Volume XVI Issue VII
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The Best Management Program
Is a Strong* Instructional Program
(*Strong = Equitable, Engaging, and Empowering)
Establishing and maintaining a classroom environment in which students can thrive is the goal of every teacher. For some educators, setting up a productive classroom is a fluid process. These individuals reject the notion that managing behavior must take precedence and instead consistently deliver good instruction. At Just ASK, one of our guiding tenets is “The best management program is a strong instructional program.” When teachers plan well beginning with the end in mind, when they establish a learner-centered environment, when they focus on the needs of individual students, when they make learning active and relevant, when they connect learning to students’ real world experiences, and when they use time wisely by keeping the momentum of the lesson flowing, student management does not become an issue. The focus is continually on learning and not on compliance and control because behavior problems are generally rare or non-existent.
Other individuals, especially those in the early stages of their careers, follow practices that may have been used by teachers when they were students. They operate under the premise that unless I “get control” from the outset, things will quickly fall part and chaos will ensue. This is why the old adage of not smiling until Christmas was a custom practiced by teachers in past years.
Having a smooth, problem-free classroom climate makes teaching and learning a most satisfying endeavor. Even so, any practitioner realizes that student behavior may be unpredictable; teachers might encounter unexpected disruptions from time to time. A recent issue of Educational Leadership featured a series of articles titled “Classroom Management Reimagined.” That issue includes a compendium of updated information covering a wide array of ideas and practices related to classroom behaviors. Perusing the articles, it is clear that some teacher responses to inappropriate behavior should be avoided while other suggested actions may be much more productive in addressing misconduct. Additionally, how teachers come across to their student populations can have an influence on how their charges act or react. Regardless of how experienced or new to teaching one may be, we can all use an update on fresh ideas and timely reminders that can make our environment the best it can be. Read on.
Teacher credibility has a very strong effect on student learning and academic improvement. Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, education professors at San Diego State University, address the topic in a very cogent way. They define teacher credibility this way: “Teacher credibility is students’ belief that they can learn from a particular teacher because this adult is believable, convincing, and capable of persuading students that they can be successful.” Most teachers begin the year by establishing procedures and routines that are very necessary. Perceptive students, however, are looking for a person who can make a difference in their lives.
Fisher and Frey believe that four components contribute to a teacher’s ability to establish credibility with their students:
- Trust can be earned when students believe their teacher cares about them as individuals because she is truthful, does not spend time catching students being wrong, and she goes to great lengths not to convey negative feelings about certain students.
- Students recognize competence when teachers do not simply know their subject but also know how to teach it. They deliver lessons “cohesively and coherently” and are fully aware of how negative body language on their part can be conveyed to their students.
- Dynamism is the ability to bring passion and energy to each lesson by applying content to life both inside and outside the classroom, and making the lesson compelling and interesting.
- Immediacy is demonstrated by a teacher’s ability to be accessible and relatable; to establish immediacy a teacher gets to know each student personally and she conveys the message that what we do in our classroom is important.
When a teacher demonstrates credibility with her students, management can become a non-issue. Fisher and Frey accompany their article with a video showing how a teacher conveys credibility to her students. Access the video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=hV3d2lTIAaw.
There are certain behaviors or “mis-steps” that teachers should think twice before employing. Some of these customs may be commonplace but when teachers better understand the drawbacks from applying such conventions, they may choose an alternate approach to addressing student misbehavior.
Practitioners should make a mind shift from managing children to empowering children. Teacher Marilyn Swartz believes that although rules may be necessary, emphasis should be on positive norms of behavior such as perseverance and flexibility with the goal being to help children strengthen their “internal compass.” She likewise stresses the necessity of developing positive relationships with each individual. To hear Ms. Swartz elaborate on her thinking, access a video at www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/sept18/vol76/num01/Classroom_Management_Mis-steps_and_Lifesavers.aspx
Public shaming can have a destructive impact that especially affects vulnerable children. In order to avoid this practice, University professors Lee Ann Jung and Dominique Smith have launched a “frontal attack” on behavior charts that they contend do not teach students self-regulation or the ability to manage impulsivity. In lieu of behavior charts, Jung and Smith suggest that teachers should focus on reactions that can foster positive behavior. They cite the work of other individuals to strengthen their case:
- They point out research by John Braithwaite whose shaming theory makes the connection between stigmatizing shame and delinquency later in life. Although punishment may result in immediate resolution of problem behavior, the emphasis should be on long-term goals instead.
- They applaud the work of Art Costa and Bena Kallick who believe that the cultivation of habits of mind such as persistence, impulse control, and the development of empathy can change behavior and become lifelong skills.
When some students have been publicly chastised, they become accustomed to negative attention; they believe that they are unable to control these behaviors. Jung and Smith again emphasize the importance of self-regulation in a much less public manner that might reduce the inappropriate actions.
Further, the authors describe strategies by teachers that are more humane and produce growth in students:
- Take Ten: Take ten minutes (daily if possible) to interact with a misbehaving student and focus on things that are non-school related that are assets the student may possess or areas of interest a student may have. Students must feel that a teacher is on their side. Over time the negative behavior may diminish.
- Keep It Off-Stage: Stop calling out students in front of others. Do not publicly announce, “See me after class,” since the words can still have a humiliating effect on the individual. Have a one-on-one conversation with the student in private.
- Hear Students Out: There may be much more behind a student’s actions. Listen to hear his side of the story. The emphasis during the conversation should be on the behavior rather than the person.
In his article, “Getting Consistent with Consequences,” author and consultant Mike Anderson writes, “Few topics cause as much angst in schools as consequences for problematic behavior.” Practitioners can have entirely different reactions and follow-up consequences for the same behaviors. Frustration can also build up when staff members feel that they are not supported by an administrator because of differing belief systems. Anderson suggests that a possible solution is for school staffs to have open discussions that include positive beliefs about children instead of consequences as a disciplinary measure. The outgrowth of such discussions should be the importance of relationship building with students. He notes, “Relationships should be at the center of discipline, with all other strategies seen as tangents.” Instead of automatically moving to a consequence, it is better for a teacher to ask, “Is there a response that might be part of how we help this student?” instead of a punishment.
When we focus more on prevention rather than reaction, we promote equity and empower students.
“With an entire generation huddled behind smartphones, unaccustomed to making eye contact and unused to face-to-face dialogue, the classroom now plays a critical role in teaching essential communication skills.” This powerful quote comes from Rachel and Kevin Dahill-Fuchel in their article, “Circling Toward Healing and Learning.” They take a totally different tack on the topic of behavior management that focuses more on prevention rather than reaction. As proponents of restorative circles that can help build relationships and equity in classrooms, the circle as an “organizing principle” provides students with the chance to share their thoughts, and can result in a stronger sense of belonging and unity.
The authors write, “As schools have become more interested in restorative justice as a way to improve discipline and reduce suspensions and other ineffective punishments, circle gatherings have become more common” in individual classrooms. The circle arrangement is more inclusive, encourages participation, places all students on an equal level and avoids the problem of students “hiding” in the corner of a classroom. Additionally, “students who’ve been written off based on their actions in ‘row and column’ classrooms often demonstrate unique capacities for reflection, expression, and supportiveness” when given the opportunity to participate in a circle.
Attempts to control students can have a damaging effect over time, and they tend to be met with increasing resistance as students grow older which leads to intensified problems. H. Richard Milner IV and his associates at Vanderbilt University feel that traditional classroom management techniques and mindsets such as exclusion or ostracism can be viewed as a “form of injustice” by some students. They reached similar conclusions as other educators in addressing classroom management. Their beliefs which are closely aligned with those of Just ASK, are expressed in three short sentences:
- Classroom management is about creating a caring environment
- Classroom management is about effective instruction.
- Classroom management is about restorative discipline and restorative justice.
For educators feeling like they need an update on disciplinary approaches, the entire September 2018 issue of Educational Leadership is an excellent source of information. In addition to the ideas shared in this issue of Just for the ASKing! a summary of the overall issue titled “Classroom Management Reimagined” contains the following ideas:
- Classroom environments must be reimagined as places where all students want to be.
- All classrooms should be places where students feel emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually safe as well as places where students can take risks.
- Instead of establishing penalties for misbehavior, educators should institute expectations based on students’ assets and strengths.
- School leaders should downplay the “obedience and compliance mindset” and instead promote the idea that schools should be places of engaged, collaborative learning.
- The school community should explore new pathways and decrease the classroom management policies as a business-as-usual operation.
Milner and his colleagues summarize the view of many progressive educators:
“At the core of many of the classroom management practices that result in student disengagement or, worse, exclusion, lie disconnected teacher-student relationships and misconceptions about what today’s students ‘need.’ The time is now to reimagine classroom management for justice because our students deserve to experience an education process, system, and culture that honors, values, and humanizes them.”
Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “The Best Management Program Is a Strong* Instructional Program.” Just for the ASKing! August 2019. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development. © 2019. All rights reserved. Available at www.justaskpublications.com.