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Less Distracted Students, More Focus: Simplify Classroom Management

I sit down at my teacher desk during my 30 minute prep period to do corrections.

Then, my phone buzzes and I answer a text.

I try to refocus on my corrections.

Then, the teacher in the classroom beside me comes by to chat about one of his new effective teaching strategies.

I try to refocus on my corrections.

Then, a genius classroom idea pops into my head that I need to get started on right now.

Next thing I know, my preparation period is over and I need to get my students from the gym. I’ve only corrected 3 papers out of 25. Not my greatest teacher productivity and focus moment!

Is it just me?

Can you relate?

Focus is Hard

We as teachers (and adults) are often distracted and struggle to focus on one task at a time. Squirrel brain IS normal.

However, with time and effort, many of us have developed strategies (and/or are currently working on developing them!) to help ourselves remain more focused based on our own personal needs.

I now…

Put my phone on silent during the school day and keep it away from my desk.

I close my classroom door during prep periods so that other teachers know to leave me to focus. Plus, I take a half-hour lunch break in the staff room each day to intentionally socialize with my coworkers.

I keep a notepad on my desk so I can quickly write down all my genius classroom ideas so I don’t forget. Now that the idea is written down, I’ll bring it to life later.

I don’t always succeed with all of my focus strategies, but overall, I’m less distracted and a lot more focused, productive and organized.

It Takes Time

I wasn’t born with focus strategies. They have developed with time, effort and consistency. I learned a lot of them from fellow teachers too. I’m still working on my strategies. And, I’ll likely always work on them.

Our Expectations as Teachers

So… if we as teachers are always learning and implementing new focus strategies, we should assume that students likely don’t have any strategies yet.

We hear teachers say over and over again that their biggest frustration when it comes to classroom management and academics are:

  • Students lack focus and problem solving skills
  • Students are off task, distracted and not in the present moment
  • Student behaviours distract the class from valuable learning time

Unfortunately, I hear it all the time, and I’ve even said it myself too many times. “Ok, everyone, it’s time to focus on the project now”. And when a student is distracted talking to another student, my classroom management strategy is to say “Stop chatting with Peter and focus on your work”.

I’ve come to realize it’s not very useful to say things like this to our students!

Because… Have our students ever been taught how to focus (and to self-regulate for that matter)?

How can we expect them to focus on their work if they’ve never been taught how?

Good News!

It can make both our lives as teachers and our students’ lives much easier if we teach them self-regulation and focus strategies in an explicit way.

To do that, we need to give students the opportunity to learn and reflect on what they personally need to be able to focus. A strategy that might work for one distracted student won’t work for the next.

Since we aren’t in their bodies and we can’t tell which distractions are the most intense for our students (although we probably have somewhat of an idea!), we need to give them the chance to discover what they are. Plus, if students go through this process independently, they are more likely to develop their self-awareness when it comes to what distracts them and then to make good decisions for themselves and their focus.

This is not a one-size-fits all situation!

How to do the Distractions Discovery

It’s pretty simple. You can either follow this lesson plan we created for you (that includes a pre-teaching and post-teaching activity as well, with worksheets, posters for classroom decor and a mindful colouring sheet for students from Kindergarten all the way to grade 12). The link includes other free Educalme resources too! Or, do the following now with your students:

Invite your students to close their eyes and to sit in a comfortable position. Ask them to focus on their inhales and their exhales for a few minutes.

Then, ask them to notice, with curiosity, if any distractions were competing for their attention while they were practicing focusing on their breaths. Ask your students to notice what was the distraction and how it made them feel.

(And, side note, what a great way to explore breathing exercises for kids while you’re at it! Get more social emotional learning and calm classroom activities by checking out this blog post where we share 6 breathing exercises for emotional regulation!)

Have a Classroom Discussion

Now, have a discussion about what distractions came up for your students. Here are some question ideas you can use:

  • What did you notice?
  • How can you use what you learned for the rest of your day?
  • What was competing for your attention during the focus exercise?
  • What distractions came up for you during the exercise?
  • How can becoming aware of distractions help you to support your focus?
  • What are things you can do to help yourself to focus?
  • How will you ensure that you use this new focus strategy next time you are distracted?

And better yet, use the post-teaching activity to really deepen the learning.

You can get the Focus Lesson Plan here!

There’s More – This is Important

Here’s the deal.

You can’t just do the above exercise just once and expect students to learn and apply new focus strategies and coping skills.

Repeat this exercise over and over and over again.

Repetition is the key to success here!

The more students discover their distractions and come up with focus strategies that will work for them, the more likely they are to actually apply these strategies.

And the less classroom management strategies you’ll need to apply in your classroom, because students will regulate themselves more!

The Long Term Benefits

Now, every time you want your students to focus on a project or a task during the school day, you have a great tool to refer back to. Instead of saying things like “Please focus on your work”, we can say things like “Which focus strategy will you apply during this work period?”.

Much more efficient – It’s a win-win for all members of the classroom!

Where to Get the Full Lesson Plan

You have everything you need to execute this lesson right now.

But to create even more classroom engagement around teaching and learning about focus, we encourage you to download our free easy-to-use social-emotional learning lesson for K-12 classrooms that will explicitly teach your students focus strategies in a systematic and efficient way.

Help your students to focus on their academic learning and increase their problem solving skills!

Are you a French, French Immersion or Core French teacher?

You can also get this lesson plan en français here!

Try this lesson plan out to help your students make good decisions to support their focus and their well-being, and let us know how it goes!

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distracted students classroom management

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