Withitness- Is that even a word??? Why should I care about withitness?
It’s a state of mind that is actually super important for classroom teachers to develop.
Withitness is the uncanny ability to know exactly what is going on in your classroom, even though you may not have your eyes on every student at every moment.
Withitness is knowing what your students are going to do or try before they do it. Part of this comes with experience, and part of it is your natural personality.
As a veteran teacher, I am like an omniscient presence all over my classroom. For example, If I’m helping a small group, I have the rest of the room in my peripheral vision.
I know, from learning about my students and watching their behavior, that when Sally and Jana get up to visit the pencil sharpener at the same time, they are passing gum and gossiping. So, I’m going to take care of that situation before it even starts. One of the girls will have to sit down and wait.
You can’t have a one-track mind and be a teacher. I’m sure you’ve learned that teachers must do and consider many things at once. Your students KNOW whether you have withitness or not. They can tell within the first hour of the first day of school.
As I’m typing this post, I’m reminded of a teacher I mentored a few years ago. It was a couple of months into the school year and I walked into her room while she was helping a small group. She was so intently focused on the group of students in front of her that she didn’t even notice me come in the door. Worse than that, she didn’t see the three boys in the corner, ripping up her classroom library books and making hats with the pages.
She got better with time. She learned that just because you’ve told students to work on x assignment doesn’t mean they’re actually going to do it. Your eyes must be around the room at all times.
I have not always had the withitness that I enjoy today. My second year of teaching, a student started a fire in my classroom sink with cleaning fluid and a lighter. I had NO IDEA that even happened until he told me on the last day of school.
I’m ashamed to admit that event happened at all, but it helped me consider my classroom management and realize that I was not “with it” and I needed to figure out how to develop some withitness!
How do you know if you are a withitness pro? If you answer YES to these three questions, you’re already there:
- Do you stop negative or off-task student behaviors before they start?
- Do you have the ability to predict what students are going to do before they do it?
- Do students ask you if you have eyes in the back of your head?
Even the most expert teacher must examine and work on his/her withitness every year. I sure do!
My four best tips for developing withitness:
- Watch your students closely and learn some of their classroom habits. Every group of students has a varied dynamic but you’ll be able to spot problems/bright spots if you watch closely enough.
- In the first couple days of school, develop a mental list of problem areas in your classroom. This might include student desks or areas like the pencil sharpener or bookshelf. It could even be that much of the misbehavior in your classroom revolves around little Dennis, Susie, or Jo. These are the places (or students) that your eyes should be on constantly.
- Watch for cues. Most times, students give some sort of cue or signal before they do something that’s against the rules. You’ll be amazed at how much you will learn just by paying attention to student behavior.
- Consider your own habits. Is it hard for you to monitor your classroom while working with a student or small group? Make it a point to give attention to the student(s) in front of you, but also make a sweep around the room with your eyes about every 30 seconds. It will soon become second nature to you.
In closing, I know you’ve probably heard this a million times, but don’t turn your back on students to write on the board, talk to a colleague, etc. That’s when trouble starts. I’m sure I look awkward to my students when I write on the board from a sideways angle, but at least I can see everyone AND they can see that I see them!
I sincerely hope that this blog post will be helpful to you in your classroom practice! You’ll be a WITHITNESS Superstar in no time!
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