Changing Our Thinking: Stop Waiting For All The Kids

Changing Our Thinking: Stop Waiting For All The Kids

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing waiting for all kids to be finished.

Why we wait

As teachers, we spend a lot of time waiting. We wait for our whole class to line up before taking them to specials. We wait for the whole class to sit on the carpet before beginning a lesson. We wait for all kids to finish eating snack before we move on. We wait patiently for all partners to finish before we bring the class back together. We wait for so many things and we wait for many reasons. One reason is so that all students feel like they had enough time to finish what they were doing or saying. We also wait so that we don’t have to repeat directions over and over again. We wait so that all kids are ready. But when we wait it starts to cause issues even if we don’t notice them right away.

What happens when we wait

When we always wait for kids we create a culture of waiting in the classroom. Kids know that we are going to wait for all kids to get to the carpet so they take their time. When they know that we are going to wait there is less of a sense of urgency. Kids losing their sense of urgency is one the worst things that can happen in your classroom. It happened in mine last year and I thought I was going to lose my mind.

Another teacher would take my students to specials every day. Every day I would leave my classroom at this time to avoid being in the classroom for the chaos that was created by waiting. Natasha, why didn’t you stay and help? I will admit that I tried but this teacher was so convinced that we needed to wait for all students to be ready before leaving that I could do nothing. Within a few days, I found kids slowly dragging themselves to the carpet. They came slow as can be to reading groups. They moved at a snail’s pace because their time was never respected. Their on-time behavior was never rewarded. They saw no reason to do things quickly and on time because they would always have to wait for someone else.

This teacher once waited for 16 minutes before leaving. SIXTEEN! Kids can’t lose 16 minutes of instruction time! Ain’t nobody got time for that! Repeating yourself over and over doesn’t help the kids. You might think the longer you wait the more kids will be ready. WRONG! I can tell you from experience, the longer you wait the fewer kids are ready! Threatening with empty threats also does nothing. Do you know what does do something? What motivates those friends to get a move on? Leaving them behind and making them catch up. Creating a sense of urgency deep inside their little hearts.

Urgency in the Classroom

Teachers would all pretty much agree that there aren’t enough hours in the school day to accomplish the job we have been tasked to do. Every moment my students are with me is a precious moment for teaching. We don’t have any minutes to lose! If you visit my classroom you’ll find that I frequently send kids off using the phrase “Hurry! We have no time to lose!” Soon kids start using this phrase to others and our class has a sense of urgency. My kids know (because I tell them over and over) that we don’t waste time on things that aren’t important. If we are doing something it is one of the most important things in the world. Kids know that they will be left behind if they don’t hop in line for library. Kids know that when I say turn and talk they have to start talking immediately or they won’t get their chance. They know that snack is over we go to specials and we leave kids behind.

Waiting is your frienemy

Waiting might seem tempting. It might seem like you want to wait for the class to be ready. Guess what? Waiting is your frenemy. It isn’t your friend. It doesn’t have your best interests at heart. It is going to suck you in and tear you down. In the past, we’ve rationalized waiting with things like:
Kids will feel left out if we leave them behind.
Kids need to finish what they’re saying in a turn and talk.
We don’t want them to feel rushed.

While each of these statements does carry some truth, kids don’t feel these things when we teach with a sense of urgency. Maybe kids feel left out the first time they get left behind as the class walks to PE. The next time the class leaves that child will be right in line with everyone. Kids who have too much time for a turn and talk lose focus and get bored. If they know they only have a small moment they have to share quickly and there is no time for being off task. We don’t want to create anxiety in kids by teaching with urgency but instead show them that we have no precious moments of learning to waste. None.

Students in my class understand that their time won’t be wasted. Due to this, we are able to follow directions immediately. We have a collective understanding that every moment we are together is a good moment for learning. What we’re doing in the classroom matters and we won’t waste time for kids who aren’t with us.

Changing Our Thinking

I hope this small shift in thinking is helpful in your classroom tomorrow. Try it out. Don’t wait for all of your kids. Of course, you will be met with some complaints but soon your kids will be following your directions right away instead of in a few minutes.

Leave a comment below about your shift in thinking, any questions you might have, and how this is working for you within the classroom.

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