Students are watching and interpreting each move and decision we make. So in effect, our classroom management approach is a curriculum. “What are students learning from your classroom management?” is a great coaching question. To what extent is learning the elements of community built into your classroom decisions? Is management even a word you want to use? How might teachers, as well as students, benefit from coaching reflection around classroom management?
Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!
Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello, and welcome to the Steve Barkley, ponders out loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening. I’m thrilled you’re here.
Steve: 00:35 Coaching the curriculum of classroom management. I recently focused on the thought of seeing classroom management as a curriculum while watching a video presentation by Dr. Shalaby. She’s the coordinator of social justice initiatives and community internships at the university of Michigan and she’s the author of a book titled, “Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom From Young Children at School.” She identifies that kids are constantly learning from what we, as the adults say or don’t say, what we do or don’t do, what we have on the walls or don’t have on the walls. Here’s a quote from her: “Every move we make in classroom management is a lesson. Kids are watching us and they’re learning.” She suggests we need to be as intentional in the classroom management curriculum as we are with other curriculums. Here’s a quote from Alfie Kahn, the author of, “Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community” – “Management is a term borrowed from business with overtones of directing and controlling employees.
Steve: 02:01 Like discipline, it seems relevant to groups of strangers rather than to people who are working together as a community. In fact, the uncritical use of such terms reflects a willingness to accept some troubling assumptions about the relative roles and rights of those who are managing vis a vis, those who are managed.” I’m currently working with the administrators in Manheim Central School District in Pennsylvania, where for the last few years, I’ve facilitated their planning around the district vision of students being different makers in the world. They describe different makers as being an innovator, reflective learner, collaborator, critical thinker, and responsible citizen. Each year, they select one of the elements and teachers build a plan around a hypothesis to create opportunities for students to strengthen the skills and aptitudes of that element. This year, their focus is on responsible citizen. When the district established the difference maker traits with community input several years back, the identified characteristics of responsible citizen as actively participates in my learning community, serving others, holding one’s self accountable for their own effort, attitude and actions, valuing diversity, and actively contributing to a positive, inclusive, and respectful culture.
Steve: 03:48 That list provides great reflection around the question of what students could learn from a classroom management approach, a classroom management curriculum. Listen to the list again. What would a teacher describe as her purposeful choices that are generating opportunities for students to practice and experience actively participating in the community? Serving others, holding oneself accountable for their own effort, attitude and actions, valuing diversity, actively contributing to a positive, inclusive and respective culture. Listen to Dr. Shalaby describe all the differences that are present in a classroom and how that generates a great opportunity for learning about responsible citizenship and community
Dr. Shalaby: 05:03 Classrooms are made up of, again, roughly 20 to 40 diverse human beings with different needs, personalities, perspectives, skills, and talents, annoying qualities and these people have to figure out how to share a very small space, lots of time and few resources. And really none of them have chosen to be there, except maybe if you’re lucky, the teacher. The inherent challenge of that arrangement is what makes us believe we should have one powerful person solve all the problems through clear rules and external consequences. It’s very efficient that way. But that robs everyone of the chance to learn how to manage and work through the predictable, messy, necessary conflicts and issues that arise in community. Therefore, we grow up with none of the requisite skills required to actually be in community with other people because we have failed to use school as a chance to teach, learn, or practice them.
Dr. Shalaby: 06:06 Classrooms are a rare and powerful opportunity to experiment with new, better ways of being together. We can ask, “what is the world we want and how can we practice and try out that world in the daily life of our classroom?” We can focus on right relations within a circle of community, instead of coercive control by a single person with perceived power. We can decide to practice care instead of practicing rules so that safety is defined by how well we hold and protect each other instead of how well we are policed by someone with the authority to punish us into compliance. Let’s be excited by that as educators, this power that we have to imagine, and then to practice the world we want, instead of the world we have now.
Steve: 07:03 The Childhood Development Project, a comprehensive program for development of pro-social character, reinforces this focus on community. Their words: “to say that a classroom is a community is to say that it’s a place where care and trust are emphasized above restrictions and threats. Where unity and pride of accomplishments and in purpose, replace winning and losing and where each person is asked, helped and inspired to live up to such ideals and values as kindness, fairness, and responsibility. Such a classroom community seeks to meet each student’s needs to feel competent, connected to others and autonomous. Students are not only exposed to basic human values. They also have many opportunities to think about discuss and act on those values while gaining experiences that promote empathy and understanding of others.” I’m thinking that most often teachers classroom management decisions are made focusing on a quick generation of the opportunity to instruct the curricula that the system is going to test and measure – math, reading, science. The curriculum of learning the skills, attitudes and attributes of community may be being overlooked.
Steve: 08:44 I was recently recording a future podcast around creativity with Dr. Joanne Foster. When I asked her to describe the environment that supports the development of creativity, she focused at first on two words: flexibility and respect. As our discussion continued, she added a third word, kind. Kindness – almost as an action that results from flexibility and respect. When students experience our classroom management, are they experiencing flexibility and respect? Are they practicing and observing kindness in the teacher and student interactions within community? Several years back, I met a primary teacher who started the year developing classroom rules with her students. She wrote the rules on large sentence strips and posted them around the room. She then informed the students that as their classroom community developed, they would be taking down the rules as they would no longer be needed.
Steve: 10:01 Interesting how that fits Alfie Khan’s term of rules being for a group of strangers and not being needed once we became community. As time went on, this teacher would take a rule down suggesting that community was progressing. Sometimes an occurrence would have the rule come back out for a few days of discussion and reflection. And then again, it would be retired. The goal being to not need rules because we had become a community. I believe this teacher had a classroom management curriculum. She had desired outcomes that she wanted her students to accomplish. Dr. Shalaby shares another teacher’s example:
Dr. Shalaby: 10:55 Marion Dingle, who was a fifth grade teacher, had her students list all the usual norms and rules of school at the start of year. If you’ve ever invited kids to do this, you know that even by first grade, they know what all of them are, right? They’re the same year after year. And then through a skillfully facilitated conversation, the kids came to understand that really, they only needed one rule to capture all the others. We will take care of each other. That single commitment guided how they were gonna be together. Let’s imagine classroom management as the challenge to meet that very difficult goal and standard. The pandemic has reminded us just how far away we are from modeling care for our children. It is time for us to work together in community to right a curriculum of human being that allows our kids a chance at loving, healing and guiding us toward a different way forward.
Steve: 11:52 What opportunities might you create for teachers in your school to share their thoughts around the classroom management curriculum? Are there elements in classroom management or school discipline policies that are counter to the SEL curriculum that you’ve explored? Are there decisions that are more focused on compliance than learning and understanding community? You know, a lot of learning comes from mistakes. How does the classroom management approach deal with mistakes in behavior? My read – this isn’t an easy topic for coaching, but one that could have great outcomes, great learning outcomes for teachers and students. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop me a line at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 12:54 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.