Hey teacher friends! We all know that managing a music classroom can be a challenge. Between keeping the students engaged, dealing with behavior issues, and trying to actually teach the music, it can be overwhelming at times.
I recently came across a reel posted by Bethany Main at @mrsmainsmusicians that I am STILL obsessed with. In her video, she exemplified what I believe to be perfect classroom management. It was the dreaded "Recorder Intro Day" and she brilliantly balanced leaning into the kids' excitement while also setting expectations and rules before hand!
Check out the video here!
This reel stuck with me that day and I reached out to Bethany and asked if she would be willing to share some tips with us on "Managing the Music Classroom Chaos". She graciously agreed and I'm thrilled to share her thoughts below. Go follow @mrsmainsmusicians on IG and enjoy her brilliant tips below! :)
"Managing the Music Classroom Chaos"
Procedures: We start class with a challenge rhythm on the board, and end class with a goodbye or “line up” song every day! You could use a mystery solfege song, a thought-provoking discussion question, or even an emotional well-being check in. But whatever you choose, it should be the same process and format EVERY day. You should have a procedure in place for everything you do, from how instruments get out, to how to rotate during centers, to where the line leader should stand at the end of class.
Greeting Students: Having this beginning-of-class routine in place, frees you up to greet every student at the door. Yes, transitions between classes are quick–but you will save time managing behavior if you can tell from the doorway that a student is going to need extra love that day, or to begin class in a calm space, or to tell you that random thing their dog did last night. This greeting time will help you take a temperature check of the class from the outset, build relationships with students by showing them your smiling face and allowing for those brief sharing moments, without pulling away from limited class time.
Tasks in Transition: Give students a thinking or doing task for every transition. If you are moving to a circle, there should be a “moving to the circle song” that all are singing. If you are moving back to seats after reading a book, give them a question to ponder: “Be ready to tell me what the problem was in that story.” or “Be ready to name one main character in the book.” If you have to answer the phone: “Tell your neighbor what your favorite song is this morning.”
Same Instructions, Every Time: Whether it is the 1st time your students play a guiro or the 70th, model how to play the guiro correctly before handing it out. Those “precorrects” will save you headaches later, and whether students remember from last time or not, it is important to reassert your expectations for an activity every. single. time. You can even make it silly to keep it engaging. For example, “The next instrument we’re going to add is rhythm sticks. You can play them by tapping or scraping them together. You could also play them on the floor. Should I play them….on my neighbor’s head?! No!!!! Should I play them…on my head? No!!! Should I…put them in my mouth?! NO!!” (I pretend like I’m going to put them in my mouth at this point and they always think it is hilarious!) You can then take that opportunity to remind them of your expectations for when they should play, and what the consequence will be if they play at an inappropriate time.
Let Them Play! Speaking of playing instruments–let’s talk about fighting the battle of waiting patiently. I gave up on having students wait to play from the very beginning. When you hand them a shiny, magical new instrument, they are going to want to play it. So as long as you have given those precorrects and set expectations (and reminded them of the quiet signal), let students play as soon as they receive the instrument. Does this transition time sound a little chaotic? YES. Is that okay? YES. My first principal told me after an observation: “I loved that you let them play right away. As a grown adult man, if you set a tambourine in front of me, I’d have trouble not picking it up and playing it.” Again–as long as they know what cue you will give that free time is over, and as long as they know your expectations for how they will treat the instrument during free time, let them play! Give them the joyful musicking moment, and then transition to the structured activities you have planned.
And finally, Lean in to the chaos: Remind yourself that they are kids. Music is fun. The more refined, well-oiled, and clear your expectations and procedures are, the easier it will be to flip flop back and forth between the silly and the hard work. I like to talk about that with my students (particularly the upper grades) from the beginning of the year: “The harder we work, the more fun we can have. If you can have the silly and fun moments, and show me that you can get refocused when it is time to move on, the more silly and fun moments we can have!”
For example, on our first day of recorders in 4th grade, I give them seven seconds of chaos. When I leave the room, as long as they are being safe, they can play however they like. When the seven seconds are up and I return to the room, they are never allowed to make those on-purpose squeaks and squawks again! But in order for this to work, we have to have established a classroom culture of trust and respect–I trust that when I return, they truly will stop. They respect the guidelines set in place, and know that in order to do the silly part, they have to be able to flip back into “hard work mode” afterward. Having this flexibility within your classroom culture can take time to build, and it is okay if there are days where you find you are not able to release the reins on the silliness as much. You know your students best, and you know what they can handle. But I encourage you to remember:
This is supposed to be fun!