Picture this: A middle school social studies ICT team spends hours creating a unit plan centered around project-based learning, including multimodal resources, stations, and role-playing activities. They thought about different ways for learners to collaboratively work together, and different options for learners to choose from. Monday rolls around and they have all their materials ready. They’re excited to introduce the unit to kids! However, as soon as the group work begins, things start to fall apart: The noise level is loud and students can’t hear each other. One group of kids leaves to use the bathroom and never comes back. Another group has technology that isn’t working. Another pair of students start sword fighting with scissors. The teacher pair closes the group activity 10 minutes in and decide to pass out a worksheet instead.
The situation above is all too common: Teachers spend a lot of time using their creative juices to plan engaging and relevant curriculum for their communities of learners, but when they try to implement the plan within their classroom context, students don’t always respond in the ways we expect them to. The work of creative planning is important; however, it loses its power when the other part of our work as teachers, classroom management, isn’t considered alongside the instructional plan.
Classroom management is more than a “Rules and Expectations” chart posted on the wall. It’s also about developing strong relationships, explicitly stated, high expectations, cooperative learning opportunities, and creating supports for all types of learners. The Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project (TCICP) puts high priority on implementing classroom management from a strengths-based approach, especially for students who tend to get marginalized, such as the child who prefers to stand as opposed to sit, the child who tends to talk loudly and move loudly, or the child who does not speak. We know that no matter how many hours we devote to creative curricular planning, without a group of learners who actively engage with their peers and teachers, learning can fall by the wayside.
As part of our mission to include and accept all learners in school communities, we offer several workshops for educators to deeply think about their strategic plan for developing a strong community of learners who can engage in learning and each other with flexibility and cooperation. We do this by giving educators the opportunity to surface their own strengths and weaknesses in classroom management and community development in order to support the implementation of accessible, creative instruction. Most recently, we offered a two-day Classroom Management Workshop on creating a supportive, cooperative environment with high expectations, led by TCICP Senior Staff Developer Anne Palmer.
Teachers who attended the workshop in December and January brought energy and thoughtfulness when working with each other and with Anne. They spoke about a variety of barriers that make classroom management difficult in their communities. Although their experiences varied, similar classroom management challenges surfaced. Workshop participants who studied with Anne most recently cited the need for support in helping students learn to work together and develop self-regulatory skills. They also wanted to learn more about methods to de-escalate challenging behavior.
Participants were given the opportunity to “opt in” to various study groups, allowing them to learn more about methods that were relevant to their context. They chose from six different strategic areas promoting classroom management, including executive functioning, understanding the impact of trauma on learning and behavior, social thinking, adapting the classroom environment to meet the needs of all students (movement breaks, mindfulness, seating arrangements, grouping), data collection (frequency, latency, duration and interval recording), and in-the-moment strategies for handling challenging behavior. This time, participants chose to study executive functioning, social thinking, and de-escalation strategies.
While studying in these groups, important shifts took place. Anne says, “Teachers began to look at behavior as something that is developmental in nature, just like they would look at learning how to read, social development, or physical development. They started to think about the skills that need to be taught for students to reach classroom expectations.” When one teacher participant was asked what takeaways they got from the workshop, they talked about how powerful changing their language from “you statements” to “ I statements” has been, citing that students have felt more positive, accountable, and less accused during times when teacher-to-whole class conflict resolution was needed.
Additionally, another powerful shift in thinking teachers showed during the workshop was the idea that kids do well if they can with the skills they have in a given environment, adopted from Dr. Ross Greene’s Collaborative and Proactive Solutions. Anne says that when teachers start to think about the idea that educators are capable of teaching those skills, and are responsible for teaching those skills, it can empower a teacher to take the small steps of teaching a child the skills they need that can help them be successful at school and in life.
To rethink classroom management and move towards creating a supportive, cooperative learning environment with high expectations, TCICP recommends Dr. Ross Greene’s Walking Tour for Educators, a free, online tool for teachers to reconsider systems of rewards and consequences and make the shift towards teaching students the underlying skills they need to be more successful. As Dr. Ross Greene would say, “Kids do well if they can!”