Class Management Hacks

Any time that I am fortunate enough to watch another physical educator teach a lesson the thing that I value the most is seeing the ways that they manage their class to ensure the students spend the maximum time learning and being active.
I always marvel at the small things that teachers do to keep their classes running smoothly. I call them “Class Management Hacks.”
Today I want to share with you some of the Class Management Hacks that I use when I am teaching #PhysEd.

Rock/Scissor/Paper – The Ultimate Class Management Hack

You cannot argue with the power of Rock Paper Scissors! It is the ultimate decision maker and even the youngest students will never question the result of a quick battle.

I use Rock Paper Scissors in a number of situations during my lessons and I firmly believe in students solving their own disputes. I’m sure each and every one of you out there reading (especially elementary teachers) suffer the curse of a student coming up to you and saying “They did this” or “He/She is cheating!” or “I got him/her out but they won’t take it.”
My first response will always be to ask the student if they have tried to solve the problem themselves. Some of our younger classes use Kelso’s Choice as a conflict management strategy and I often guide them down this path asking them you use one or more of the strategies offered before they return to me to resolve the issue.

Sometimes however maybe you are playing a game that requires a quick decision to be made so that the game can continue and here is where Rock Paper Scissors really comes into its own. My students instantly know now that if they can’t come to a quick decision themselves then all they have to do is have a quick battle and the dispute is resolved. Amazingly not once since I have introduced this to my class has there been a student disagree and complain that they lost the Rock Scissor Paper and that they still think the decision is unfair.

Putting the Whistle Away

Almost every stereotypical image of physical education teachers involves a whistle around the neck. 2 years ago I thought about why I was using a whistle and if it was the most effective tool for my needs.  I decided to put my whistle away for good, and I am yet to find myself in a situation where I have felt like I wished I had one.
If you have listened to The #PhysEd Podcast then you know that I have quite a loud deep voice which I have learnt to use quite effectively inside the gym and out. Not all of us #PhysEd teachers are so lucky.

In place of my whistle I now use key words or hand signals to gain the attention of my students. During my class I very rarely ask my students to come to a central point in the gym/field. The times when I need to gain their attention as a whole class I prefer to have them stop where they are so I can give a quick instruction. Some of the ways my students know that I want their attention are:

  • Clap 3 times
  • Countdown from 5 – when I get to 0 they should have stopped moving, be looking at me & ready to listen.
  • Call “Stop”

Quickly Grouping Students – Keeping Them On Their Toes

The way that you group your students in your #PhysEd classes can have big implications on both the effectiveness of your teaching and the ability of your students to be successful. While most of the time my groupings and teams are pre determined to allow for differentiation to meet varying student needs sometimes you just need to quickly separate the class into groups of 4 or with a partner to complete a quick active warm up activity.
I am sure you have all experienced moments where certain students will only work with their friends or boys will refuse to work with girls etc and here is where keeping the students on their toes in terms of how you group kids is key.
Students will quickly figure out your method of random grouping if you keep it the same all the time and then despite your best efforts they will end up working with the people who you are trying to keep them separated from.  If you are lucky enough to have an iPad/iPhone and you have spent time keying in your class lists then you could use the Make My Groups App to quickly randomise groups.

If not then here are some of the ideas that I use:

  • Find a partner. Once they have done this ask them to Rock Paper Scissor and then the winner are on one team the losers on the other team.
  • Get in a group of 4/6/8 then split these groups again in 2/3/4 students
  • Give the kids a number and then randomly group numbers – Team 1 is numbers 2,5,6,11 etc.
  • Teacher choice
  • Choose a partner then put a strong pair with a weak pair

The list goes on but the key is to change they way you do things all the time. Make they way you group kids completely random and this way it reduces arguments, prevents students from preempting your choices and allows for quick transitions into the next activity.

P.S – I will NEVER allow students to be captains and pick teams. There are so many other ways to group students that avoid the humiliation of being picked last. As someone who was picked last at school and is a advocate of inclusive quality inquiry based physical education this is a non negotiable for me.

Tracking & Managing Behaviour – Creating a Culture of Responsibility

As I mentioned earlier It has been 2 years since I used a whistle and it has also been 2 years since I raised my voice in anger while teaching. For me there are only 2 things you need to know about behaviour management in #PhysEd. The first one is:

“You alone are responsible for your actions and you alone are responsible for the consequences of those actions.”

The second thing is:

“Consistency in your approach is paramount. The moment you give an inch they will take a mile.”

In my classes students are aware from day one what my expectations are about what a positive learning environment looks like in physical education. Together we create shared “Essential Agreements” on what I expect of them and what they expect of me. This way everyone is on the same page as to how things should happen when we have class together to ensure that we spend the maximum time learning and having fun together.
As part of these essential agreements students are aware that if they fail to meet these agreements then they must accept responsibility for their actions and there will be a consequence (time out, apology, reflection).

This system promotes students taking ownership of their actions and builds a culture of responsibility in your class. I would rather a kid come to me and say “Mr Nathan I cheated/swore and I know I shouldn’t have, I’ll take a time out” than deny that anything has happened in the hope that it won’t follow up. My student know that and because of that I very rarely have student become sneaky or lie in the hope that I won’t follow up. Here is where the consistency is vital: EVERY time a student fails to meet one of our essential agreements there is a consequence. There are no if’s, buts or maybes.

All that being said its often hard in the hustle and bustle of a school day when you see 4-5 classes to keep track of every little issue that arises. This year I came up with a little class management hack where I set up a Student Observation Google Form, which you can see below, to help me keep track of the little issues the happen in my classes quickly and easily on my iPad. These responses go to a spreadsheet which I view regularly to see if there are any patterns emerging as well as keep documentation should parents come in and query how their child is doing.
Do they same students keep coming up? What types of issues are occurring? At what time of the day/time of the class are these issues happening? It’s amazing what you can learn about students and yourself as a teacher by doing this.

You will notice that rather than just documenting negative things I also included a space to document positive observations and also other observations. As educators I feel we often focus too much on the negative aspects of behaviour management and not celebrate the positive achievements of our students. This year in my school the K1 classes (led by the amazing @alisoneducates) started an Action as Service project called Notes of Gratitude which encourages all school community members to add to a pin board small notes which celebrate positive interactions and achievements. It has been a huge success and I made sure I took the time to add some of the positive observations I collected on my observation form to this board.

Consistent Consequences

As I mentioned earlier having consistent consequence is key to creating a positive learning environment for your students. After seeing what the incredible Joey Feith did with his students in his More Fun with Google Forms post, one of the things I trialled this year was a Student Reflection Form which was linked to our school 4B’s. These 4B’s replace the regular “school rules” and cover all areas of the school day (in class, playground, on buses, etc). If a student broke one of our essential agreements in #PhysEd and I thought that it was more serious than a quick time out then I would ask them to go and take one of our class iPads and scan the QR Code which would take them to the reflection form.

This worked in two ways. Firstly it took them about 3-5 minutes to reflect on their behaviour and fill the form in meaning they had time to cool down before rejoining the game/activity. Secondly it allowed me as a teacher to remain engaged with the majority of the students who were doing the right thing and not with the one who wasn’t. Once the form is submitted I can see the responses immediately on my device and decide if any more action needs to be taken.

What Class Management Hacks do you use in your #PhysEd classes? Share them with the #PhysEd community by commenting below.

Connect with Nathan Horne, Founder of iPhys-Ed.com & physical education teacher currently in Singapore on Twitter or by Email.

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