a class? I think it is essential. As a teacher and a performer I know that a child who is quiet is not necessarily listening but if a child wants to listen then it needs to be quiet. It is easy to wind children up, and there is a place for that in our shows, but it is another skill altogether to get them back concentrating.

Shouldn’t teachers be responsible for the behaviour of their classes? Well, yes and no. In a secondary school settings the teacher that is with your class might not know the children and during an enrichment day the teacher might not even be from the science department. In primary and secondary schools you’ll unfortunately come across teachers who cannot control the classes whether they know the kids or not. And even the best teachers in total control will often not intervene. They will assume that you know what you are doing and out of professional courtesy won’t interfere.

It is perfectly possible for anyone to learn techniques that will allow them to control any group of children. Those teachers or performers who think they can’t control a class of children are wrong. It is nothing to do with the person it is everything to do with not knowing about or not consistently applying a simple set of rules.

1. Own the room.

Be at the door of the room and meet the children outside. If there is more than one entry ensure the kids only enter via the one door. The noisier the kids are outside the noisier they are going to be inside so get them quiet outside first. Get the teacher to control how they go through the door then you put them in their seats. If you do this you are communicating to the children that you are in charge and whatever the normal standards of behaviour in that space you will be setting your own.

If you can’t set your own standards from the door, for instance if a teacher insists on bringing the children into the room in their own way then have *nothing* to do with either that teacher or the children until everyone is ready to start. Go and sit somewhere quietly until that teacher is ready to hand over to you. Hopefully the teacher will know what they are doing, maybe they’ll cause more problems than they solve, but you must not associate yourself with the teacher’s techniques if they differ from your own. You would then take ownership of the room as the teacher hands over to you.

2. Set the standards.

Think about the audience you will be faced with and decide on your own rules for interacting with the audience. The rules you make will differ depending on the numbers, the age, the style of the activity and the type of school you are in. Generally the rules must cover how the children should sit and how they should speak. If you want them to be silent whilst you are speaking and only ask questions at the end then that is what you must communicate clearly at the start. If you will be asking or accepting questions you will need to let your audience know how and when they can get your attention. If you are going to allow the children to speak amongst themselves you need to define when, for how long and at what volume.

3. Stick to those standards.

A common error is to make a rule and then break it but you must be totally consistent throughout. If you tell the children to put their hands up if they want to answer a question then that rule must be consistent throughout the show. The commonest mistake made by inexperienced presenters is to make a big deal about hands up at the beginning of the show and then, because it is quiet, forget about this rule and respond to called out answers. Think about the message that sends to the kids. In their heads they are thinking, the rules have changed I can shout out. The show gets progressively noisier until no-one can hear a thing. (And often at this point the presenter says: Stop, what did I tell you, put your hands up. Like it was the kids’ fault).

4. Catch them being good.

Instead of telling a primary audience to “Stop kneeling” try “If you are sitting with your legs crossed and your bottom on the floor you are doing the right thing”. In a secondary school don’t confront the two people who are talking, try thanking the 48 who are paying attention.

5. Give them a chance to react

Yes, your rules should be consistently applied but accept every audience needs moments to relax. If you say something funny let the audience laugh- wait for them to finish- then carry on with your material. If you’ve blown something up let them turn to their friends and say- whoa, that was amazing, did you see that?- wait for them to finish- then carry on with your material. If you get a round of applause let them applaud- wait for them to finish- and only then carry on.

Children will give you the benefit of the doubt when they first meet you. To them you are a teacher and they assume teachers are in charge and will set the rules until they work out otherwise. Be confident that you can use this initial respect (unearned as yet by you but built up over a hundred years of other teachers doing a good job) and take it from there.

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