This is the first in an ongoing series of posts discussing readings that I complete. Some readings will relate to math or math education, some will relate to education in general, and some will just be books or articles I chose to read.
As an early-career teacher (five years in!), I’m still working to decide how I want my classroom to operate. I previously student taught and taught at private schools, so classroom management wasn’t exactly a pressing issue. Discipline pretty much took care of itself. That’s not the case at my current school: 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls from a multitude of backgrounds present challenges and opportunities that I didn’t have when I taught sophomores and juniors at an all-boys private school. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE the students I work with! I’m just aware that I need to continue developing my classroom management skills.
“You see, what I want most is a class full of happy people excitedly doing math together.” Jon Barker
My mentor teacher included that line in his syllabus, and it’s from that sentence that my philosophy toward classroom management (and teaching, in general) comes. I’m not particularly interested in rules. Nor do I care much about control or silence or punishment or any number of other things that people tend to associate with classroom management. I care about learning. I care about solutions. I care about moving together in a positive direction. I care about creating the best environment for every child to develop as students and as young men and women.
The description of Positive Discipline in the Classroom (ISBN-13: 978-0770436575) resonated with me because of its focus on precisely what I value as a teacher. The subtitle says it all: “Developing Mutual Respect, Cooperation, and Responsibility in Your Classroom.” I found some good ideas and gained some good insight from the book. Here are my highlights.
Focus on working with students to solve problems. Positive Discipline emphasizes understanding why students do what they do and collaborating with them to develop solutions to whatever issues occur in class. I’ve always pushed myself to seek out root causes for student behavior (e.g. Is the student discouraged by a lack of success in class? Does the student have something stressful going on outside the classroom? Are we moving too quickly or not quickly enough for the student?). Many times I ask students for suggestions on how we can move forward, what we can do to address issues and solve problems. I’m proud of this, but I need to take it to the next level. I need to consistently push students to take ownership of the problems we face and the proposed solutions. This is probably my top goal for the upcoming school year.
Connection before correction. Caring about students is incredibly important, but it’s not enough just to care. Students need to know that the teacher cares about them. I’ve come a long way in this regard. It’s not always easy for me to share with students how much I value their unique contributions to the school, but this year, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to do exactly that. It turns out that sharing with students and letting them know that I want the best for them IS my comfort zone! I wrote countless notes and letters to students this year to provide encouragement, offer support, or just to brighten up their days. This was not easy; it was time-consuming and taxing both mentally and emotionally. But it was SO important. I know that I will start out the year fairly shy and reserved, but I’m going to push myself even harder this year to do more to connect with my students.
Classroom jobs. I had already been toying with the idea of assigning classroom jobs. The authors suggest quite a few jobs, which I totally understand, but I think I’m going to have only one or two. Essentially, I’m thinking about a “Class Captain,” a student (or maybe two) who has a few specific responsibilities. I’m not yet entirely sure what those responsibilities will be, but here are a few ideas: making sure everyone picks up any trash from the floor before class ends; making sure everyone returns any borrowed supplies (rulers, markers, etc.) before class ends; telling me when we’ve been spending WAY too much time on a problem and we need to move on; letting me know when a student is missing. This role would rotate weekly with the randomized seating I use. I obviously need to figure out exactly how I want this role to work, but I love the idea of empowering students to lead.
There’s a lot more to Positive Discipline in the Classroom than I’ve mentioned here. I don’t claim to be 100% behind everything in the book, but I think it’s a worthwhile read for any teacher interested in improving his/her classroom management.