In this episode of The Prep Period Podcast, Jay Adams joins as our special guest speaker.
Jay is a certified English, math, and science teacher at Edgewood Academy that will outline three magic antidotes, or “bullets,” for classroom management to make your life simpler and more stress-free while enhancing relationships with students.
In this episode, you will learn about:
ANNOUNCER: You’re listening to Prep Period the only podcast for teachers that’s focused on quick wins and actionable tips that can be implemented in your classroom tomorrow. Prep Period starts in three two one.
BRIAN: All right so welcome to the prep period podcast. My name is Brian Bean i’m gonna be your host today. In this episode we’re going to discuss three magic bullets for classroom management. Now these things are gonna they’re gonna make your life simpler. They’re gonna help it become a lot more stress-free as a teacher and they’re really gonna enhance your relationship with students. So we’re gonna talk about the one sentence that you should say every day, the one question that you should ask before making any rule or policy and then we’re also going to talk about the one magic question that’s going to solve pretty much any discipline problem that you might encounter. And all this is going to come from our guest. His name is Jay Adams. He’s the head of Edgewood Academy in Alabama. So, welcome Jay. First things first, let’s get our listeners a little bit more familiar with you. So Jay Adams has been a teacher since 2000. He’s certified in English, Math, and Science. So I’m a little disappointed PE is not in there. I mean, we’ve got everything else covered right?
JAY: Well I coached, just never got the certification.
BRIAN: All right, close enough. Then right he continues to teach two classes while at the helm of Edgewood Academy. Because life doesn’t make sense when he doesn’t have a classroom. Okay, so in that you say continues to teach two classes what else do you do besides teaching?
JAY: I actually last year took the position as head of school here at Edgewood.
BRIAN: Well there you go, congratulations!
JAY: Thank you.
BRIAN: I like it. Okay so I gotta admit of all these podcast interviews I’ve done so far, the premise of yours really intrigued me. I like this concept of three magic bullets and and as I was reading through them I was like “Man where were you 15 years ago when I started my education career?” So I want to dive right in and just really kind of flesh these out. So your first magic bullet says what is the one thing you should say before every class? What is that Jay?
JAY: I’m not perfect on this because life’s busy but I try really intentionally to open every class with almost the same sentence which is “Thank you for being here. I know you didn’t have to be.”
BRIAN: Now wait a second, “Thank you for being here. I know you didn’t have to be so.” You gotta let’s flush that one out a little bit. I know you didn’t have to be why on earth would you tell your students that?
JAY: Well it’s not accurate, let’s start with that. I know I’m lying when I say it and they know I’m lying when I say it which is part of what catches their attention. In reality in every state there are compulsory education laws that tell them they do have to be there for 95 percent of them. But the fact that the state – I mean people break laws all the time and there’s plenty of ways to get out of school. There’s just I mean we got plenty of kids that both parents work a job and it would be really easy for the student to say they’re leaving for school and not. It’s not that difficult to figure out a way to get a medical excuse, to get a doctor’s excuse, to come up with some reason to not be there. And even you know even more tellingly you know it’s pretty easy to show up in body but not be there in spirit. You know, it’s just this thing that I try to do to let them know that I value their time enough that I’m going to try not to waste it and I’m glad they chose to be with me that day.
BRIAN: And I like that. So what do you think it is about just pointing out that that freedom that agency component that look “I know that you could have done any something else,” what is it about that that you think is so powerful that really helps you connect with the students?
JAY: Well I think it goes back to that compulsory education thing right? Every student in America is in a place that that they probably would choose not to be or at least they think they would choose not to be not knowing really what the alternatives are right? And so somewhere between age 12 and age 21 every human being has got to go through that process where they realize “My life’s in my hands.” And I’m just trying with everything that I do to very intentionally reinforce “I think you’re in charge of your own life and your own destiny and I’m glad I get to be a part of that.” That’s what I’m trying to drive home at the start of every year certainly and even after that at the start of every class.
BRIAN: I love that Jay. It reminds me when I was teaching in the classroom. The first day of school when I was teaching finance it’s a little different but we won’t go into that in the podcast. But when I was teaching science I would always start the very first at the very beginning of the year and I’d point out that I didn’t have any classroom rules posted in my room. I didn’t have any and I want to make a note of that that my students recognize that Mr. Bean doesn’t have rules. And we talk about well why not. I said because you know I’m teaching seniors at this point in time you’ve been through enough school you know what’s going to get you in trouble. Yeah so because I realized that students more than anything they just want to be treated like adults.
JAY: Oh absolutely.
BRIAN: And so I think what you’ve touched on here really it it points that same that same concept. And now that you’ve explained it and it makes so much sense to me that would really kind of give that student that confidence at the beginning of the class that this is a teacher that gets me. This is a teacher that understands where I’m coming from. Have you found that has helped you build that rapport that connection early on?
JAY: Yeah. I mean it’s you know there are no magic bullets there is no one sentence that solves it and –
BRIAN: Don’t say that because we started this whole thing off saying magic. JAY: Yeah but you know sometimes you gotta strategically like
BRIAN: Some kids are bulletproof.
JAY: And you know that I think it does especially right off the start of the year with students who are new to the school with transfer students who are new to my classroom who don’t know Coach Adams yet and don’t understand that he’s a little bit different – it’s sort of a wake-up call right off the bat you know? As you go through the year – it’s funny if I forget they’ll remind me “Hey Coach, did you forget to thank us today?” “Yeah guys, I’m sorry. thank you for being awesome. I know you didn’t have to be here.”
BRIAN: That’s fantastic. Now speaking of classroom rules, your second magic bullet was that there’s one question that you should ask before you make any rules. So what’s that one question?
JAY: I’ve got to where – I frame every and I don’t like to talk about rules as much as I like to talk about policies, but I’ve got to where I frame everything with the question, the behavior I’m trying to solve: Is this immoral? Is this irrational? Or is this inconvenient? Because those are three very different buckets and it helps me on the front end helps me to think about you know number one how upset should I be if this policy isn’t followed or if this rule gets broken? And it helps me explain it to the students as well.
BRIAN: You know, that makes sense. Like obviously immoral behavior is something you got to avoid right? But then you’ve got on the other end of that spectrum the inconvenience. So in your mind how do where do you draw that distinction between irrational versus inconvenient? Like immoral is pretty obvious but where do you draw the line between the other two?
JAY: Okay so a lot of this goes back to what I talked about earlier and we talked about it some in the book about the idea that the most important thing that that happens for students between you know 12-ish and getting out of high school or getting out of college if that’s where they’re headed is the realization that there’s this cause and effect relationship that exists between the decisions they make and the outputs they get. And so irrational behavior would be behavior that doesn’t recognize that inconvenient behavior is typically behavior that it’s not really wrong it’s not necessarily irrational it’s just really it’s one of my pet peeves you know things like teachers have all sorts of pet peeves.
BRIAN: Yeah. Something that might be specific to being in Coach Adams class that may not be a big deal for your Mr. Bean’s class right? I love that. So when you go through that process and you ask yourself that question does that determine if you make the rule or does that determine more consequences for the rule or the policy? How do you approach that?
JAY: Well so I kind of think like if something’s immoral then it can’t happen in my room you know or it can’t happen in my hallways. And so those are you have to have something in place to deal with that. I’m actually not a big proponent of laying out the consequence beforehand. I’m more kind of like you said they know right, they know wrong, especially by the time you get to middle school senior high. Something that’s inconvenient – I’m sort of in a place where you know one thing I say to my own children a lot is you know what does it cost you to just let someone else be wrong? Why must we make a fight out of something that didn’t have to be a fight? And so the stuff that sits in that inconvenient bucket I make fewer and fewer policies or rules about that. The further I get into this career you know there are still things that bother me just because they bother me and I just don’t want to have to be around them or deal with them. But that irrational one is the one I think where the the water gets muddy a lot is you know for example students who escape class to visit the restroom you know. Every teacher’s got that kid especially in middle school who they every day they’ve got to leave for something well there’s a rational reason to want to be out of the room and there’s an irrational reason. There are bright students like in math class there are bright students who have figured out by their eighth or ninth grade year I can skim this section of the textbook and do all this work in 15 minutes. It’s not irrational for that kid to want out of the room. It’s perfectly rational. School is the only place in the universe where we try to get people to work in uniform blocks of time no matter how fast they can do the jo and that’s irrational to kids. So it’s a rational response for that kid to want out of the room. A kid that struggles in math though trying to get out of the room is a defense mechanism and so a lot of times with that student instead of having a rule that says you know – teachers do all kinds of crazy stuff particularly when it comes to the bathroom you know? You can only leave the classroom x times per quarter or for certain amount of time at a time. There’s all kinds of stuff. I’ve just made the decision I’m never going to tell a kid he can’t go to the bathroom. Instead what I’m gonna do is at some point explain to him look you leave class to go to the bathroom for 10 minutes a day that’s 50 minutes a week. You’re missing a full class of geometry every single week every week. Do you think I could you know I love Breaking Bad. I think is the greatest television show that’s ever been recorded. So I went back when I was teaching more often I use this example a lot.
BRIAN: I’m guessing you don’t show in the classroom to the students.
JAY: No I do. I do have a class specked out with Breaking Bad in my head but I haven’t been able to teach it yet.
BRIAN: Let’s just throw the disclaimer out there that this is not a model of career choice that we would recommend for any science teacher right there.
JAY: But I will I’ll explain to a student do you think I could skip every fifth episode of a tv show and keep up with what’s going on? And obviously you couldn’t. But when you skip 10 minutes of geometry a day even for a really good reason you’re quickly going to find yourself behind.
BRIAN: I like that. I love that concept. Okay the one I’ve been waiting for the magic question to solve practically any discipline problem which I’m excited for because I’ve got three teenage boys at home so let’s hear it.
JAY: I like to ask the simple question with as little emotion as i can get in my voice. “What do you think is going to happen next?” And I will pair that with “How would you like to solve this problem?” And those two questions taken together solve almost everything so far.
BRIAN: Interesting. So kind of giving them this predictive you know what do you foresee is going to happen next? So why do you think that’s so powerful? Why does that work so well with students?
JAY: Well I mean, you know I’m modeling agency to the student. I’m letting you predict what’s going to happen next. I’m not coming off the top rope with my elbow, I’m not screaming. If you could tell young teachers to take anything out of the toolbox, yelling is at the top of the list. It is just it’s ineffective. It is an easy band-aid that creates huge wounds later on. And so by asking “what do you think will happen next” I haven’t yelled, I haven’t really even said what’s wrong. I just have asked “what do you think is going to happen next” and you tend to get some pretty standard responses you know? You’ll get kids who will say nothing and the answer to that is “well I wouldn’t have stopped to ask you the questions” and so and then it’s really easy. It’s not going to be nothing but since you don’t have an idea how about I propose an idea. Here’s what’s going to happen next. If behavior x keeps going and I should say a big chunk of this I’ve modified or stolen outright from Jim Fay’s Teaching With Love and Logic Model, which is a book that that changed my career. And you know you’re not supposed to plug other books while you’re talking about your own but I will tell you that’s – I buy a copy for every new teacher I hire. It’s often non-confrontational teaching. Students walk into classrooms particularly in middle school world predisposed to believe that the student teacher relationship is adversarial by default and everything you can do to peel that off is a win. Anything you can do to get them to understand I am on your side, I am not against you. And so I’ve just sort of worked toward finding ways to address classroom issues that are as neutral and non-confrontational as I can possibly make them. Because again it comes back to that rational thing. I’m trying to demonstrate to students you’re going to get a reaction out of the people around you that is connected to the choices the behavioral choices you made as inputs. So I’m just trying to drive that home. Like we’re at a decision point. What do you think will happen if you continue to do xyz?
BRIAN: Yeah. Can you think of any particular experiences or stories of one where a student had a response that really stood out to you? You’re like man this worked better than I expected.
JAY: Oh yeah. Well I think my my all-time favorite is I had a student that got sent to me when I was a head of school at another school. I got sent to my office and it was typical, I mean it was just you know complete refusal to stop just walking out of turn. It wasn’t anything terrible, it was just no matter how many times the teacher asked, no matter how much behavioral stuff, no matter how much behavioral modification stuff she tried, nothing was working. She finally just got frustrated and sent him to me and you know so I went into my standard script of you know what do you think is going to happen next? And he said “I guess I’m going to get suspended or something.” Well no I’m not going to suspend you. How would you like to solve this problem? How would you solve this problem? And his response because he has no script for this at all none. He came expecting to get yelled at and you know. Somebody else is going to do the hard thinking for him. But again going back to something I learned from reading Jim Fay, you force the student to own the problem. I’m not ever going to own your problem for you. This is your problem, you built this, so you get to think about how we’re gonna fix it. And you know of course he said “I don’t know how I’m gonna fix it.” And I said i’m really busy. I’m you know, I’m inventing work just so he thinks I’m really busy. But yeah I got a lot to do. I gotta run some copies. I got 14 things going on. Here’s a legal pad and a pen. Why don’t you start brainstorming? I’ll be back in 20 minutes. So off I go. Twenty minutes later I come back, he’s sitting there, he has no idea what’s happened, he is so confused, he doesn’t even know if he’s in trouble or not because I’ve been cheery, I’m not upset, he didn’t do anything to me. And I told him that you know it’s like I’m not mad at you, I just want you to figure this out. So you know you got anything coach? I don’t even know what you want from me. It’s okay. I’m fully confident in your abilities as a bright young man to solve this problem that you have with your teacher. So I gotta go grab some lunch, I’ll be back in 25 minutes.
So off I go. The whole time he’s the people problem is solved he’s not in class. It took him an hour and 44 minutes of me periodically checking in to write on the legal pad. I guess I should apologize question mark. At which point I signed it and said that sounds like a great plan. Go find her and apologize. Let me know how it works out for you. And you know it really is I think the more every kid in trouble is running a script in their head and the more you can ask questions that short circuit that script of I do a bad thing, I get yelled at, I’m embarrassed because I got yelled at in front of my friends. So I’ve got to demonstrate that I didn’t care that much. Anyway, so then you gotta throw me out of class you know? The more the earlier and the more effectively you can short circuit that script and get them back in the world of there is a rational way to solve your problem that involves clear cause and effect and behavioral choices the less stress teachers and administrators and students all feel. And what happens when the kid’s mom calls me later and she’s “Did you really let him sit out of class for an hour and 44 minutes?” Well I did. I asked him to solve the problem. I can’t help that it took him an hour and a half to figure out he should apologize. It’s not on me. And when you express it that way to a parent 95 percent of them get it.
BRIAN: I like it. So just in a quick recap – so the one thing you should say before every class is “Thank you for being here. I know you had other options.” The one question you should ask before making any kind of policy in class is you know ask yourself whether or not the behavior you’re trying to stop is immoral, irrational, or simply inconvenient. And then kind of go from there. And then that magic question for any discipline problem is you kind of give them that opportunity to figure out okay what’s going to happen? What do you think is going to happen next? And how would you suggest we solve this problem? I love it. When you look at the theme of all of those there’s a central theme of personal accountability, there’s a central theme of agency empowering your student. And I think every teacher will probably tweak this kind of approach to their own personality but I think general sense when you give that student that when you empower that student to to really take hold of their of their educational experience you’re gonna like the outcome one way or another. I think that’s the key to a good classroom management. So thank you very much for sharing your insights with all of us and appreciate your time Jay.
JAY: Thank you so much Brian.
BRIAN: What a great episode. I love the concepts that Jay was sharing with us. And it reminded me of my second favorite quote, I’m somewhat of a quote guy. My first favorite quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln says “Good things come to those who wait but only the things left by those that hustle.” I love that. Second favorite quote Pythagorean, “Choices are the hinges of destiny.” And my third favorite quote just throw it in there because sometimes it’s applicable to teaching anyway. Mike Tyson says “Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.” I think we probably all felt a little bit like that with Covid going into this academic year. But I want to focus for a little bit on that second quote by Pythagorean, “Choices are the hinges of destiny.” I think Jay’s hit the nail on the head when it comes to classroom management, building rapport with students. I think it’s on us as teachers to recognize that these students do have a choice you know? Whether or not they come to school physically or if they’re there mentally at all is really their choice. And then how they respond to discipline is going to be their choice and how we as teachers respond to discipline is a choice. And the beautiful thing about that and I would teach my students this all the time it really everything you want from life is a direct result of the choices that you make and that’s what that’s the whole concept of this quote. “Choices are the hinges of destiny.” You make a choice and your trajectory of your future changes just a little bit. And you start heading in a different path as a result of that choice. And I love the idea of not just teaching your students that but integrating that concept overall in your approach to classroom management and running a class and being a teacher. So kudos to Jay right now. He did mention his book or that he had a book and so I want to throw a little bit of info out there about that. So his book is called Student Equals Human. It can be found on Amazon or you can actually go to their website www.studentequalshuman.com and then you could also follow Jay on Twitter at teaches humans which is an awesome Twitter handle right? So with that just kind of that final thought I just I love the episode take that to heart. And if as always if you know anybody who’d be interested in being a guest on our podcast please reach out to us. My email is brian.bean at stukent.com. With that hey thanks for staying awake stay healthy love y’all.
Jay Adams has been a teacher since 2000 and is the author of Student Equals Human: The Simple Equation that Saved My Classroom (and Career). Certified in English, math, and science, he is the Head of School and continues to teach two classes at Edgewood Academy, because life doesn’t make sense when he doesn’t have a classroom.