Podcast for Teachers: A Highly Experienced Teacher’s Thoughts on Classroom Management - Steve Barkley

Podcast for Teachers: A Highly Experienced Teacher’s Thoughts on Classroom Management

A Highly Experienced Teacher’s Thoughts on Classroom Management

Tim Seller, an educator with five decades of experience, shares his current practices as a middle school math teacher. Tim has a curriculum for his classroom management as well as for his math standards. Tim shares how he learns who his students are and creates a classroom environment of student ownership. A great quote from Tim, “I don’t pass out books until they want them.”

Connect with Tim Seller on Linkedin. 

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Steve: 00:01 Hello and welcome to the Teacher edition of Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud. The complexity of teaching is both challenging and rewarding and my curiosity is peaked whenever I explore with teachers, the multiple pathways for facilitating student engagement in the exciting world of learning. This podcast looks to serve teachers as they motivate and support their learners. Thanks for listening. I’m delighted that you’re here.

Steve: 00:34 A highly experienced teacher’s thoughts on classroom management. I’m excited today to have a longtime colleague and a current middle school math teacher, Tim Seller, join me on the podcast. I met Tim in 1980, when as a teacher, he was also an instructor in field-based graduate courses for teachers. Tim was always highly appreciated by his teacher participants in those courses because he shared examples of his work with students in his own classes. Tim has always had a very special ability for working with students that some of us might describe as struggling. Welcome Tim. I’m excited to have you join us.

Tim: 01:23 Yeah, it’s my pleasure. Glad to be here.

Steve: 01:26 So, Tim, tell folks just a little bit about your current teaching assignment.

Tim: 01:31 I’ve decided to return to direct teaching after spending a few years doing in-school suspension classrooms and I really like the opportunity to reach more kids. Working with sixth grade level here at a middle, at a large middle school, I have approximately 115 students in four classes each day and that’s a challenge, but I’m having a good time.

Steve: 01:57 That’s great. That’s great. Earlier, I had written a blog connecting to the work of Dr. Carla Shalaby. She’s the author of a book titled, “Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom From Young Children at School.” She identifies, and I want to quote this, “kids are constantly learning from what we as 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. Every move we make in classroom management is a lesson. Kids are watching us and they’re learning.” Dr. Shalaby suggested that we should consider our classroom management as a curriculum and that causes us to ask the question, what are kids learning because the way we manage our class? When I posted that, Tim posted a comment and his comment talked about his continuous learning across his career about classroom management. And I wanted Tim to share those thoughts that he has about that with us. So Tim, where would you like to start? Jump in anywhere.

Tim: 03:17 Well, I guess the journey began in 1969 in Iowa teaching at a boys reformatory where the students were nearly my age. I’d say I learned to teach in a hurry and I found myself associated with veterans and successful teachers that I emulated and tried to model as best I could. And I did find out rather quickly that it wasn’t necessarily the rivers of Brazil that the kids were the most excited about, but they certainly were excited about my appearance, my demeanor, my mannerisms, my magic tricks, my sneaker collection, and some of the physical and nonverbal things that attract and bring people together.

Steve: 04:09 So when I read through the piece that you wrote, you talked about our classroom and I don’t know that you actually used the word relationships, but I interpreted that that was a piece of the meaning when you described it as our classroom rather than you the teacher’s classroom.

Tim: 04:31 Yeah. The family exists in their house and this is their house, it’s their room. We spend probably four or five days at the beginning of the year and then we kind of refurbished the place periodically as a metaphor for building relationships, changing triad seatings, changing classroom procedures, and as relationships build between students and sometimes they’re not building, then, changes need to be made. Everything from the tactical placement, to the seating chart, to who’s working with whom. As the facilitator, they have outlined and they have organized from day one, how do we make school cool? And this goes back many, many years. The students have responsibilities, have accountability, and at times lots of structure, but at other times, lots of decision making that they make because the decisions that they make, I can reinforce and then the behaviors of course will improve and continue.

Steve: 05:47 How does the word expectations fit into the way you work with students?

Tim: 05:53 Well, I’ve found out many years ago that if you want to change behavior, you have to find out what motivates them. And motivation, I believe, somebody told me long ago, is based on desire. So if we know what their desire levels are and we can adjust with the motivation methods that they will enjoy as reinforcements, then things fall in place and they know what the expectations are, they know what the procedures are. We’ve used a type of cooperative learning model that came out of Minnesota many years ago, and it’s communication, participation, cooperation. And those three things added together equal reciprocation. And those words have been on my walls for a lot of years and almost any classroom behavior in our culture is based on those premises of participating, communicating and cooperating. Socially, academically, across the board.

Steve: 07:11 So it’s expectations and procedures rather than rules?

Tim: 07:17 Don’t use that word. No.

Steve: 07:19 I kinda had a feeling. Go ahead. Tell more about that.

Tim: 07:23 Well, students have often been told what they shouldn’t do, and I really tend to focus on what they should do. I run a full-blown
token economy behavior mod that was cutting edge back in the seventies. And students in the classroom, their jobs or occupations have tokens attached to them. So they are on a constant reinforcement program with think time, pause periods, reinforcement, and at the end of each session, we evaluate the triads and significant tokens are given out that they use at the school store and some of the school sponsored programs that this blends and feeds into very nicely. And therefore, students are motivated, excited, and anxious to please.

Steve: 08:27 There’s two other words that I pulled from the response that you left on my blog I was wondering if you’d respond to, and they were problem solving and creative thinking.

Tim: 08:40 Well, when we have issues, social or academic issues or learning conflicts within our triads, we spend a lot of time with them, brainstorming and owning what’s happened because it’s their behavior that may need to be adjusted or changed, or they may need to cooperate better with people in their triads or they need to participate more because we keep a baseline observation. The students keep a baseline observation every class of responses and positiveness, and is the homework done? They keep a lot of data for me, and that makes them accountable, and it also gives them the opportunity to own what’s going on and how they’re affecting the climate in the classroom.

Steve: 09:41 Tim, a big word for me when I talk relationships is knowing, the critical element for the teacher to know the students and the students to know the teacher. How do you tackle that kind of issue as a middle school teacher working with 115 students?

Tim: 10:02 Knowing the students and their interest levels and what they enjoy and what they’re looking for, that would be some informal surveys at the beginning of the school year. From the very first night of open house, before the school year started, the parents filled out an information sheet telling me what their student excels at, what they enjoy doing. And then students fill things out and I periodically, I would say, as much as once a month, I have a short questionnaire, what’s going good? What do they like, what should we change? What adjustments do we need to make? Do they wanna move to another triad? Do they need help? Do they need tutoring? A lot of questionnaires, informally and formally, gives me the basis for those.

Steve: 11:01 Tim, it definitely sounds like there’s two curriculums in your classroom. The curriculum of math and how would you label what are some of the most important things you want kids to learn from what you might describe as your curriculum of classroom management?

Tim: 11:18 Well, the main thing I want them to experience is choices and decision making that builds character. As one of my signs says here in my classroom, character is how we act when we think no one is watching. And I can step into the hallway with confidence to get a drink of water and return to the doorway in 15 or 20 seconds and nobody is out of their seats. They’re on task, they’re talking quietly in their triad. And as my recent evaluator said, he had never seen anything like it. And he immediately scheduled a meeting with the other three principals to share with them some the things that he observed my students doing. And as a matter of fact, I got another teacher visiting my classroom today to see what’s going on and see what’s happening. So the kids feel good. And I’ve already announced to them that we’ve got another visitor coming because they want to see how beautifully they operate and cooperate. And that’s the heart of, that’s really the heart of it. I’ll say to them quite often, maybe you can memorize math and maybe you can handle concepts and procedures, but what’s going to be most important is are you going to be able to appreciate others and build relationships that will move you through the professional world and the social world?

Steve: 12:55 Well, Tim this was just, just a delight to have you share your thoughts and for people to hear the power. I hope that those people that are coming to visit your classroom, find out that what’s happening in your classroom didn’t happen by accident. There’s a lot of work and effort on your part went into making it happen. And I’ve had the experiences in schools where they create that opportunity for teachers to observe somebody successfully executing the things that you’re having happen. So if you get the chance, encourage them to talk to you about what you did that makes it all happen and what you continue to do. I mean, as soon as you open your comments with, “we take the first five days of school….,” that’s a pretty powerful statement, an investment on your part that you see pays off.

Tim: 14:02 Absolutely. I don’t pass out books until they want them, until they’re ready for them.

Steve: 14:08 I love that line. You can look for that one to be quoted by Steve Barkley. “I don’t pass out books until they want them.” I promise I’ll give you credit for it. Look for it on LinkedIn. Is LinkedIn a good spot for people to find you if they if they want follow up from hearing the podcast today?

Tim: 14:32 I think so. Mm-Hmm.

Steve: 14:33 And so if they just search Tim Seller, they’ll find you?

Tim: 14:38 Correct.

Steve: 14:40 Alright. Terrific. Thanks so much, Tim. Have a great day.

Tim: 14:43 Thank you. Been a pleasure.

Steve: 14:48 Thanks for listening in folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter at Steve Barkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkley com.

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