Focus. And Refocus.

So let me know if this sounds familiar to you.

Class has begun. Kids are getting their materials ready, but one student, Susie, has not taken out any of her materials, and is talking to the person next to her.

Teacher: “Susie, please stop talking and take out your math supplies.”

Susie: “I wasn’t talking.”

Teacher: “Susie, I just saw you talking. I need you to stop, and take out your math supplies.”

Susie: “I wasn’t talking!”

Teacher: sighing “Fine. Please take out your math supplies, Susie.”

Susie: “What supplies?”

Teacher: exasperated “Your math supplies. Book, notebook, pencil…”

Susie: “I don’t have those.” turns around and resumes talking to neighbor.

Teacher: “Susie, I just asked you to stop talking! Where are your math things? Do you have any supplies for today?”

Susie: shrugs “I don’t know.”

I’m gonna stop here. Because we’ve all seen this. Susie gets upset about being called out in front of the class. The teacher is frustrated. The kids are watching all this unfold. No work is happening. The teacher seriously wants to pull one of these…

I really need you to stop talking.

The time-to-teach program and the idea of Refocus aims to reframe the way we as teachers think about classroom disruptions and change the way we respond to them. I’ve been working in a school that uses this program for the past few years, and it’s awesome. I seen a huge reduction in classroom interruptions. The few disruptions I do have don’t derail my class. Most students don’t even realize they are happening!

I won’t go into details, but the general idea is this. At the beginning of the year you teach your class the expected procedures and behaviors. When a student is not following these behaviors, like Susie, you don’t call them out on it. Instead, you use proximity and positive directions to remind the student what he or she should be doing. So it would look something like this.

Class has begun. Kids are getting their materials ready, but one student, Susie, has not taken out any of her materials, and is talking to the person next to her.

Teacher: approaches Susie “Susie, you seem to be having some trouble getting started today. Do you need anything?”

Susie: “I don’t have a pencil.”

Teacher: “Okay, no problem. Grab one from the student table. Remember, we want to respect others right to work. If you need anything, you can ask me.”

Susie begins whispering to her neighbor.

Teacher: “Susie, I need you to Refocus to room 209. You need to remember to respect others right to work.”

Susie takes a refocus sheet and leaves. She quietly enters the buddy room and fills out her refocus form, and raises her hand when she’s finished. The buddy teacher checks and signs the form. Susie reenters her class, sits down, and begins to work without distraction.

Yea I know it sounds crazy, but it really does happen that way. The positive, non-confrontational approach reminds students of what they should be doing. When they don’t do it, you simply ask them to refocus and they do. It’s awesome. You get to continue working with your class, the kid gets a break and has an opportunity to reflect on why they were asked to leave, but no one has to worry about saving face.

Sure, it takes a decent amount of practice and modeling. Sure, the whole team, school, grade, whatever has to be on-board. Sure, you occasionally have the student who still gets angry and refuses to refocus. But 99% of the time, this is seriously how it goes down. It’s fantastic.

If you are looking for more information on Time-to-Teach or Refocusing, a quick Google or Pinterest search yields a ton of results. You can also check out the Time to Teach website. Or not. I mean, I love pushing things off my desk as much as the next person. I really do. But trust me, using Refocus will result in way fewer headaches. But if arguing with teens is your thing, that’s cool, too. Not judging.