In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is joined by teacher and PLS Classes course facilitator, Darlene Volchansky to discuss classroom management.
Classroom Management: Orchestrating a Community of Learners® is an online class offered from PLS Classes. Visit PLSClasses.com to learn more.
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Steve: 00:00 Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud is brought to you by PLS Classes – online and onsite graduate classes and professional development opportunities delivered by master facilitators from eight accredited college partners. Visit plsclasses.com for more.
Steve [Intro]: 00:17 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For the last 35 years I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. In each of the coming episodes, I’ll explore my thoughts and my learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning and leading. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:41 Exploring classroom management. Today on the podcast, I’m joined by Darlene Volchansky, an experienced teacher and the instructor of a graduate level course on classroom management. The topic of classroom management is extremely interesting to me as I think over all of my years in education. The term has changed for some people in its meaning and I’m looking forward to exploring that today with Darlene on the call. So Darlene, welcome.
Darlene: 01:23 Oh, thank you, Steve. I’m glad to be here.
Steve: 01:26 Would you take a little bit of time to give us a quick introduction of your teaching background?
Darlene: 01:34 Sure. I taught secondary English in a rural high school in Pennsylvania for 33 plus years and I began facilitating courses for PLS in 2006. I was an instructor for onsite courses first and then I became interested in the online venue and became an online facilitator in 2008.
Steve: 02:12 So Darlene – to start with, what’s the definition that you use for the term classroom management?
Darlene: 02:22 Classroom Management I think encompasses so many different aspects of teaching from the climate in the classroom to the physical setting in the classroom, to establishing and maintaining rules and procedures, to engaging students, to providing positive reinforcement and to responding appropriately to behavioral issues in the classroom.
Steve: 03:00 So across your career as a teacher, would you describe a change in the use of that term classroom management or do you see it being used in the – in both educational writing and in teacher training and teacher education in a similar fashion to what it was earlier in your career?
Darlene: 03:28 Well, I first started teaching in 1977 so I think the concept of classroom management has changed a great deal over the years. I think at that time when I was a beginning teacher, we equated classroom management with discipline. That’s what it was about controlling your classes. And there is so much more involved than that. And I had the opportunity to work with a number of student teachers during my secondary career and that is definitely something that I tried to impress upon them. That classroom management – there are so many contexts that go into classroom management and I think successful teaching, I think successful learning begins with effective classroom management.
Steve: 04:32 How much is classroom management a pre-planning organizational thing that a teacher does versus how much, would you say, classroom management is kind of on the spot decisions that a teacher is making as as things arise in her classroom?
Darlene: 04:55 Well I think it is a little bit of both to be honest, but I think the planning element is huge. In the course that I teach – the graduate course, classroom management, the proactive strategies in the course are the majority of the course and I think that the way it should be because that’s where we begin. It’s so much easier to lay and effective groundwork at the beginning than it is to need to respond to behavioral issues later on. There are times when we definitely need to respond to behavior, we definitely need to take the support of other professionals, but I really think we can minimize those instances by being highly proactive.
Steve: 05:55 Can you give me an example of something that you would describe in the proactive category?
Darlene: 05:58 I think one of the most important things to do is to establish and maintain clear expectations. I think students are more comfortable in a classroom where they understand what is expected. I think they’re more likely to take risks if the expectations are clear and the procedures are clear and concise and I think it’s not enough to just introduce those expectations. I think they need to be practiced. I think the students need to have a chance to explore and discuss the expectations and then I think to be revisited periodically. Whenever there’s a new student or whenever the teacher notices the class is not exactly meeting the expectation, I think it’s a real mistake to assume regardless of your grade level, that the students will enter your room understanding expectations. I taught senior high and I never assumed that. I felt it was very important in the beginning to establish those expectations.
Steve: 07:11 It’s so interesting that you added that comment because I was sitting here as the next question I was going to ask – in my world market it seems that there’s a total understanding on the elementary teacher’s part that those things have to be explained in detail, taught, practiced and maybe even coached. But I find that much less true when I’m frequently working with secondary people. So it struck me, knowing your strong secondary background that you spoke so strongly about that.
Darlene: 07:47 And I think that’s a fair assessment for what I experienced in my education – in my career. I did experience times when secondary teachers would complain about students not meeting the standard, not meeting their expectations and I would think to myself, I wonder if you laid the groundwork for that. Because they need to know what they need to do in order to meet that expectation.
Steve: 08:22 Darlene, as I look through the content of that course that you teach on classroom management, I saw a section of it that focused on the terms of caring and control and looking at the overlap of those two terms. I’m wondering if I could get you to describe that a little bit for me.
Darlene: 08:46 I think, to be honest, that was one of the most important things that I learned as an educator. At the of my career, I didn’t look very old, I wasn’t very big, I almost panicked in an attempt to control my classes and I think many beginning teachers fall on one end of the spectrum of trying to be very strict or actually becoming very lenient. And I really think it’s achieving that balance, finding that balance – that effective balance of caring and control. So there are standards in the classroom, there are expectations. Students understand that, but at the same time they also know that the teacher is there to support and guide and that the teacher is concerned about their progress and success.
Steve: 09:53 Another topic that I saw that you address with folks is the role of rewards. It jumped out at me because I was just in a district this past week where an argument unfolded among the teachers regarding the use of rewards to get classroom management behavior. So how do you approach that topic with the teachers you’re training?
Darlene: 10:32 Well, I think that the material in the classroom management course that I teach really brought about some epiphanies for me because as a secondary teacher, I will admit I wasn’t convinced that rewards were appropriate and after being trained in a classroom management course, I realize that there are real benefits to using rewards. It’s a matter of developing an active reward system because there are some risks. One thing that I think that many of the teachers who take that course are surprised to learn is they should not reward students for expected behaviors. And that’s something that I thought about – thinking back over my teaching career. I think sometimes I had done that. And I think although – an epiphany for me was don’t use an extreme extrinsic reward for someone who’s already intrinsically motivated. I taught junior honors English students. They were there because they were intrinsically motivated. For me to a tangible reward wouldn’t have been appropriate and it probably would’ve backfired somewhere along the way.
Steve: 12:03 So in other words, the content and learning is the reward. And so an outside reward actually detracts from that.
Darlene: 12:11 I think it can. I think that teachers need to meet students where they are. If I have a student who’s already intrinsically motivated, I don’t need to think about extrinsic rewards. If I have a student who is an at risk student, I may need to think about that. I may need to think about using rewards to move him toward intrinsic motivation. But I need to be careful in the way I do that because it’s very important to use rewards only as long as they’re needed. It’s important to use rewards that the student actually cares about. And it’s also I think, very effective to couple a tangible reward, if you need to use one – and couple that with a social reward. So eventually you can move them closer and closer to intrinsic motivation. I will say though, as a secondary teacher, I did not use an extensive reward system. I probably didn’t use rewards nearly as much as an elementary teacher might.
Steve: 13:31 Am I hearing, as I listen to this – would you say classroom management changes across a year or across the semester? In other words, is classroom management something different that at the beginning of a course when teachers and students are initially coming together versus further along in the year?
Darlene: 13:56 Oh, I think so. If the classroom management is effective, if a foundation is established effectively at the beginning of the year, I think there’s greater autonomy as the year progresses. At least there should be. I think students should play an active role in the classroom. I think they should be involved with the management in the classroom. And I think that grows as the year progresses. And I think the number of reminders they will need, I think the number of times that procedures will need to be revisited will decrease as the year goes on. I think it’s an evolutionary process as the year progresses.
Steve: 14:48 It’s interesting to think of that – the student playing an increasing involvement in deciding how classroom environment is managed.
Darlene: 15:07 And I found, I think especially since I taught juniors, sometimes they had better ideas.
Darlene: 15:16 Because they speak like thinkers, they were mature students and sometime because they saw things from a different perspective, they were on the other side of the desk, they were able to make suggestions that I would adopt and actually be very happy with.
Steve: 15:34 Neat, neat. Well Darlene, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for the time.
Darlene: 15:40 Thank you so much.
Steve: 15:42 Take care. Bye-bye.
Steve [Outro]: 15:44 Thanks for listening folks. I’d love 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.