Remember the children’s book Miss Nelson is Missing? Or the other “Miss Nelson” books by James Marshall, Miss Nelson is Back or Miss Nelson Has a Field Day?

Let me jog your memory: Miss Nelson is an elementary school teacher whose kind nature and lax classroom management leads kids to take advantage of her. When she is fed up with student behavior, she suddenly disappears and is replaced by Miss Viola Swamp, the MEANEST substitute teacher in the world. Viola Swamp assigns extra work and runs her classroom with an iron fist. She shows those kids who’s boss. After a few days under the Swamp regime students come to appreciate Miss Nelson and her more joyful approach to schooling. When Miss Nelson finally returns the students are overcome with happiness.

Then the twist: Miss Swamp had actually been Miss Nelson in disguise!

The book presents a false dichotomy that many students, and teachers, hold to be true: teachers who are “sweet” and “nice” and think learning should be fun cannot manage student behavior; teachers who are “tough” and “mean” and seem to enjoy student suffering can keep kids in line.

We all fall into this type of thinking at times. “If you can’t behave, we will be doing worksheets all next week.” “I was going to let you play a game, but all this chatter means silent reading.”We’re telling kids, “Part of me wants to do what’s fun, but the other part needs to be in control…and I can’t do both at the same time.”

What does it look like for a teacher to plan for the joy AND efficiency of a classroom at the same time? What does THAT type of classroom management entail?

In The Art and Science of Teaching, Robert Marzano explains that effective classroom management depends on a teacher’s ability to establish rules and procedures and to then acknowledge students’ adherence or lack of adherence to those procedures. But his research also suggests that building relationships with students and making sure lessons are engaging and fun are essential components.

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, researcher Eric Jensen also reports that classroom management is more than just rewards and consequences. He reminds us that students only spend 28% of their waking hours at school.

“The significance of that number–28 percent–is profound,” Jensen says, “There in very little you can do about students’ home lives, or about the people with whom they associate. With the small proportion of their lives that you do have access to, you cannot afford to waste a single class or school day. You cannot afford to put a student down or treat him unfairly. You cannot afford to bore a student or fail to engage her in class. You cannot suspend a student for anything frivolous; in fact, the more days students spend out of school, the less chance you have of success. School needs to be a nonstop bobsled run full of activity, challenge, correction, support, and enrichment.”

What might happen if we take Jensen and Marzano seriously? What would happen if we “managed” our classrooms by crafting procedures and routines for FUN? What would it look like to truly engage students in every minute of a lesson?

Chris Biffle and his colleagues at Whole Brain Teaching have some ideas for how to make the rules of class more fun to follow than break. Their routines are simple — students learn a couple of call-and-response procedures and hand gestures — but keep things extremely orderly and goofy at the same time. Take a look at some of their videos of students from kindergarten to college using the strategies. I’m not sure these methods truly produce “whole brain” or “power” teaching as Biffle claims, but I do know that they produce efficiency and joy. Check it out!

Leave a comment to let us know how YOU have made classroom management about creating an exciting, high-energy, high-engagement, FUN learning environment, not about control.