Creating a Learning Environment vs. Managing Behavior


Whether it’s through common sense or Howard Gardener one of the first things we learn as educators is that everyone takes in information differently. While it’s a “duh” moment for most of us it is an idea that is sometimes difficult to implement in planning. When I was in school I rarely was allowed to get up from my desk or converse with other classmates. The majority of my in-school learning was verbal, written, and sometimes a visual (with a lot of writing). As I work with teachers today I see the same thing. I have been told,

“I know kinesthetic learning is important, but I don’t like when students get up from their desks.”

This, my friends, is the crux of the problem!

Most of us currently teaching were taught with pencil, pen, book, and powerpoint. We all know it doesn’t work for everyone- but there has been a long-standing tradition of the following equation:


Quiet Class + Obedient Students = Great Teacher = Amazing Education

In a quiet classroom students might be “under control”, but “under control” means they are following orders.

Educate: to develop the faculties and powers of (a person) by teaching, instruction, or schooling.

Whether it is a kid or a plant nothing can develop by pruning along. Just because a student isn’t speaking or moving doesn’t mean they are learning. And just because they are moving and speaking doesn’t mean they aren’t taking in every word you say!

The following is a brief scene based on true events.

Setting: I’m explaining a game to a room full of 15 middle school students. One student, Larry(not his real name), is moving around dancing, and singing the Little Mermaid. I have asked him to “Listen” several times.

(while Larry sings ‘Under The Sea’ in a whisper)

Me: So that’s how we play the game. Three things are important: You have to be safe, you have fun, and if you don’t listen you can’t play.

Larry(still whispering the song) Under the sea, under the sea

Me: Larry. What did I just say?

Larry: We have to be safe, we have to have fun, and if you don’t listen you can’t play.

(I stand completely stunned for about 10 seconds)

Me: Larry, when I am speaking can you try not to speak?

Larry: Sure!

He was hanging on every word I said, he just didn’t need to be silent to listen and learn. However, he was often not in our class because his activity made him an easy target to get sent to the office.

So everyone can’t be silent and everyone can’t be talking all of the time- how do you create a classroom that’s inclusive to all learners without removing kids like Larry?


“The Theory Organized Chaos”

1.     In order to learn all students must be given an opportunity to engage in a physical or interactive way.

2.     Physical and interactive methods will create non-quiet classrooms

3.     It is okay to have a classroom of students moving and speaking as long as the following remains true:

a.     I can assess what students learned

b.     I have an effective focus check

c.     I am comfortable setting boundaries

The Theory of Organized Chaos controls two things: your students and you.

It isn’t working if:

  • If you are focus checking more than once in 15 minutes.
  • If you are letting people run, scream, talk about parties, throw things around the room, or text.
  • You have to scream or raise you voice- EVER.
  • When you go to assess no one understands what has just happened

We all have the quiet classroom equation in mind. The world is not quiet- it is bustling, it is busy, it is physical and interactive. We as educators have to embrace that. We also have to make sure they we are setting boundaries in our classroom so that when we do an activity the students are getting what they are supposed to get from it- not using it as free time.  This means being vocal and present- an activity is not time to “get something done” it is time to be in the trenches asking questions- assisting and giving every student a few seconds of focused attention. If you are walking around the room no one is spacing out- they are getting things done. If someone steps over the boundaries then keep your boundaries intact by asking them to leave the classroom. The goal of Organized Chaos is to parse out vocal learners from disrupters. Disrupters still exist and you have to be ready to deal with them whether it is during silent reading or an activity.




This: Quiet Class + Obedient Students = Great Teacher = Amazing Education

With this: The Theory of Organized Chaos

  • Keep your boundaries
  • Diversify learning
  • Know the difference between being in control and controlling your students


A Side Thought on Raising Your Voice

Raising your voice is the biggest indicator that you are not in control. I don’t believe in teaching by fear. I believe in teaching by respect. A focus check should be calm, repeatable, and simple. It should take no more than 30 seconds to get everyone’s attention- but it might take 30 seconds. When you yell or scream- it is because you have not built structure in your room. I have been the screamer, and every time it makes me feel icky- because I feel like I haven’t done my work. Screaming is not a choice. Screaming is a reaction.

Well I hope you enjoyed this first installation of Am I Educating? Until next week!

NEXT WEEK: Obstacle 2: Listening vs. Reacting