Reflections on Classroom Management (Index)

My Experiences, Philosophy, & Reflections

  1. My Jigsaw Approach to Classroom Management
  2. The Conscious Competence Ladder (Skill Development)
  3. The Four Stages in My Teaching Practice
  4. Classroom Management – Summing Up

The 3 R’s of Effective Learning Environments

  1. Setting the Scene
  2. Overview of the 3 R’s
  3. Transforming a Year 3 class into a learning community
  4. The Third ‘R’ – Shared Responsibility for the Learning Process
  5. My experiences with the Third ‘R’

‘The Theory of Bumps’ (Bennett & Smilanich, 1994)

  1. The Key Principles
  2. Explanation & Suggested Strategies

The 3 Keys to Working with Challenging Students

  1. Introduction
  2. What is a “problem” or challenging behaviour?
  3. Part 1: Building Positive Relationships
  4. Part 2: The Classroom Learning Environment
  5. Part 3: The Teacher’s Attitude, Actions, & Management Approach
  6. Responding to Anger

Building Positive Relationships

  1. Small Talk: “From little things, big things grow”
  2. Relief Teaching – Chalk & Small Talk!
  3. Get Involved with Breakfast / Lunchtime Clubs
  4. The Importance of Active Listening

Top Tips for Teachers – Behaviour Management (Video)

Cracking the Hard Class

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]

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.

18.01.2008 104

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 3: The 3 R’s of an Effective Learning Environment

The 3 R’s: Relationships, Respect & (Shared) Responsibility

In the course of their everyday work, a teacher takes on many roles – teacher, guide, role-model, learner, authority figure, confidante, disciplinarian, communicator, and the list goes on. Teaching is so much more than “chalk and talk”, and our students are not the “empty vessels” of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times.

As a relief teacher, I have worked with and observed the practice of experienced classroom managers, and realised that their classes have several important features in common. They are characterised by positive, open relationships (with students, parents, and colleagues), mutual respect, and a shared responsibility for the learning process. These are the “3 R’s of an Effective Learning Environment”.

The Teacher’s Attitude is Key

Student misbehaviour, in most cases, is not a subversive challenge to the teacher’s authority. Yes, some students can be extremely frustrating, distant and downright irritating, but they are children, and should be treated as such. Their behaviour can be extremely challenging and disruptive, but it often purposeful and influenced by their social environment.

Research shows that effective classroom managers treat student misbehaviour as a natural and normal part of schooling. They take proactive steps to prevent or reduce the severity of their students’ misbehaviour, seeking to minimise the disruption to the teaching & learning process.

As many experienced teachers have taught me, through their words and actions, the creation of a safe learning environment and the development of positive student-teacher relationships are key elements of effective management practice. 

A focus on the students’ needs

As human beings, we have three basic needs – the need for food, shelter, and safety. It is a symptom of modern society that a significant proportion of our students only feel safe at school. In some neighbourhoods, many students turn up to school hungry, having skipped breakfast. Therefore, teachers and schools play an important role in their students’ lives. 

A safe classroom learning environment is created by the teacher, developed through their words, attitudes, actions, classroom management approach, and the kinds of relationships they develop with their students. 

I have two fundamental beliefs:

  • No student should fear their teacher.
  • No student deserves to be intimidated, bullied, or provoked into violence by their classmates. 

To feel safe, our students:

  • Need clear guidelines or rules for appropriate behaviour. They need to own those rules, and understand the consequences they face if they choose not to abide by them.
  • Need to be treated with respect; as individuals with diverse interests, skills, and talents.
  • Need to feel like they belong, a sense of identity as part of a class, a school community
  • Need a sense of purpose, and degree of shared responsibility for the learning process

Finally, EVERY student has the right to feel safe at school, especially those students who exhibit challenging/violent behaviours. Some of the best teachers I have ever worked with, including my own Year 1 teacher, strive to make this happen. This is a difficult, long-term process, and you will have your successes and failures. This is why I became a teacher. 

Creating a Classroom Environment That Works – Part 1: The Context

On my final student teaching experience in 2008, I taught what I thought to be a Year 3 “class from hell”. I was an inexperienced and vulnerable student teacher, exhibiting a complete lack of confidence in my teaching and behaviour management abilities. I then found myself teaching one of the largest and most difficult classes in the school.

Describing my experiences in my 2008 teaching portfolio, I described how I explored ways to manage and motivate students with extremely challenging behaviours and special learning needs:

  • “Roy” was renowned for extreme aggressive outbursts – throwing things at the teacher, running away from class, and drawing the teacher into power struggles. 
  • “Daniel”, a student with extremely low self-esteem, produced poor work and withdrew completely into himself when stressed, [tending to curl up] under his desk.
  • “Edward”, working at a K/PP level in Literacy and Maths, [exhibited] a challenging ‘baby’ attitude and inconsistent performance. 

I went on to record how “I literally transformed my class into a vibrant and enthusiastic learning community; witnessing some remarkable changes in some of my most challenging students … [through] perseverance, care, teamwork, and a reflective engagement with behaviour management theories”

It is no understatement to say that working with these students prompted considerable professional growth in the areas of behaviour management and facilitating student learning. In fact, my experiences in this classroom have had a profound impact on the classroom & behaviour management approach which I continue to apply and refine today. 

Food for Thought 

To close, here’s some food for thought for those final year university students with romantic visions of their future classes. I thought my Year 3 class was a “class from hell”, yet on my extensive travels as a relief teacher, I have taught worse, and not just in upper primary either. As a teacher, your class is what you make of it, but don’t expect your first class to be angelic. You may get lucky, but don’t be surprised if you end up with a “seriously difficult” class on your first appointment. It happens. The trick is to be prepared.