Structures breed behavior. This useful, but imperfect, truth has helped me for many years. We can easily see this when our playgrounds get new equipment and children change how they play. But it also true when the structures are less visible. For example, consider library fines. Most libraries charge only a few cents a day for overdue books. Considering the size of your rent or house payment, it is insignificant. But how many of us have moved heaven and earth to find that book? The structure of having to pay a fine, no matter how small, changes how we behave when a book is overdue.
Classrooms are no different. The many, many structures that you put into place in your classroom will, you hope, encourage the behavior you want. Take something simple like chair-tipping. Mrs. Apple simply tells child to put his chair down. Ms. Berry puts a mark on the board that means the student owes her three pieces of trash at recess. Mr. Cherry stops class and yells that he is sick of reminding students to keep their chairs on the floor. All three are choices that teachers have made, and all three will produce the desired behavior. Some take more effort than others, some will have more lasting effect, and some may produce some extra, undesired behavior. That’s the tricky part about structures. Children are smart and creative. But you are also smart and creative. Keep trying.
There are many wonderful books about classroom management and classroom procedures. The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher is particularly specific and helpful. I am not going to attempt to reproduce that advice here. Instead, I want to fill in some areas that these books often overlook and give examples of how I use structure to build a context that encourages the best work and behavior from my own students.