Engage, Connect, Inspire: My Teaching Philosophy

 

Whist preparing a recent job application, I took the opportunity to update my teaching philosophy statement, the ‘reflective ‘manifesto’ which defines my beliefs about 21st Century teaching and learning practices. I’ve posted it here.

What impressed me the most was not that my ideas and approach had necessarily changed over the past 3 years, but how I now have the practical experience and language to describe how I apply these ideas in my professional practice.

And then today, I found this video (via @HonorMoorman), and was lost for words … It seems I’m not the only one who believes in the power of technology to Engage, Connect, and Inspire …

I couldn’t explain why any better myself.

‘The Class That Never Was’

On the first day of my school year, I was appointed to my ‘first class’.

Yet, as I explored in A Teacher’s Story, this position was destined to last a mere six days.

In this post, I share my memories of Room 11, and the lessons I learnt in those six hectic, stressful, yet wonderful days.

It is a tribute to my students, and the class that never was.

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My apologies – this is a rather long post.


Getting Started

Being appointed on the first day of school is no way to start a class. This was an intensely stressful time, as I worked to translate my ideas about classroom organisation, curriculum planning, and behaviour management into reality. I sincerely hope and pray I’m never called upon a job on an hour’s notice ever again.

Nevertheless, I was able to learn a great deal about establishing a new class.

 



Determining my Classroom Organisation

My classroom was a small physical teaching space; and unfortunately, this limited the extent to which I could arrange it to my liking.

When arranging my space, I needed to consider the location of my desk, students’ desks, and storage tubs. When I arrived, the desks were positioned in rows facing the front; an arrangement which a) I dislike and b) I found extremely difficult to navigate (walking around the class). 

I wanted to establish a central floor teaching space where students could sit, and rearranged students’ desks accordingly. This arrangement was changed three times in response to classroom dynamics, as I had to separate several conflicting personalities. These photos show my final, workable arrangement.

 

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I was also able to create and laminate a class visual timetable (schedule), as well as my students’ personalised nametags for their desks and supply tubs. Sadly, I never got a chance to use these labels for real – they became my parting gift to my students as we went our different ways.


Lessons Learnt

  • Consider student dynamics when creating seating plans – and don’t be afraid to change plans if they aren’t working
  • If space permits, I’d use a horseshoe seating arrangement with my next class.
  • An empty classroom & bare walls can be quite confronting! It is important to establish student work-displays as soon as possible.
  • My laminated visual timetable & student desk labels were an excellent idea. The students loved the personalised nametags, and I think they helped give them some ownership of the classroom space.
  • In time, I’d like to bring in cushions or an old couch for silent reading. Realistically, there was no space for these here.
  • I also realised the need to develop a recording system to keep track of students’ contributions of classroom consumables – those tissues are worth their weight in gold!



Developing our Classroom Rules & Expectations

 

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Faced with a wide range of ability levels, personalities and challenging behaviours; classroom management in Room 11 was always going to be a challenge.

It took me some time to learn how to manage the ‘dominant personalities’; and to conform to school expectations regarding the use of extrinsic rewards (sticker charts and prizes) and classroom management forms.

I’m no fan of extrinsic rewards, as I prefer group reward systems. I had contemplated the idea of establishing a whole-class reward time on Friday afternoons (jokingly called the “Friday Free-for-All”), for students demonstrating good behaviour during the week. I would like to try this with my next class; for based on my relief observations, 30 mins reward time can make a huge difference to class morale and behaviour.

In these early days, I spent a great deal of my time learning about my students; building positive relationships and sharing a little bit of myself (including my horrendous sense of humour). I put a few photos and funny cartoons up alongside my desk (to cheer myself up), and made a point of learning students’ names (no easy feat!). This would later prove “time well spent”.

 

Lessons learnt

  • This experience was a valuable opportunity to implement my management approach, which I have blogged extensively about in the past (see The 3R’s of Effective Learning Environments and My Jigsaw Approach to Classroom Management)
  • I realised that I have sound classroom management skills (and an ironic sense of humour) which stood me in good stead as I worked to establish my classroom community.
  • This was the first time I’ve ever negotiated classroom rules, taught routines, and established my behavioural expectations – and the process worked well. I was surprised at how quickly students began to settle and bond as a group. 
  • I also realised the importance of adhering to whole-school classroom management plans – whether I particularly like them or not!

 

Looking Back

Teaching Room 11 for those 6 days was a transformative learning experience. It was one I had to undertake, and I know I am now much better equipped to establish a new class in the future.

Yet, so many good things came out of what was, at the time, a deeply traumatic event. So many opportunities to learn, grow, and connect. I have no regrets, no ill-feelings. But I will never forget my Room 11, the “class that never was”.

Guest Post: Classroom Management – Donald Trump Style

guest post succ

 

In today’s guest post, Sam Rangel (@samrangelSITC) from SuccessintheClassroom.com explores some of the key elements of an effective classroom management approach, sharing the benefits of his 20+ years middle school (Yrs 6-8) teaching experience in California, USA. 

As a new teacher, I’ve found the SuccessintheClassroom blog to be an extremely relevant & practical professional learning resource. Sam’s grasp of the everyday realities and challenges faced by new teachers around the world is second to none, and I hope he continues to share his expertise for many years to come.

Now, on that note, we proudly bring you:

Classroom Management – Donald Trump Style.

When I tell people that I teach middle school, I always get thewow-you-deserve-a-medal look or the sorry-you’re-stuck-with-that-job look or the and-you-haven’t-gone-crazy-yet look.

When I tell them that I’ve been teaching 12 and 13-year-olds for over 20 years now, and I’m still loving it, they can’t believe it.

Why is that? Why did my college dean tell the other teacher prospects that I was going straight to heaven when I died, because I wanted to teach middle school?

It’s because we all know 12 and 13-year-olds. We know how they behave. We know how they think they know more than anyone. We know how they want to push the limits. We know how they don’t like rules.

Of course, not all 12 and 13-year-olds act like this, but we know enough who do, and having 35-40 of them in a room together for close to an hour at a time can be scary.

That’s why you will find very few teachers who actually want to be middle school teachers. Most of them want to be elementary or high school teachers, which I totally understand.

When I first started teaching, I looked too young to be a high school teacher, and I didn’t have the patience for elementary kids. They require you to smile too much, and you have to dance and sing and decorate your room in a bright pastel colors, and that’s just not me.

When I got a long term substitute position in middle school, however, I knew I had found my place.

To teach middle school, you have to be an expert in classroom management or else you’ll be eaten alive by these hormone-driven, drama-seeking, argumentative, push-your-buttons, trying-to-find-out-who-they-are students.

So in this post, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned over the years about classroom management, and hopefully I’ll be able to help newer teachers find a little more success in the classroom.

I truly enjoy what I do, and middle school kids are amazing. I know, however, if I didn’t have my classroom management skills, I probably wouldn’t be teaching anymore, and I probably wouldn’t still have all my hair.

 


Here we go:

1. Make Great Lesson Plans

The best way to keep students from misbehaving is to keep them engaged. This will only happen when you have a great lesson. The times when I’ve had the most problems with my classroom management were those days when I just winged it. For some reason, I came to class with no plan. It’s a rarity, but it served to remind me of the dangers of not being prepared. With 8th graders, five minutes of nothing to do will turn into 10 minutes of redirection.

Lesson plan preparation is the most important element in great classroom management. I always plan for more than the time allows. If I have a 40 minute period, I plan for 50 minutes. I also always have a mini lesson, like a vocabulary activity, in my back pocket just in case I have too much period left after the lesson.


2. Remember That They’re Just Kids

I often hear teachers talk about how a certain student made them so mad that they wanted to kick that student out of the classroom, call their parents, place them on the terrorist watch list, etc. You have to remember that these are kids. They are going to do things that we adults know better not to do.

Once we remind ourselves that these are just kids, then we won’t get so upset. We won’t get into a shouting match with a 12-year-old. Do we excuse the behavior? No, of course not. We hand out a consequence and make that a teachable moment. Some kids just don’t know why what they did was wrong.

 

3. Show Them You Care About Them

For a lot of teachers, this is an easy one. You probably wouldn’t get into teaching if you didn’t have a heart for kids. There are times, however, when we lose focus on this, especially when the students are acting out or when we have other more personal issues occupying our thoughts or when  the administration is pressuring us to improve test scores, etc.

Many times the student who is acting out the most is doing so out of a need for attention that he/she is not receiving elsewhere. It would be a good idea to take a look at the student’s records to see if there are any home issues that would help explain his/her behavior.

This takes time. You’ll have to spend that valuable prep period or time before or after school to do the research, but if you can conceptualize a day when that one student is not causing problems in your class, it may be worth the investment of time.

I’ve had many students who are terrors in every other class except mine, not because I’m a better teacher, but  because I’ve made a connection with this students, and he/she doesn’t want to break that connection by making me mad.

Taking time to show some sincere concern to this student will make so much of a difference in how he/she behaves in your class. What I like to do is bombard that student with positive comments. “You’re so smart.” “That was amazing.” “Nice job.” A lot of times, these students have only heard negative words coming from the adults in their lives. They’ll behave better in your class, because they know they’ll get some verbal pats on the back for a change.


4. Act Like Donald Trump

One thing I’ve noticed about Mr. Trump is that he is in charge everywhere he goes. Even when he’s not the person in charge, he acts like he’s the person in charge. It’s all about his presence.

That is what I notice about teachers who have problems with classroom management. They don’t have the in-charge presence. It’s almost like they’re afraid of the kids. The kids will ask them a question like, “Why do we have to do this?”, and they’ll go into a long and confusing explanation describing the reasons why the lesson that they are about to begin is important or they’ll get offended and kick the student out of the class.

Would Donald do that?

When a student asks me that question, I stop and give him/her my I-can’t-believe-you’re-questioning-my-lesson look. Most of the time, the student will say, “never mind”, and I’ll continue as if the question was never raised. It’s all about presence. It’s your class. You are the expert. You know everything, and the students are so fortunate to be spending 40 minutes of their lives learning from you.

This is a change in mindset for many new teachers who are unsure about their abilities and are still learning how to teach. The sooner they get past this and move into the I’m-in-charge phase, the sooner they’ll see a decrease in their discipline problems.

It’s not being mean or tyrannical. It’s being in charge. It’s all about presence. Go ahead and fake it if you have to, but don’t let the students get any idea that you are not the one in charge. By the way, Mr. Trump, if you’re reading this, how about hooking up my students with some new laptops? It’s worth a try.

These are just a few ways to help you with classroom management, and although I’m definitely not the world’s expert in this area, I have been teaching 8th graders for the last 20+ years, so that gives me a little bit of an edge.

I love what I do. I have a great day almost every day, because my students don’t (or can’t) ruin my day. I can see how many teachers leave the profession just after three years. It is an often thankless job with very little pay and little support, and on top of all that, you have a bunch of kids who want to see how far to the edge they can push you.

There are many, many benefits that come with being a teacher, however. You don’t make a lot of money, but you do make a difference. Getting your classroom management skills perfected will help you not only make more of a difference, but you’ll have fun in the process.

I share some more specific tips on my other website: TipsForNewTeachers.com, so feel free to take a look.

I would welcome any comments, questions, criticisms, etc.

Thanks,

Sam

Cracking the Hard Class

As a relief teacher, I’ve come across many tough and extremely challenging classes, taught by graduate and experienced teachers alike.

Walking into, and taking control of the ‘hard class’ is one of the greatest challenges of my job, and I have learnt that there is no “one size fits all” approach. These classes are hard work, but most can be won over in time.

As I write this penultimate post on my classroom management approach, I thought I would share my experiences in a Year 4 class, in July 2010. Over the course of three days, I managed to take control of one of the most challenging class I have encountered as a relief teacher, marking a personal triumph of my first year.

Extract from my Reflective Journal (July 31, 2010)

This week, I spent my second and third day teaching the class. The first time was hell – students were generally unruly, refused to follow instructions, and I had the Principal dropping in at frequent intervals to ‘keep an eye’ on the situation. As usual in this school, I had not been warned that I would be teaching a really tough class. I left that day with a sore throat, almost losing my voice after raising my voice to excess.

On the second day I taught the class, I was surprised to find a number of students were actually excited to have me return. I wasn’t too impressed with having no work left for the two days, but I was much happier with the other (experienced) Deputy Principal, who properly prepped me for the class.

I found the students challenging, but not as bad as that first day. Working with the experienced teacher’s aide, I set out to teach some tried and tested relief activities and games, including Graffiti Walls (spelling) and a comic strip text innovation activity. I took an assertive management approach, insisting on every student’s individual attention, giving explicit instructions, and using the “hands up for quiet” signal.

On several occasions, I took the students outside the classroom for games. When they couldn’t line up without fighting and yelling at each other, I sent them back into class, and bluntly explained that their behaviour was completely unacceptable. They got the message … eventually.

The difference on the third day was amazing. I marvelled how I didn’t have to raise my voice, and at how much faster students responded to the “hands-up” signal. I did have to teach the class how to line up after Recess and Lunch, pulling a group of diehards out of line for a “chat”. Watching the class ‘perform’ for their Health teacher, I came to appreciate just how much better behaved they were for me.

I tried to make the activities interesting, and emphasised students’ sharing of their work with their peers. I also used the Find Someone Whostrategy for the very first time, marking the achievement of a recent learning goal. The students loved it, and even the shyer / more socially isolated students were able to get involved. Recognising that some students couldn’t read, I read through the items first, and encouraged them to ask for help if they weren’t sure. Sure enough, one did.

Marking students’ graffiti walls and comic strips at the end of the day, I was extremely impressed with some students’ efforts. I shared some of the funniest comics with the class, and kept a few for my records.

Drawing Parallels with a Year 7 “Class from Hell”

Leafing through my journal (Volume 1), I was struck with by the parallels with a class that ‘tore me to shreds’ in 2009, one of my worst ever teaching experiences. Comparing the management approach I took into these classes, I can see how much I have grown in this area.

The Keys to my Management Success

1) A confident assertive attitude and stance (body language is important)

2) Insisting on total compliance and attention prior to issuing instructions or explaining a learning activity. I also moved amongst students to ensure this happened.

3) Praising and rewarding the ‘allies’ – refusing to use collective punishment

4) Explicitly teaching (and if necessary) making students practice my expectations for their behaviour.

5) Using interesting learning activities

If you have a “class from hell”, it pays to be proactive, consistent, and persistent.

These classes are really hard work, but most can be conquered.

A Focus on the Teacher’s Attitude, Actions & Management Approach

The classroom teacher’s attitude, demonstrated through their words, actions, body language and management approach, is the most significant factor in successfully working with challenging students.

My father taught me that “when dealing with people’s problems, you need to lift the bandaid to understand why they behave as they do”. I believe teachers can play an important role in ‘lifting the bandaid and treating the festering sore beneath’.

This ‘bandaid’ metaphor describes my attitude and approach to dealing with students with ‘problem’ behaviours and special needs. (What is a ‘problem’ or challenging behaviour)

My Attitude & Actions
  • I understand that challenging students’ behaviour(s) are purposeful, and try to acknowledge their emotions & circumstances as valid and real.
  • As teachers, we have no control over the emotional baggage our students bring to school, and indeed, some have extremely complex problems.
  • What we can do; however, is acknowledge their emotions, and work to identify the purpose(s) of their behaviour.
    • This involves trying to neutralise the environmental triggers, intervening before the behaviour occurs.
    • It also involves teaching the child how to understand and better manage their emotions & behaviour.
  • We can also work to engage these students in their learning by:
    • incorporating their interests & talents into classroom learning activities
    • modifying teaching and learning processes to enable students’ participation in their learning (e.g. reducing reading content, asking peers to scribe information)

How does my Attitude inform my Management Approach?

As a professional relief teacher working in unfamiliar classes, I try to observe & win-over my challenging students. I may only work in the class for the day, but if/when I return, I can plan my management approach accordingly.

To this end, I initially focus on proactive, preventative behaviour management measures. I observe and privately talk to the student in question, watching how they interact with other students and the relief teacher. If the negative or testing behaviours continue, I apply a system of graduated consequences based on 1-2-3 Magic™, bumping students towards Timeout, Buddy Class & ultimately Office Withdrawal.

I try to work along this continuum over time (a few hours). While this means I may temporarily put up with certain behaviours, it enables me to start identifying the purposes & triggers of the ‘problem’ behaviours. I suppose the only caveat is that you need to know and understand the school’s behaviour management policies, as I’ve been caught out on occasion by some radically different whole-school approaches.

As I’ve described in earlier posts, I supplement my in-class management approach by working to develop positive relationships with my most challenging students. Relief teaching is a difficult job at the best of times, but targeted relationship building efforts can help to significantly reduce your management challenges over time. 

Summing Up

I view my challenging students as a “a work in progress”. I’ve had my successes and failures, but I’ve been surprised to find that some of my most challenging students’ have incredible talents, interests, and intellect. Their considered contributions to class discussions and creative talents have, at times, amazed me.

Working with challenging students requires considerable time, effort and patience, but as I have found, the rewards are worth it.

The Classroom Learning Environment – Be Aware of the Audience

I’ve already explored the ‘3 R’s of an Effective Learning Environment” in a series of earlier posts; however, I have a few further points which specifically relate to the effective management of challenging students. In particular, it is extremely important to consider how the rest of your class reacts to your challenging student’s antics.

To see how this looks in practice, I’ve decided to share a recent relief experience (some details changed); one which leads into my next post on teachers’ attitudes and actions.

My Day

Today was not an easy one. I was working in a relatively unfamiliar Year 2/3 class, which I had taught for a few hours previously. The fun and games started during Morning Fitness, when we were trying to play Fruit Salad on the oval.

A student came last, and several classmates made that extremely clear to him through their vocal comments and shouting. The next thing I knew, this particular student threw his hat on the ground, and ran off across the oval crying. While I was torn between chasing the kid and looking after the class, from experience, I made my first priority the removal of the audience.

  • Your ‘audience’ (i.e. the rest of the class) can significantly escalate these anger/flight situations through insensitive responses and actions.
  • While this is usually done inadvertently due to a poor understanding of their peer’s anger/emotions, some children may deliberately spark off the fireworks.
  • Always keep an eye on your so-called “innocent” bystanders. Some may not be as innocent as they look.

Sure enough, shouts of “Go home!” from certain children resulted in an extremely irritated teacher and a further alienated student, now sitting on the edge of the oval, crying his eyes out.

After removing the audience, talking to the provocateurs, and asking another teacher to keep an eye on the class for a few minutes, I set off to talk to my wayward student.

  • Most children can’t understand their peer’s anger, and an angry child may feel shamed if they lose control of their emotions in front of the class.
  • It is important to sensitively acknowledge the student’s emotions as valid and normal. You need to try and work out the purposes & triggers of their emotional / behavioural issues, and explore more positive ways to express & cope with those emotions.
  • This may involve working in partnership with the student’s support network – parents, grandparents, school social worker, mentors or psychologist.
  • Never underestimate the value of a volunteer mentor or social worker. They can have an amazing impact on your challenging students.

Later in the day, I faced a ‘crisis’ situation with another student. While I knew this particular child had a few issues, I had no real knowledge of his typical behaviours, warning signs, or the purpose of his behaviour. This made an early intervention / prevention impossible.

After returning to the class after an office withdrawal, the student appeared to pose no further problem; however, I soon found him standing at the classroom door throwing rocks (with amazing accuracy) at anyone who came too close.

I took steps to protect my students, trying to keep them at a safe distance; and calmly supported the Deputy Principal’s defusal of the situation. During this time, I became extremely annoyed with the reaction of my ‘captive’ audience, which I perceived as rewarding/supporting the negative behaviour.

  • Normally, in this sort of situation, it is imperative to remove the audience – either by removing the misbehaving student, or by removing the class.
  • It is virtually impossible to explain a peer’s behaviour to a class for privacy reasons; however, it is essential to teach them how to deal with & strategically ignore certain behaviours or situations.

The Moral of the Story: Never underestimate the influence of the audience.

Previous Posts on Effective Learning Environments:

The Three R’s of an Effective Learning Environment

Transforming a Year 3 Class into a Learning Community

The Third ‘R’ – (Shared) Responsibility for the Learning Process

Crisis Management Advice

WA Disability Services – Crisis Management Tip Sheet [doc]

The 3 Keys (Part 1): Building Positive Relationships

When formulating my “Jigsaw Approach to Classroom Management” back in 2008, I made the following observations:

A safe learning environment relies on positive teacher-student relationships and positive peer relationships.

Teachers can develop such relationships by taking a meaningful interest in their students’ lives, and promoting an anti-bullying ethos through their words and actions.

Make an effort to forge positive, respectful relationships with your more challenging students.

Study the purpose and triggers of their behaviours, and learn about their backgrounds. Use behaviour management strategies which target the cause of their misbehaviour, and remember they too have the right to a safe learning environment.

In my teaching experience, I have found these two factors to be absolutely critical in successfully working with challenging students. I am not alone in thinking along these lines …

… one of the most common objections which comes up when we talk about this subject… “I’m a busy teacher, I don’t have time to build relationships with challenging students?”

The answer to that is “You don’t have time NOT to build relationships with challenging students.” 

Think about the amount of time spent mopping up incidents, and dealing with students who don’t follow instructions – THAT is a huge waste of time. 

Many teachers complain that they are unable to do their jobs purely because of the time spent dealing with behaviour problems. Students are more likely to behave for a teacher they respect, trust and get on with so spending time building relationships with them is going to SAVE you time in the long run.

Chris (June 15, 2010). Making Time to Build Relationships with Students. From the Behaviour Needs Blog

Coming Up: Relationship Building Strategies

1) Small Talk: BIG Rewards
2) Get Involved with Breakfast / Lunchtime Clubs / Activities
3) The Importance of Active Listening

Part 6: My Experiences with the Third ‘R’

Moving to a more student-centred curriculum

To date, my experience with the Third ‘R’ has been limited to a form of curriculum negotiation in my Year 3 class of 2008, but what a story I have to tell …

As I began my teaching experience, exploring our Under the Sea theme, my initial planned learning experiences were primarily teacher-directed. Over the course of those eight weeks  I learnt how to facilitate open-ended learning tasks, encouraged students’ sharing of their prior knowledge and experiences,  learnt to keep my “teacher talk” to a minimum, and (unwittingly) tapped into a wealth of community knowledge.

A good example of my early approach was the science lesson about fish adaptations, which saw students observe, handle and draw the features of real (dead) fish. This highly authentic and extremely unusual activity created quite a stir amongst staff and students; and while it achieved the desired learning outcomes, some students’ still live in “fear” of Mr Graffin’s “little friends” returning to haunt them!

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Negotiating the Curriculum to Reflect Students’ Experiences, Knowledge, and Interests

As I became more confident in planning and facilitating student learning, I began to inquire into my students’ lives and communities through my “Fishing Equipment” & “Fishing Letters” activities. While I initially perceived this as a natural extension of my teaching, this change represented a fundamental shift in my theoretical understandings of my teaching practice, moving towards encouraging students’ active involvement in the learning process. 

Halfway through the term, I decided that students would write letters to inquire into the commercial fishing industry, supporting their achievement of the Society & Environment – Investigation, Communication & Participation outcomes.

As a prelude, I invited parents and students to share their fishing expertise and experiences with the class. The response blew me away, as they brought lobsters pots, fishing rods, shells, crab pots, a tackle box, diving float, mussel floats, rope splicing equipment, and even a GPS unit to class, much of which they loaned for our Open Night displays.

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My students happily spent an entire lesson examining the different types of fishing equipment, and I had several boys and girls, including “Roy”, enthusiastically teach the entire class (and the teacher!) about how they used fishing rods, crab pots, and hand-reels in their lives. I discovered Roy’s deep love of mussels (shellfish) and interest in crabbing; and learnt that another student’s father ran a local mussel farm.

This activity marked a turning point for Roy, the most challenging student in the class. I had finally found a topic which he was interested in, and about which he could contribute his knowledge to the class. From this movement forward, I noted a significant decrease in his challenging classroom behaviours (while I was teaching), and a corresponding increase in his enthusiasm and engagement in his learning.

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Later, students brainstormed questions they had about the fishing industry, and wrote letters to various family members, local businesses, and John West Tuna (Simplot Australia), seeking answers. We ultimately received answers to most of our letters, with some amazing results.

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letter

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We received a wonderful letter from the marketing department at John West Tuna, who decorated their office with our students’ letters. They also sent us an inflatable tuna can, inflatable fish, and a carton of Tuna to Go. Naturally, the teacher got first pick…

We also received letters from WA Mussel Co-Op, and several students’ relatives working as commercial fishermen throughout Western Australia

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So, what did I learn from this experience?

  • Negotiating the curriculum, even in a small way, can have significant, and sometimes unexpected positive impacts on the learning process
  • Students, and their families, can bring useful knowledge, expertise, and skills to class. Recognising these boosts students’ self-esteem and impacts on their classroom behaviours.
  • As a teacher, your choice of learning experiences, curriculum design, and teaching approach significantly influence your students’ motivation and classroom behaviours.
  • Effective, proactive classroom managers seek to engage students in their learning by making it interesting and relevant to their lives and experience. Motivated, engaged students are much less likely to misbehave.

These ideas are reflected in my teaching philosophy: “What students bring to class is where learning begins. It starts there and goes places.”
Ira Shor. (1992). Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change.

Part 5: The Third ‘R’ – (Shared) Responsibility

The Third ‘R’ of an effective learning environment relates to developing students’ sense of responsibility for their learning and classroom environment.

To effectively manage this long-term process, graduate teachers need to clarify their position in, and plans for their classroom learning environment. My personal approach has been influenced by my teaching philosophy and relief teaching experience in TRIBES schools.

I hope to create a classroom learning community where I facilitate, rather than dictate, the learning process. I want to develop my students’ skills for cooperation and higher-order thinking; enabling them to become active, informed and multi-literate learners. This means I will be ultimately positioning myself as a co-learner in the classroom community, using students’ questions, skills, and talents to drive the learning process, within the boundaries of the set curriculum. For this to work, I will need to develop the ‘Third ‘R’.

As a relief teacher, I have observed and researched various avenues for developing this in the classroom, with each strategy building on the last.

1) Developing Classroom Rules with Students

While classroom rules are an essential feature of virtually every classroom%20rulesclassroom; to be truly effective, students need to be given the opportunity to “own” their class rules by negotiating them with their teacher.

This sense of ownership ensures students share the responsibility for the effective running of the learning environment.

2) Differentiating & negotiating curriculum, themes, and learning experiences to reflect students’ interests, talents and expertise

With the pressures of an overcrowded curriculum, the need to meet system priorities (e.g. NAPLAN), and rigorous assessment and reporting demands, it is often difficult to negotiate core curriculum content with students.

What we can do; however, is differentiate the curriculum to reflect students’ interests, special talents, multiple intelligences, skills, and community resources. This can be achieved through Term themes (eg. Colonial Australia, Under the Sea, The Solar System); open-ended learning tasks (e.g inquiry projects); use of Blooming SMART matrixes; teaching higher-order thinking skills; and weaving students’ questions through unit learning experiences.

A step up from this might involve students negotiating assessment criteria and presentation mediums. Developing shared rubrics, and encouraging students’ to use different technologies/learning products (eg. PhotoStory, PPT, short movie, podcast) to share their learning, are powerful ways to involve students in the learning process. 

If a student has a special skill (eg. film-making), why not encourage them to use it in class – to share their learning and to teach others? Teachers DON’T have to be technological experts – use your more knowledgeable students’ as “peer teachers” instead.

The move to negotiating curriculum requires a shift in thinking on behalf of both the students and the teacher. Our students tend to be used to being passive receivers of information, and may lack the necessary skills and understandings to actively participate in their learning. Therefore, teachers need to explicitly teach the necessary social and cooperative skills prior to negotiating curriculum with their students. Also, teachers need to adjust to their new role and status in the classroom, moving away from being the ‘font of all knowledge’ towards being a “life-long learner”.

This is NOT an easy process, requiring extensive professional research and reflection, but implemented effectively, the rewards are life-long.

Excellent Resources – Curriculum Differentiation:

Blooming SMARTs Matrix 

Thinking Curriculum (Kurwongbah State School, QLD)

Tony Ryan’s Thinker’s Keys [pdf]

3) Explicitly teaching social or “working together” skills, which underpin collaborative learning

I have now taught in 21 schools in the Perth (Western Australia) metropolitan area, and I have only seen the explicit teaching of social skills in three, upper primary classrooms.

In our society, there is an incredible need to teach social skills as part of the everyday curriculum. By doing so, we are not only helping those children with special needs, but all our mainstream students as well. As the global economy increasingly requires collaborative, active learners & knowledge workers, this has become a pressing learning priority.

Social, or interpersonal skills can be effectively integrated across the curriculum (under the Listening / Speaking strands of the new Australian Curriculum), and reinforced across a range of learning activities.

Drawing upon my reading in this area, I would suggest focussing on one social skill each week; spending perhaps 30-40 minutes/week explicitly exploring what the skill looks/sounds/feels like, role-playing social situations, and incidentally reinforcing its’ use across the curriculum.

For some excellent social skills teaching resources, and professional learning materials, I highly recommend a visit to these sites:

http://www.lauracandler.com/strategies/socialskills.php 

Kurowongbah Unit – I Can Make a Difference (Yrs 1-3) [doc]

4) Develop a classroom community based on the four TRIBES agreements

tribagre 

While I have seen the enormously positive impacts of the TRIBES approach in some extremely challenging schools, my professional knowledge or training in its application is minimal at present.

I will seek to develop my understandings in this area over the coming months, and eventually plan to undertake formal TRIBES training. I will update this post then.

In the meantime, I would recommend visiting these sites for further information:

TRIBES Official Site: www.tribes.com 

Explanation: http://www.southkent.net/~bdhs/tribes/Tribesexplain.htm

tribes_learning_community_lg

Sourced from: http://www.westfieldpremiersscholarship.dpc.wa.gov.au/index.cfm?event=reports2004

Part 4: Transforming a Year 3 Class into a Learning Community

Let us return to my challenging Year 3 class in 2008; where over the course of eight weeks, I transformed an extremely difficult class into a vibrant learning community characterised by respect, empathy, honesty, an inviting atmosphere, and a lively exchange of ideas (Otero, 2001). This was brought about through the creation of a safe learning environment and my efforts to develop positive relationships with all my students, particularly the more challenging ones.

Dealing with challenging behaviours

As I will discuss in more detail in a later post, one of my greatest challenges of this teaching experience was dealing with eight year old “Roy”, a student liable to throw things at the teacher, run away from the class, and draw the teacher into power struggles. After observing and analysing his behaviour (from my position as the second pair of “eyes” in the classroom), I set out to counteract the major causes and reinforcements of the negative behaviours.

I sought to build a positive relationship with “Roy”; circumventing his attempts to draw me into power struggles by maintaining a calm, gentle demeanour, quietly ignoring his attention-seeking behaviours, and removing him from the class to let him calm down (e.g. sending him on errands). I tried to be a positive male role-model, treating him with respect, and working to engage him in his learning. These actions significantly enhanced the “safety” of the classroom learning environment.

Meanwhile, I sought to develop a strong rapport with all my students, taking an active interest in their lives, and listening to their ideas, thoughts, and silences. I noticed “Edward”’s short-sightedness, a possible reason for his delayed literacy development. I also discovered Roy’s passion for aeroplanes and the Fremantle Dockers, loaning him my military aircraft books and commiserating over the football each Monday morning.

While most of my informal interactions with my students occurred during Morning Fitness, when I walked around the oval with my student ‘entourage’, I also spent some time at Recess and Lunch talking to students. I even played football with the boys on several occasions.

Developing positive teacher-student relationships

By really listening to my students, I was able to develop strong, trusting teacher-student relationships, with enormous positive impacts on our classroom environment and learning. It was in this environment that I began to uncover some of the hidden anxieties my students were bringing to class, and this knowledge helped me to respond to their behaviours and emotional needs.

I sought to be open and honest in my interactions with my students, sharing my experiences, humour, and passion for learning. I accepted their eccentricities, and nurtured their interests through engaging learning experiences. I was sensitive to students’ emotional needs, and encouraged them to talk about their troubles with someone they could trust. I explained that while problems may be out of our control, sometimes we need to talk about them. Several students chose to confide their concerns in me, and I supported them in the best way I could, referring one serious case to the school Social Worker.

Responding to Parental Concerns regarding Bullying

During the course of my Internship, I discovered that Daniel’s emotional problems were being exacerbated by another student’s spiteful bullying, and the firm resolution of this issue led to an improvement in his classroom behaviour.

Later, when a parent alerted us that her daughter was being bullied, we uncovered a wider, more serious problem involving a number of girls in our class. While my colleague dealt with the perpetrators, I supported the victims, sharing my experiences of bullying as a child and suggesting strategies for dealing with or avoiding future incidents. Our swift response helped to resolve the issue, leading to a more harmonious classroom environment.