Sunday, January 8, 2012

Manage a Classroom with Little Stress and No Power Struggles

As a sub, one of the hardest parts of the job is classroom management. No matter who the student is, each one acts at least a little differently when a sub is in the room. The district I work for encourages the Love and Logic® approach, a system that is all about using empathy and empowering students to take responsibility and solve their own problems. I use the principles as a parent with my own children and as a long-term sub, and they work beautifully. However, since much of the Love and Logic system is based on building relationships with the students and that only truly happens over time, I was unsure about how to apply some of the ideas as a one-day sub. So I went straight to the source — Jim Fay, the co-founder and creator of the Love and Logic philosophy.

What Fay wants you to remember as a one-day sub is: “You are there to hold down the fort. You are not in there to be just like the teacher. That screams ‘phony’ in the eyes of the kids.”
The first thing he says that is of the utmost importance is making friends with a few of the teachers around you. You can also talk to the principal at the beginning of the day to make sure it is OK if you send a student down just to cool off.
When it comes to interacting with the students, your first job is meeting the students at the door with a smile. Fay said one of the best subs he ever saw would start that way and then immediately disarm the students by joking things like, “I’m glad to be here and not fighting with my husband at home;” or “I don’t know any of the rules in here, so if you wanted to break them, today would be a good day.”
Next, you need to make sure you have some rules that are worded as if they are only for you. Some good ones Fay suggests are: 1) I listen to one person at a time; 2) I listen to students who raise their hands; and 3) I teach when there are no disruptions.
That way when a student calls out to you, you can respond by looking away and asking aloud, “When do I listen?” Or if there is a disruption, saying, “This is not working. When will I be glad to teach?” What these statements do is take the power away from the students in a nonconfrontational way.
Fay also suggests having some activities in your back pocket. “Great subs bring in things of their own,” he said. He suggests always having at least one book with you and having plenty of generic learning games to use if things start to go awry. It’s not going to do you, the students, or the teacher any good if you just try to plow through the lesson plans if no one is listening or participating. Try taking a break with a game or a book, and then go back to the lesson. Do make sure you write those things up in the report at the end of the day… not in a negative way, but things like: “In addition to the plans, today we learned about…”
Besides these basics, there are a few Love and Logic principles that can be used directly by subs. The first is the idea of Short-term Recovery, or sending a disruptive student to an alternative location. This is where making friends with the teachers around you comes in handy. If there is not a quiet, private spot in the classroom where a student can cool off, then send him to another classroom for a brief period of time. It is important that this strategy not be used with anger or as a punishment for the student. It is simply a change of scenery. And I personally have seen it work wonders.
Another principle that can be used by subs is Neutralizing Arguing. Anyone who has tried to argue and reason with an angry student knows how useless it is, so use the techniques of staying calm,  “going brain dead,” using (and continuing to use) a one-liner like “I respect you too much to argue” or “I know it feels that way,” and if the arguing continues, responding with “I argue at 12:00 or 3:00 each day. Which would be best for you?”
Giving students choices is another successful classroom management strategy. The important things to keep in mind with choices are to give them often, only give two at a time, only give a short time for the student to make the choice (or you make it for them), and only give choices that you are OK with. Giving choices takes away the power struggle and allows the student to feel in control.
Finally, the Love and Logic system says that all students should always be guided to solve their own problems. This involves the steps of offering empathy, asking the student what they are going to do, offering examples of what other students have done to solve similar problems, and giving them permission to try their solution whether it works or not.
“Always remember,” said Fay, “that the number one job of the kids is to try to get you upset.” Don’t let them win. Keep your cool and try these strategies to have a smooth day every day.
Make sure you visit the Love and Logic website and sign up for their free Insider’s Club at the top of the page. You will get emails with articles addressing specific situations. I have found them incredibly helpful as a parent, teacher, and sub. Also at the site is their online store where they have a wealth of resources, including a new CD called “The Love and Logic Classroom… More Cooperative, Higher Achieving Students.” Another CD that is my favorite is “Quick and Easy Classroom Interventions.”


  1. OMG- I love Jim Fay! I went to the week long conference in Colorado a few years ago and it was AMAZING!

    Rowdy in First Grade

  2. Great advice! I'll have to watch for Jim Fay, he sounds brilliant.

    I have been a substitute... which gives me sooooo much respect for subs. You rock!

    Sally from ElementaryMatters

  3. Wow, he gave a lot of great information! I will certainly be trying some of his tips on Monday!

  4. Replies
    1. I agree--thanks so much! As a new sub (with college teaching experience, but that's a whole other ballgame), I've been wondering how in the world to better manage the wide variety of classrooms I walk into every week. We studied Love and Logic in a class I had last fall, and as a parent I've been familiar with the basic ideas for quite awhile, but since it is about building relationships, I was really curious today (as I get ready to sub in a new middle school tomorrow) about how it might work for subs. You've answered my questions! Thank you!

  5. What great information and advice. Thank you for sharing!

    Teaching in Room 6

  6. This is a gold-mine for subs! great ideas and techniques!!

    ­ Kindergarten Lifestyle

  7. I have been having so many problems with some of my students, mainly boys, that I've been getting stressed out. I like the appointment comment! ROFL! I think I will use 5AM and 3 PM. That way it's not even in their time frame. LOL

    Thank you so much for this post it's something I REALLY NEEDED!

  8. I love Love and Logic. Thanks for sharing.
    Life with Mrs. L

  9. Great ideas! I've just found your site and I'm so glad I did!

  10. If anyone is on, I would like advice. I don't think I'm familiar enough with this approach to implement it, but I need to try something. I'm a licensed educator who works as a sub, and I've gotten called out for "not controlling the classes." I've been soft, and I've also been tough; not much works.


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