Sit Down vs. Drive Through Classroom Management and Engagement

Sit Down vs. Drive-Thru Classroom Management, What Style Are You?

Growing up, we always had a sit-down meal for dinner. My mom would select the appropriate plates, napkins, silverware, glasses, trivets for hot dishes, salt and pepper shakers, and of course the wonderful food. Most often she served a family-friendly dish, and she always included special desserts for certain celebrations. Often someone at the table would need something that wasn’t on the table. We would glance around the table, and before we knew it, my mom would pop out of her seat knowing exactly what we needed.  She was always one step ahead of the rest of us—but I guess she had to be with six children.

With eight people in our family, we often celebrated birthdays, graduations, any “firsts,” and then there were holidays. Valentine’s Day was amazing. There were decorations, including red or pink streamers, and pizza or spaghetti or another red-colored food was served. The entire week before the big day, she worked with each of us to make valentines for each other. We would then place them in a beautifully decorated box that she made especially for our valentines. After dinner on February 14, she would open the box and hand out fifty-six valentines. All holidays and celebrations centered on our family sit-down dinner.

Each of these meals required planning, from the Tuesday night meal before our Girl Scout meeting to Thanksgiving dinner with extra guests. Each meal required different choices, different planning, and different preparation. A special relationship with grocers, butchers, the egg man (yes, we had a man that delivered eggs to our house), and the farmers at the farmers market created an atmosphere of collaboration.  I remember once when she was cooking away in our kitchen; the windows were steamed up, water was boiling, something was in the oven, bowls were ready for serving on the countertop, glasses were filled with ice and ready to be topped up with water, and all the dishes were on the table. In the midst of all this, she asked me to run to our neighborhood deli to get a gallon of milk. I asked her why (from what I could see, nothing required milk). Her response? “Just, go get the milk.”  As I walked the few blocks to get the milk, I thought, “Why would she want milk for our meal when she already had water and juice?”  Years later, when I began thinking about sit-down classroom management, I understood.

The other day I was running errands with my four-year-old son. We had gone to the bank, had his haircut, paid a bill, and still needed to pick up my five-year-old son from school, pay another bill, and pick up a birthday present. In the car, he suddenly yelled, “I’m hungry!”  I told him we would need to wait. He again yelled, “Momma, I’m hungry!”  It was 12:30 p.m.—of course he was hungry; we were both hungry. But to drive all the way home and then venture back out again wasn’t an option. I pulled into a drive-through, looked at the menu, and decided that chicken pieces and fries were fine for this “one” time (which ended up being more often than I would care to think). He ate quietly in the back seat. If I would have planned better I could have packed us a healthy snack that provided us with energy and would make us feel energized for the remainder of our day.  I knew I hadn’t given him anything healthy, and I didn’t feel good about the meal, but it was done. The essence of Drive-Thru Classroom Management is it takes care of the situation at the time but is absolutely not the best choice.  It is an option that we use when we are unprepared or don’t know how else to solve the situation.  Yes, Drive-Thru Classroom Management may bring a fast solution but the solution does not equate to a change in behavior.  Sit down classroom management is the key to changing student behavior.

How do we prepare for our classroom management?  Are we more like a sit-down dinner or a drive-through lunch?  Do we view our role as putting out fires or preventing fires?  Let’s look back at my mom, she was a stay-at-home mom, and she took her profession very seriously, as do educators. Classroom management is a component of teaching that requires preparation within our lesson plans and outside our lesson plans. A simple trivet prevents a hot pan from marking our tables. What simple things are we overlooking that would prevent angry children from lashing out against us or other children?

What can we learn from the items that are placed on the table for a sit-down dinner?  How can we connect it to our classroom management?  As we describe each item, keep your mind open as to how you view comparable components of classroom management.

  1. Recipe – Challenging and rigorous curriculum. What we teach must be essential and pertinent to our students’ lives and must be challenging. The question we must ask is, what am I serving and is it challenging enough to capture the interest of students?
  2. Plates – Lesson and activities. The best teaching practices must be used to serve the rigorous curriculum. The question we must ask is, how will I serve the curriculum in a way that eliminates classroom disruptions and includes all students?
  3. Silverware – Represents the unique needs and talents of the students who sit in our classrooms and the skills that we as teachers possess to meet those needs and develop those talents. The question we must ask is, how do we meet each student’s unique needs and talents?
  4. Trivet – This is the preplanning that is required dealing with angry, confrontational, or frustrated students. It is the need to think about how you would handle each student in a variety of situations. The question we must ask is, what types of trivets do I need and how many to ensure that all students learn in the classroom?
  5. Salt and Pepper Shakers – Individualized instruction requires teachers to know each student in their classroom from many different perspectives and to provide instruction that will reach each child at the level they are at yet, at the same time, challenge them to improve. The question we must ask is, what are each child’s individual needs?
  6. Mom – “Withitness”: knowing how to predict what will be needed before it is needed. Many characteristics have been attributed to withitness, such as having “eyes in the back of your head”, “x-ray vision”, the ability to know everything that is going on around you, hearing the comments passed between students, never being caught off guard by a visitor or novel situations in the classroom. The question we ask must is, how “withit” are you?
  7. Balloons – Celebrations and traditions speak volumes to students, colleagues, and parents. By celebrating people and milestones, others will see what is important to you. Celebrating learning in your classroom will show everyone what your priority is for your students. The question we must ask is, how do you celebrate learning in your classroom?

My mom wanted milk that night because she knew that milk built our bones and made us grow. She knew that milk would help to digest all the wonderful food. She knew that milk contained many of the vitamins and nutrients that six children need. My mom knew that preparing a sit-down meal would produce healthy, resilient children who would grow up to be teachers, bankers, soldiers, and supervisors, and who would make a difference in the world.

The best way to move towards a “Sit-Down Classroom Management” style is to know how to set priorities given the students that sit in your classroom.  It will require YOU to SIT DOWN to plan, prepare and use your time differently.  Take the quiz below to find out if you need more information on Sit-Down Classroom Management.






Do you have a Sit-Down or a Drive-Thru classroom?

I understand what the most essential benchmarks for my content areas are and start with the end in mind. 1  2  3  4
I create detailed rubrics for projects and activities. 1  2  3  4
I am skilled at working with students with different needs. 1  2  3  4
Power struggles between the teacher and students does not occur in my classroom. 1  2  3  4
Each student has different skills and I am capable of creating lessons to develop each student’s skills. 1  2  3  4
My classes flow and transitions are smooth. There aren’t many situations that catch me off guard. 1  2  3  4
Students in my class feel special because we have special traditions and hold celebrations in our classroom. 1  2  3  4
My students know how to work as a team. We utilize class meetings and show each other respect. 1  2  3  4
You will often find me sitting down with individual students discussing their behavior in my classroom. 1  2  3  4
I am prepared for any behavior that may occur in my classroom. 1  2  3  4


40 – Congratulations! You have a sit-down classroom. Your goal should be to mentor new teachers and encourage peer observations in your classroom.


30-39 – You spend more time running a sit-down classroom than a drive-thru classroom. You have spent a lot of time planning for your classroom. Having done that, what part of the sit-down classroom model can you spend more time on?


20-29 – You spend more time running a drive-thru classroom than a sit-down classroom. To lessen your frustration level and increase student learning, focus more on planning for your classes.


10-19 – You are in trouble! You have a drive-thru classroom – Students are running your classroom. The same disruptive behaviors happen every day. Students don’t do homework and complain about being bored. You must use your time differently.