Heart-Focused Classroom Management

Heart-Focused Classroom Management

Attentive, well-behaved children sound like a teacher’s dream. But our goal is not simply well-mannered children, but children who joyfully submit to God. It starts with an understanding of authority structure God has put in place, which brings about calm order and joyful submission. Jesus is the best example of one living under submission (Philippians 2:5-8; Luke 22:42; John 4:34). Resentment toward authority structures is actually rebellion toward God’s hierarchy in creation.

Freedom is not being able to do whatever you want; freedom is knowing and loving God and living joyfully under the authority structures that he has ordained. —Tedd Tripp from the Biblical Parenting Conference September 19-20, 2008

It continues with a right understanding of the nature of people. The traditional view of child rearing held that children are fundamentally bad and in need of rehabilitation; the new way thinking holds that children are fundamentally good. This is wrong thinking. Children are not fundamentally good; no one is. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23). Genesis 6:5 tells us that every intention of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil continually. The condition of our evil hearts is reflected in the following mindset cited by John Rosemond (Parenting by The Book: Biblical Wisdom for Raising Your Child):

  • What I want, I deserve to have (entitlement).
  • Because I am entitled to what I want, the ends justify the means (pragmatism).
  • The rules do not apply to me; therefore, no one has the right to deny me or stand in my way (narcissism) (page 38). 

The battle cry from childhood is, “You’re not the boss of me!” Our nature is hostile toward God; we are born with stubborn rebellious hearts in need of redemption and training. When children are rebellious toward their parents or teachers, they are rebellious toward God—first and foremost. Rosemond admonishes us that it is not loving for a parent (or teacher) to permit a child to be “ill-behaved, disrespectful, destructive, and self-destructive, irresponsible, inattentive, careless, aggressive, self-centered, deceitful” (page 28). Therefore, a loving parent (or teacher) will not allow a child to disobey without consequence. The parent (or teacher) should calmly enforce his or her authority (page 135). Those in authority need to say what we mean and mean what we say, clearly communicating instructions, limits, and expectations (page 225).

Here are some practical guidelines David and Sally Michael have developed to help you manage your classroom with this mindset.

Preventative Discipline in the Classroom

Because—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure...

1. Pray before entering the classroom.

2. Establish a sense of authority.

3. Create a calm, quiet, ordered atmosphere.

4. Be prepared and organized.

5. Anticipate problems before they arise.

6. Let children know your expectations. (Establish rules.)

7. Make your rules consistent.

8. Enforce rules.

9. Let children know the consequences of misbehavior.

10. Be as lenient in your rules as you can.

11. Affirm positive behavior.

12. Let children make choices when appropriate and possible.

13. Make activities interesting and fun.

14. Move quickly from one activity to the next.

15. Make sure activities/expectations are appropriate for the age level.

16. Give warnings before activity changes (especially with preschoolers).

17. Arrange your room to prevent problems.

18. Separate bad combinations of children.

19. Make troublemakers into helpers. (Keep them busy.)

20. Ignore attention-getting behavior (unless harmful or distracting to others).

21. Be actively involved with the children (not chatting with other adults or doing your preparation).

22. Know your children.

23. Make children feel safe.

Discipline is helping children to grow, not controlling behavior. It is a long process that needs to be mostly positive in nature, but firm and loving. So, relationship building is incredibly important. Managing a classroom—keeping it under control, is something we can do the first time we ever walk into a group of children, and maintaining a well-run classroom achieves another goal—training our children in righteousness:

  • teaching them to walk in a manner worthy of being called Christians
  • having their behavior match their beliefs
  • exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit because their souls have been touched

When we insist that a child raise his/her hand to ask a question, we are teaching politeness. When we do not allow a child to use crude language—we are teaching respect for others. When we encourage children to handle the Bible carefully—we are teaching them to respect the written Word of God. When there is a calm, controlled atmosphere, children are learning self-control. These are worthy goals; they are positive, not negative. The following suggestions for handling misbehavior can be classified as corrective discipline.

  1. Redirect behavior (not defiant behavior, since that needs to be dealt with directly). For example, if a child is throwing blocks, you could suggest, “Let’s build the walls of Jericho," or say, “The blocks are not for throwing, but you can throw the bean bag.”
  2. Let the child experience the natural consequences when possible. For example, a child who will not listen to instructions about a project may ruin the project.
  3. Take action! Don't lecture or just threaten to take action. For example, remove privileges. Isolate the child who is misbehaving. Have a child who destroys property make restitution by fixing it, paying for the damages, or replacing a broken toy with a toy from home.
  4. Analyze causes for misbehavior. Where is there a need in the child's life? Is the child seeking attention? Is the misbehavior a power struggle or a reaction to pressure? Talking with the child or visiting the family in the home may bring clarity.
  5. Pray!

While it's a worthy goal to want attentive, well-behaved children in our classrooms, it’s not the ultimate goal. More essential is training hearts toward the Savior. God is the highest authority, and He has a created order to the universe. God has set parents and leaders over children to teach the fear the LORD. Children are to joyfully submit to God by submitting to their leaders. As leaders, we are to joyfully submit to God and lead our children with kindness and strength. May we say with the psalmist…

Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints, for those who fear Him have no lack!...those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.—Psalm 34:9-11

(This blog post was compiled by Lori Myers, based on notes by Connie Oman from the seminar Beyond Classroom Management)


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