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Posted by on in Classroom Management

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This was the week I retook control of all aspects of my life. Things would be different this week. Everything would turn around and become better this week. Instead, I wasn't good enough this week and my students did not hesitate to let me know.

This week I started waking up a half hour earlier (3:45AM!) to start my morning workouts. This week I managed to start going to bed earlier. This week I refocused my eating habits to reflect my fitness goals (Elite Spartan Beast on 4/29) . This week was the start of a journey that required me to conduct 17 formal teacher observations in 8 days (12 days including post-observation conferences). This week the lessons for my 3 daily classes were absolutely on-point. Everything was going so well for me this week, until...

Then my students informed me that I am a grumpy teacher. One of my students coined the term "Grumpy T" (T for Thom) to describe me. This started a class-wide discussion in one period where the class agreed that I had been grumpy and different all week. This shocked me and I felt incredulous when I heard this. My body felt great from the workouts, I was getting more sleep than before, I was eating much healthier, and I was loving all the observations and genuine conversations I was having with teachers. How could I possibly be grumpy?

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Posted by on in Classroom Management

Most of us have seen or experienced the traditional archaic model of education where a lesson is taught, notes are taken, quizzes or worksheets are handed out and grades are given. While this model works for some students, there are many students that completely shut down in this process. This process of judgement and single chances creates an immense amount of FEAR in students.

We have all had the difficult student that responds: "I'm not doing this!", as you hand out an activity. This response is not bred out of defiance, but rather out of fear. Fear that they wont be able to perform the task, can't read at the appropriate level, or simply a fear of failure.  These fears drive a lot of management issues that occur in classrooms. If students can't access content, they "fight back" due to the fear of failure. Some students have failed so many times that the fear is perpetual and constant throughout the school day.

This needs to change.  Assessments and assignments need to transform from end games to learning opportunities. Students need to see the work that they do as progressive to their learning not terminal and definitive judgments on their abilities and intelligence. The culture of constant judgement (grades) and finite decisions based on performance defines an environment that produces fear. In any environment where fear is prominent, other negative emotional and social responses will arise.

In my classroom I created a system to remove the fear from learning. Here are a few things that have worked for me: 

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Posted by on in Classroom Management

angry kid

The honeymoon is over, eh?

Now that we have several weeks of the new school year under our belts, the spit-clean shine on the faces of all those children has faded and reality sets in. At first we thought we were blessed with a class, a school, a district full of little angels. Then the cracks began to show through--a little disrespectful look, then a "NO!", and then running out of the classroom when they are upset. Oh no! And we had such high hopes!

I am pretty proficient at assuming positive intent with adults. I can easily see how hard the adults at school work for the students, and I know the difficulties of being a parent. Do we afford our students the same luxury? Do we assume positive intent with students?

In my nearly two decades of being an educator, I cannot remember meeting a student who was naughty to be naughty. The students I work with are behaving for a purpose. They want control, they want to feel like they belong, they need freedom, they want to have some fun, or maybe they are just hungry (or is that h-angry?). They want to be good, to be praised, to be loved, they sometimes just don't know how to get there.

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Posted by on in Classroom Management

Movement and Routine

The start of the school year is one of the most exciting times of the year for teachers, students, and parents.  While some may argue that point, as a teacher I am filled with elation, nervous energy, and satisfaction in my chosen profession.  

The start of the school year is filled with preparation, and teacher after teacher will tell you how important it is to set-up the classroom in such a way, to greet students, to establish relationships, to build a positive learning climate, and to establish routines and rules. How individual teachers and classrooms go through this process varies.  

Utilizing movement in the classroom is essential, and starting the year off by frequently using movement helps teachers and students get acclimated to the process and helps establish a practice that becomes ingrained in the daily/weekly activity of the classroom procedures.

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Posted by on in Classroom Management

hair pulling

Ryan was one of “those” students. He seemed to think he was in charge of the classroom. He was the one who decided when the whole class would laugh, when students should be talking, how long it would take for me to get the class’ attention, and whether or not I would have a good day.

I pulled my hair out in my battle with Ryan for control of the class. I even wondered if teaching was the profession for me. I liked Ryan and we had great conversations one-on-one. He was smart and funny. He knew the right things to say to make me think that he knew why he needed to change and was going to change. Then, the same behavior continued the next day. This was not a battle I could win.
 
Ryan had this amazingly funny “granny dance” that he would do every chance he had. It could be during an important lesson, while I was giving directions, during a fire drill, anytime. At the same time I was exasperated with Ryan’s dancing, I was learning about Choice Theory, which was developed by William Glasser. Dr. Glasser said that everyone has five basic needs–freedom, power, belonging, fun and survival. All behavior is our best attempt to meet one or more of our basic needs.
 
As I was learning this, I was thinking about Ryan. I could see that he was meeting his needs for power and fun through doing things to get his classmates to laugh. I was trying to meet my need for power by trying to control him through punishment. I began to see that this was an ineffective cycle that needed to be turned in a different direction. Ryan has these needs and will always behave to meet them and I wondered how he could meet his needs within the functions of the classroom rather than against our rules and expectations.
 
We began to have “disco lunches” where we would turn on fun music during lunch and students could get up and dance in the middle of the room. Low and behold, Ryan got up every day and made his peers laugh with his funny dances. What’s more–I was laughing too. There was incredible positive power when Ryan and I would catch each other’s eyes as we were laughing about his silliness. That was the start of a whole new relationship for the two of us.
 
I got to know Ryan better and we found shared interests and connected through our passions. Actually, I started thinking about all my students and how to make the classroom more need-satisfying for all of them. I wanted them to feel comfortable, to build strong and positive relationships with each other and me, and to meet all of their needs while learning.
 
Freedom and power are two needs that seem to be the most difficult for students to meet within the functions of the classroom. In a different post, I shared a short list of things to include in your classroom to make it need-satisfying and to avoid power struggles. CRAFT your classroom into a great learning environment for all students by including:
 
Choice: small or big
Relationships: so everyone feels like they belong
Ask, don’t tell: they know so much more than we think they know
Fun: everyday! Student-prompted and teacher-prompted
Turn it around: when you find yourself in a power struggle, back it up
 
You can read more about CRAFT here.
 
When we punish students for talking in class, for making each other laugh, etc. are we really trying to meet our own need for power? What does is say about us when we punish a class for the behavior of a few–who benefits from that?
 
I learned that if I was really trying to help my students succeed, I needed to focus on creating a need-satisfying environment, plan empowering and meaningful learning opportunities, and guide them to develop their own character.
 
What pros and cons have you found with punishments? How have you innovated to create a positive learning environment for students?

Please note: This blog post is based on my experiences and the teachings of Dr. William Glasser and Choice Theory. I learned about Choice Theory and Reality Therapy through training with The William Glasser Institute and reading many books written by Dr. Glasser.  If you are interested in learning more about the work of Dr. Glasser, I recommend reading Choice Theory (Glasser, William. Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom. , 1998. Print.) or visiting http://www.wglasser.com for training opportunities.

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