Classroom Management: Teaching, My Philosophy, and Communication

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As I finish an exciting 3 weeks at Riverside Elementary (stay tuned for more stories and thoughts in the coming weeks as I synthesize that experience), I have reflected to realize, more and more, how imperative it is to consider classroom management as a future educator. What I have found, furthermore, is that I believe classroom management is a skill learned through experience, not tacet learning. In other words, it is very difficult to “teach” classroom management in higher education. Now…let me clarify, as I tread on thin ice with professors likely reading…this is not to say that we are ineffective in higher education at preparing teachers to manage classrooms. Not in the slightest! I simply feel, as I have experienced “both sides of the desk,” that “getting good” at classroom management is entirely dependent on the opportunity to practice, learn, and grow with your students. I have been given ample opportunities to peer teach and prepare lessons (something Luther College does a great job at). Yet, despite how much my peers tried to act like first graders, nothing could match the practice I got in Rochester, MN, with 18-6 year olds. We can teach tactics, skills, philosophies, and methods until we’re blue in the face, but until future teachers like me get their butts in the classroom, none of this comes to life or has any real meaning. In other words, making this complex idea simple, we can teach classroom management in higher education…but it must include clinical placement. Every child, every classroom, and every community comes with their own baggage, their own schema, and their own history…and when we combine all of those histories in to one “hodge-podge” and try to manage it “by the book,” we’re destined for implosion. As I have reiterated and strived for with lesson planning and relationship building in the past, each community, class, and student deserves the attention and opportunity to be treated as an individual…this extends in to how we “manage” their behavior as well.

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You’re probably thinking…”Well, Andrew, that’s nice and all…but what do you believe then?”…this is valid. What is my philosophy on classroom management? Ultimately, like much of what I stress when talking about teaching in general it comes down to two words: “student-centered.” If classroom management strays, and this can be to the point of being a “power trip” or as simple as rules entirely created by the teacher, the learning becomes less about the students. No, I don’t want a classroom “run” by my students, but I do want a room where my students feel fairly represented and like they have control over their own boundaries and behavior. A “classroom contract,” or in my history teacher mindset a “Classroom Bill of Rights,” can be just as effective when created by the students as a group then when it’s pre-assembled by the teacher before the year starts.

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This must be effectively communicated to parents as well. A simple letter may do the trick…and even having students create a list of rules for their parents to abide by can be effective. How should their parents treat them if they don’t do their homework? What can they do to encourage them? …etc. A student-generated list like this can be an amazing tool and an artifact to help show parents what their children want and the support they appreciate at home. When it comes to managing the classroom on a daily basis, I have a few other beliefs: I know positive reinforcement works wonders. Negativity does no good to a child’s learning. Rewards can help, but should not distract or drive the task at hand. Students should experience their learning, not be limited by it. Too many rules stifle creativity. Build a family and a community. …to name a few. The most important of these is the last one: build a family and a community. When students feel invested as a part of something bigger, they are less likely to stray from or do anything to jeopardize the good of the whole. When one can create this sense in their classroom,  investing students in the well-being of the class in addition to their own learning, teaching becomes more than just facts and figures…it becomes a living, breathing thing. And that, friends, is amazing to witness.

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2 thoughts on “Classroom Management: Teaching, My Philosophy, and Communication

    Randon Ruggles (@rruggles) said:
    February 17, 2014 at 9:27 PM

    Andrew –

    Great thoughts in here and it serves as a reminder that there are so many reasons that college degrees in education are very meaningful, but there are other things that cannot be simulated in class. I saw this article while working on another project of mine and thought of you: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/classroom-management-intervention-two-step-richard-curwin

    I love the class compact / Bill of Rights idea. It was one of the mainstays in my own classroom. I even went so far as to use fancy printing, had it written up nice, printed, and then I had every student sign it. I then posted it in the back of my classroom. Whenever there were issues, disputes about the rules that we set together, I just pointed to the back and they knew right then and there that they were out of line. It gives them a huge window into your heart and desire for teaching and reaching them where they are at instead of saying here is my list, welcome to the class, have a seat and follow my rules. Obviously there are some key elements that you have to have in there, but if you can craft a good one of these with each of your classes then you are off to a great start!

    One of the other things, and call me crazy, is that towards the end of my classroom, high school English teaching career (for the moment at least) I actually did not have a seating chart almost every day. For one, my room was different every day because of what we were doing in class. Some days they were in pods, some days in a line, some days all over the place, and some days we sat on the floor – high school, yep. A change in perspective does a room and a student well! Try it out sometime. Secondly, because there was no seating chart I had to have great classroom management skills. That isn’t something that comes easily or overnight. Know that. In fact, some days are just terrible and you have to step back and be honest with yourself. Here is one part of that experience for me during my student teaching days: http://fiftynineminutes.blogspot.com/2009/02/what-defines-bottom.html

    I would encourage you to read that when you have time and maybe even browse through the comments too. I’m not a great writer by any means, but that might give you a window into those not so good times. I do have to say, though, that if it wasn’t for times like those in the blog post that I wouldn’t be in the position that I was four years later without a seating chart and with some strong classroom management skills. Just like in athletics, you learn what needs work and you work on it. However, sometimes experience just helps.

    Take care and enjoy the journey. Keep reflecting!

      awith16 responded:
      February 18, 2014 at 3:29 PM

      Thanks so much for the insight and links, Randon! All really good stuff… Sounds like you and I had a lot of the same thoughts as we considered this topic! It’s lots of fun to see your blog from this time in YOUR education, too! Stay in touch and thanks for reading!

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