CHESSDEFENDER: Victoria Winifred
Today I am going to reveal my most commanding tool for classroom management.
Have you guessed? [Hint: It’s not the Yelling King with a Megaphone.]
It is actively controlling the amount of chess playing permitted for students.
But let’s go back: I simply did not KNOW the power I had…until I used it.
A Rough Morning for Behavior Management
We attended our usual school-wide meeting in the auditorium to honor the “Students of the Month”. Every four weeks, two scholars were chosen from each classroom in all grades. The principal read the glowing, prepared statements about each child explaining why he or she deserved the award. The pupils were then handed their special certificates one by one. It is true that these ceremonies did run long, but such is the nature of trying to get everything done during the year in a busy school.
In those days, the principal in charge was a particularly firm administrator who did not tolerate noisy students well. Unfortunately for me, this time it was my own precious fourth-grade class who talked the most through the formalities, despite stage-whispered warnings and raised eyebrows from yours truly.
At the end of the presentation, the honored students all gathered back onstage for photographs to be taken by the PTA and the proud, visiting parents.
The Initiating Event
During this time, the principal moved down the stage stairway toward me to pay a “special visit” to my group, still seated up front.
“Ms. Winifred, I am very disappointed in the disrespect your class displayed during our gathering today. Very disappointed, indeed.” Any educator knows this kind of statement made to you in front of the students is a punch to the gut. Such a pronouncement is meant to criticize the teacher’s classroom management skills far more than the behavior of the students.
As she walked away, the children all looked up sideways at me, anticipating some form of wrath.
A consequence indeed needed to be imposed for this embarrassing criticism. Fuming, I weighed my options. I didn’t want to assign work that I would later need to grade (I had quite enough of that waiting for me back in my room). I thought about our planned activities for the rest of the day. This being Friday, we had thirty minutes at the end of studies where students were allowed to play chess with each other. Seemed easy enough.
A New Classroom Management Strategy is Born
“That’s it,” I said crossly. “No chess today. Let’s go.” I gestured for them to stand and follow me to our room, and I began to walk up the aisle.
There seemed to be a delay behind me, so I looked back at them more closely. I was shocked at the severity of what I witnessed.
Heads were hanging. At least two girls and one boy were already sobbing. Faces were red, and much grumbling was underway as they slowly forced themselves and each other to rise and line up. I remained silent and headed for the stairwell. As I let them file past me to climb and wait on the next landing, the situation was still deteriorating. Noses were running rampant, and now girls were hugging each other in sorrow.
Okay, I knew we all loved it…but I hadn’t realized the POWER it had!!! Oh my.
My Judgment Call
Part of me wishes that I could tell you that I stuck to my plan that day in order to maintain my authority, and that there was no chess that afternoon. But, you see, I hadn’t realized HOW STRONG AN EFFECT taking away ALL the chess was, and frankly, I had overdone it. So, I told them that.
From what I recall, I took ten minutes off of the time instead, which thankfully greatly cleared the depressed miasma that had taken over their spirits. I really would have hated to send my class home crying, especially on a Friday afternoon! Even so, chess was played with tear-stained faces and voices in hushed tones.
But after that day…I knew. This was a huge, explosive weapon in my arsenal to be used only with the utmost of care, and with great respect.
The way I handled this classroom management tool in the future was dosing it out in very small increments. I assure you, that is ALL that is needed.
An Example of Using the Classroom Management Tool of Chess:
My class lining up in my room to go to lunch; getting noisy. Or talking while I’m teaching. Or ANYTHING:
Me (in a quiet, but firm voice): “Minus ONE.”
By now, it had been established that “Minus one” meant we’d be playing chess for one minute less – just one minute! – than planned. I kid you not, that one minute usually did the job. But if the disruption went further?
Me: “Minus TWO.”
I promise you that, when needed, this phrase brought dead silence to the room, with students shooting daggers of looks at each other that were far more intimidating than I myself could muster!
At the beginning of the following chess session, I would set a timer for the one or two minutes, and we would sit in silence. “We could have been playing chess right now,” I’d say sadly, and the poor dears would squirm in their seats, hands folded.
When the timer finally rang, off they went to retrieve the boards and pieces, and all was again well with the world!
Now, how long we actually played after those two minutes is not up for public discussion. It might have been twenty-eight minutes…or more… who knows! 😉
My friends, I have not, since my experience in the auditorium, EVER again uttered the sacrilegious phrase, “No chess today,” nor have I needed to do so.
I strongly encourage using the proactive control of allowed chess-playing time as a primary tool for behavior management.
But, please, be gentle!
Welcome to my ChessDefender Blog!
My name is Victoria Winifred. I’ve been teaching elementary students since 2006, and my rosters have included gifted and talented populations as well as inclusive classrooms. Doubly certified as a mentor for teachers, I also have a graduate certificate in Chess in Education. I’m here to provide support, strategies, facts, and resources for including chess in your classroom, regardless of the demographics of your students.
What would help you? I welcome your ideas and questions, and would love to hear about your own experiences on the topic.
Your feedback will be considered for the blog if submitted. (Permission will first be asked if selected.)
Please write me at email@example.com
Victoria Winifred has used chess as the theme for her classroom since 2007, and has a Chess in Education graduate certificate. Doubly-certified as a mentor for teachers, she is here for you as an education consultant to provide support, strategies, facts, and resources for including chess in your classroom, regardless of the demographics of your students. Please feel free to reach out for help!
She is also the author of a new award-winning children’s book.
Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org