Top tips for managing your classroom like a raptor enclosure, from former middle an high school educator, Maggie Layfield.

Admit it – the scariest dinosaur in the Jurassic Park film wasn’t the T-Rex. It was the raptors. Sure, the T-Rex is a big baddie capable of crushing cars and chomping lawyers. But the raptors hunt in packs, sneak through jungles, and move with incredible speed. ‘Clever girls.’ And that is why, if our students are dinosaurs, they are definitely raptors.

We first meet the raptors caged in a small paddock, enclosed by intense electrical fences that they are constantly testing to find weaknesses. Sound familiar? Much like the raptors, we often severely restrict our students, throwing up strong boundaries for fear of them running wild and causing chaos. But students (and raptors) don’t take kindly to those restrictions, and you will often find them acting out to see just how strong those boundaries are.

And what happened when the fences finally came down? Did the raptors follow the ‘rules’ that had been
enforced? Sit quietly and wait for the fences to come back on? If you’ve seen Jurassic Park, you know how it ends: carnage, chaos, and fear. Although our students aren’t raptors and won’t eat us at the first possible
opportunity, it’s highly likely that they will ‘go wild’ if all we’ve ever done is kept them under lock and key.

Room to run

Classroom management requires more than just a “lock, block and stop” approach. Teachers can end up becoming police officers bent on catching unruly behavior, rather than instructors and guides supporting positive learning outcomes.

When we focus on what our students can’t do, they respond accordingly. They fight us, they look for ways to regain control, and they lose focus and motivation.

Jurassic World shows the raptors in a different light – they have more freedom and more room to run. Instead of simply being confined, they are being trained to work together and complete tasks. Their intelligence, speed, and abilities are being used by someone who understands their needs and their nature. Modern classroom management requires the same – an understanding of who our students are, their needs and abilities, and then adapting the learning environment to support them accordingly.

Raptor wrangling

We still need to have some restrictions (they are raptors, after all!), but they must be balanced with freedoms and opportunities to grow.

Here are five best practices to help you wrangle your raptors effectively:

  1. Set up guardrails instead of fences. Protecting your students without confining them requires balance. Guardrails generally warn us not to go any further, allowing us to self-regulate while knowing our boundaries. Focus on advising students of the proper behavior, and how improper choices result in potential pitfalls and even dangers.
  2. Play to their strengths. If you have a ‘talker’ in your class, you may be tempted to force them to work alone or put them in a position where they don’t have a voice. Instead, give your student outlets to share their voice like using polling/survey software (this will also help support the shyer students).
  3. Have rules that grow with students. You may need to have tighter restrictions at the start of the year but be willing to adjust them as you see students developing. Much like you start your younger students off with safety scissors before using ‘big kid’ scissors (for good reason), you can start students off with certain parameters and then allow more freedom as the year progresses.
  4. Give students a say. If you’ve ever raised children, you learn quite quickly that each one responds differently to consequences. One hates time outs while another doesn’t mind them at all. Each has a different sense of what is fair or what they should/ shouldn’t be allowed to do. Leave some wiggle room in your classroom expectations/policies to allow the class some input into what the expectation should be and what consequences result from not abiding by them.
  5. Use non-verbal cues. A loud, angry voice can often exacerbate a problem instead of solving it. In ‘Jurassic World,’ raptor trainer, Owen Grady, uses hand signals and eye contact to direct the raptors. Although this has more to do with the raptors not understanding the English language, research shows that non-verbal cues are very effective with students as well. You can even develop cues specific to each student to help them regulate their behavior and become aware when they need to redirect themselves.

Our students aren’t vicious raptors, but they are trying to figure out where they fit into the world. Keeping them tightly locked up doesn’t do them or us any favors, so focus your efforts on creating an adaptive learning environment and you’ll find yourself becoming a master raptor trainer!

Author

  • Maggie Layfield

    Maggie is a teacher turned techie who found her passion was using EdTech to enrich the classroom and create positive, engaging learning spaces. She serves as the VP of sales for NetSupport and enjoys training end users, developing educational content and working with educators.
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