In school outside the tech bubble

School is a multi-dimensional place where the lives of students and adults mix and mingle in a very loosely defined thing we call education. Because I am an administrator and know that some of the students in the school do, on occasion, access this blog, I am in a position that talking about anything remotely specific to my school would be rather stupid. Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t address issues that impact the school, but I tend to focus on those that are more generic or deal with the management side of school. I purposely do not discuss incidents with students as this is a confidentiality issue. In discussing any situation that involves students or teachers, using X or Y in place of a name doesn’t really cut it because if someone who knows the situation reads it, they won’t need the name and you’re opening a whole can of snakes by doing so.

This discussion regarding classroom management is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Discussing management is, in and of itself, okay. But when it strays to individual situations or personal debates over what one person does, well, the line gets a bit blurry. As an administrator, the classroom management thing is an interesting combination of so many things from teacher personality to class dynamics to school composition to the school-wide environment and expectations. I could begin discussing what worked for me as a middle years homeroom teacher but it won’t work for everyone. As an administrator, I’ve made many mistakes in school-wide management that have taught me some valuable lessons about interpersonal interactions and people’s assumptions about what will work and what won’t. I’ve heard many different versions about the whole idea of respect and what it means to different people. In the end, what works for some students won’t work with others because they’re individuals and what works for one teacher won’t for another.

Are there “absolutes” that will work?

Some people want a list of “top 5 management strategies for classroom management”. I figure as an administrator I’d have found those “5” . I haven’t. I cannot give 5 strategies that will work in all classrooms because all classrooms are unique. I use to think the respect path was pretty much a sure fire method of working but people have a different idea of what respect means. Some kids can still respect you even when they react in a way that most people would say is disrespectful while others will use respect to mean that “I should get my own way. When I don’t, you’re disrespectful.” Some problems stem from the misunderstanding of individual “rights” without understanding that there are “responsibilities” that go along with those rights.

Consistency

One of the things I see as being crucial to management is being consistent in what you do and what you expect. Students like to know what to expect when they enter a classroom. When a teacher is consistent in what they expect regarding behaviour, homework, work in class and interactions within the classroom they will act according to those expectations. When they are unsure what to expect, problems arise. Whatever the expectations are that are outlined by the teacher, these need to be upheld as consistently as possible. This builds the foundation for the interactions and actions that take place in the classroom and how students interact with the teacher and other students. Some subjects, like math or science, are more structured in their makeup while art, social and language classes have less structure and may require a different approach to what teachers do. Whatever the class, being consistent is a key ingredient to how a class functions.

Interventions

Interventions are those actions that a teachers uses when something is happening that is outside the expectations of the class. Being consistent in using interventions is important but the type of intervention can impact what happens. Proximity to a student and removing them from the situation can be effective interventions if used judiciously as can calling parents, keeping a student to work on homework or school-wide  interventions that uphold the school-wide expectations of students. Whatever the intervention, it needs to be done in a manner that addresses the behaviour.

My experience has brought me to the conclusion that outside influences on students are at the heart of many of the management difficulties that teachers face. Some of these are related to socio-economic situations, home relationships, peer relationships and student understanding. Teachers, who are always strapped for time, sometimes need to take the time to identify where the management issue lies. Sometimes this is not possible and intervention needs to be immediate. However, at other times, teachers would find it to their advantage to determine if there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed while still maintaining that what took place is unacceptable. Students are individuals who need to be validated and positive validation, acknowledging that the situation might be more than just what happened in class, can be effective in addressing some management issues.

Culture of Teaching

Teachers, by and large, are individual in nature. The advice dealt out to young teachers, don’t smile until February, don’t help young teachers in developing classroom management. This is where we need to work in a more collaborative manner in addressing issues. I suggest that teachers work in teams to discuss and address classroom issues, helping one another in what works and what doesn’t. Not smiling until February may be a common tidbit of advice we doll out, but it doesn’t help young teachers in developing their classroom management style. Feedback and reflection are important keys to helping young teachers. Being less “I do this and I don’t have any problems” and more open to dialogue about classroom management practices will elp young teachers as they establish the structure they need.

Being a Reflective Practioner

Reflecting on situations helps us to discern what went well in any given situation and what didn’t. To do this, teachers need to learn to be unbiased recorders of what took place. This can be difficult when a teacher is involved in a management situation but is crucial to helping one grow in whatever they are doing. Working to develop a more neuteral view of one’s teaching can help a teacher to establish what is working well and what isn’t. By working with other teachers, a teacher may be able to discern areas where things went well and then use this information when reflecting about a situation that didnt go well.

Classroom management is key link to helping students to developing themselves. By establishing a norm and developing a consistent set of expectations can go a long way in helping a young teacher with their management skills. When there is a problem, working with an administrator to come to a solution that is workable is usually more productive than shipping the student off to the office. Generally, once something comes to my office, it now becomes my problem and how I deal with things are now within my realm of influence. Teachers don’t have to agree with what I do but there by discussing the situation with the administrator, it becomes easier to identify where there may need to be some assistance.

Many young teachers look for a “quick fix” to the problem. This may help in the present but it doesn’t address what needs to be done in order to things to be less volitile and roller-coaster like. Experience in dealing with students is something that cannot be described or passed out like fun-tac and textbooks. Examining one’s response and the resulting actions is a powerful way for younger teachers to develop classroom management that is effective, most of the time.

No prescribed cure

There is no one prescribed way of classroom management that will work with all teachers. Establishing a consistent approach to this is one key ingredient to the overall question of classroom management. The rest is a developmental process that is influenced by the dynamics of the individuals in the class at a particular time and how the teacher interacts with those dynamics.

There is so much more to school than just the technology discussion that takes place but coming to a consensus on management techniques that are “foolproof” is not very different to how teachers and schools look at technology integration. Each case needs to be examined in light of the individuals involved.

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4 responses

  1. I agree w/ the absolutes you have mentioned. Sounds a little bit like Todd Whitaker’s take on things…
    The one area that I see as being the most controversial is the “Interventions” piece. If a student is disruptive, I see two distinct differences between “good” teachers and “bad” teachers. Good teachers will explain a consequence after a certain behavior, listen to a student’s situation, and WORK with the student – in order to form a relationship w/ said student and to prevent the same occurence again.
    Bad teachers think of students as “things,” that might behave badly – and that the behavior has NOTHING to do w/ them (no matter how much cultural disconnect) AND they want nothing to do w/ trying to remediate the problematic behavior… They have a “get that student outta here” attitude – or- the ever-so-famous “I’ll just ignore him/her, and see if that works.”

    If they fall into category “B” – then chances are… There is no or little reflective practice happening.

    Just my 2 cents.
    Coachk

  2. The item that stands out for me in your writing is the reflective piece. Each year, during the summer, I take time to reflect on what “went right” and where I am not doing the best job I can. Last summer, I took a course online from Harry Wong’s company. It was worthwhile because it allows for a LOT of personal reflection. I know that being consistent in those first days, weeks, and months of school pay off in the long run. It allows my class to run and allows me to have plans in place for the times that things are just are not working. Also, I’m very lucky to have a teacher with thirty years experience who I can bounce ideas off of. Just when you think something works consistently, you need to retool.

  3. Bravo. I enjoy reading your blog.

  4. Kelly-
    As we all know-everyday in the classroom teachers have to assess the myriad of variables that fly at them and make decisions about what course of action to take based on the feedback they are processing…. it is an artful thing when all goes well and the lesson is a success…. it can be undone by a million things on any given day from phone interruptions, fallout from the food fight in the cafe ten minutes before, the kid who decides today to push your buttons, snow starts to fall, the fire drill goes off…..whatever. There is no list of maxims that fit every situation. If it gives some comfort to think there is a magic way to handle discipline and classroom management-so be it. I have realized the chaos theory holds true in education- there can be unexpected, unpredictable patterns that evolve randomly based on the fact that schools, students, and teachers are in constant states of flux. This does not mean my classroom is in chaos- it means I must deal with the millions of possibilites that could affect a lesson every day for 187 school days- but who’s counting?

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