6 Tips On Managing Your Classroom From A Venture Capitalist

Guidance in education can come from unique sources.  Ben Horowitz is a venture capitalist and successful technology entrepreneur.  The Hard Things About Hard Things is his contribution to the entrepreneur business community on how to develop and manage a successful business.

He also has an awesome blog.  Business person or not, he has a lot to offer.

Being a CEO is not an easy job, and Horowitz doesn't sugar coat the details.  Why are we discussing him here?  Because he offers pragmatic advice.

An area of guidance that struck me was his advice on how to fire people.  As a business ebbs and flows, it is an unfortunate inevitability.

Considering the unfortunate inevitabilities in education, one corollary came to mind: classroom management.

Just as a CEO doesn't want to deal with staffing cuts, an instructor does not want to deal with issues in a classroom that extend beyond typical management.

No teacher wants them, but every teacher has them: the issues that demand immediate attention because the behavior is effecting others in the class.

The bad kid.

I'm going to use the advice Horowitz gives future business leaders on the proper way to fire people as a framework for effective classroom management.
1.  Managers should fire the employee themselves

Education translation: deal with the management issue yourself before passing it on to administration

Upon receiving a request for disciplinary support, an effective admin should ask "what have you done to address the issue already?"

Have your documented list ready.

Administrators are a last resort, or the only resort in certain rare instances (trust your gut).

Address the issue prior to enlisting the help of other professionals in your building.  Support refers to acting together to solve a problem, not simply passing the issue to someone else.

2.  Don't delay and act quick

Education translation: address the issue as soon as possible

Consider a lack of action as reinforcement to the student that is misbehaving.

They think "wow, I just did x, y, and z, and Mr. Smith didn't react at all!  Lets see if I can get away with a, b, and c."

Whether it be a quick comment or glance, act immediately and try best to keep the rhythm and integrity of the lesson intact.

3.  "The company has not preformed as we expected, and this is the cause of our termination" (not an actual quote, simply a phrase to summarize his point)

Education translation: address the behavior, not the child

Disrespectful and defiant students thrive on conflict.  Confilicts can largely be adverted if you address their behavior and remove them personally from the act.  By focusing on the behavior, you are not negatively commenting on them as a person and therefore their identify remains unthreatened.

Addressing the behavior and not the student is the best advice I was ever given when dealing with defiant students.

4.  The termination is final

Education translation: either address the issue or leave it be- there is no fuzzy line when managing a classroom

When speaking to a student about a behavior, refrain from asking them "why" or if "they did" such a thing.  They did it.  They get the upper hand if you allow them to try to weasel themselves out.

If the behavior is truly distracting and effecting others, act definitively and show decisiveness.

5.  Following a lay off, give the individual details on how to regroup and continue

Education translation: after addressing the issue, offer discussion on how to improve

The student doesn't need a lecture, and drawing out the exchange plays to the students benefit.  After identifying the problem, a simple, direct follow up is often (but not always) useful:
-"I'd like you to take five deep breaths the next time you feel like swearing at the student behind you."
-"In the future, ask me for a pencil rather than taking it from your desk neighbor."
-"To avoid this in the future, please ask before you take out our class pet turtle."

The statement acts as closure to an often uncomfortable situation.

6.  Be visible

Education translation: keep your composure

Some management situations become tense and quickly become confrontational.  Remember that you have an entire class observing what transpires.  Being the adult, it is important to act like one. 

Following a difficult issue that you successfully managed, stay in the class and proceed as you normally would.

Most of us would love to hide in our back room and catch our breath as we place our head in our hand and question our decision to become an educator.  The "why am I doing this?" moment.

Be visible in your class and do your best to teach.  Your students will appreciate your resiliency.

Managing individual acts of defiance is difficult.  Don't take it personally and use it as a tool to become better at your craft.  Every issue, disturbance, and misbehavior is an opportunity for you to fine tune your management techniques.

Thanks for reading.

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