Saturday, August 29, 2015

Committing to Classroom Management

People are people, and in particular, kids are kids.
Human nature is distorted by sin, and on top of that, adolescence carries challenges all its own.
Assuming these statements are true, does it follow to say that schools are schools?
Perhaps, in the sense that no school is perfect, and every school has its own issues.
Perhaps not, in the sense that some schools are just plain healthier than others.

Classroom management means something completely different for me than it did for my brother during his time teaching on the Pineridge Reservation, and something completely different than it does for teachers in many inner-city schools in America.

My classroom management is not dictated by an urgent concern for students' physical safety, for the prevention of fights in the classroom, or for keeping students from simply leaving school mid-day.

Indeed, by these criteria, my record is spotless.

However, my students have their own challenges, and this is where my classroom management must be directed.

I have students from all over the world and I treasure this diversity in a single classroom.  However, in a setting where different perspectives are inevitable, students can be reluctant to speak up for fear of ridicule--even something so subtle as rolled eyes or a quiet sigh from a classmate.  This is what classroom management needs to address in my setting.

I have students who by and large have access to technology at all times: the laptops they are loaned by the school, home-computers, smart-phones, video games.  Varying levels of addiction to their screens, whether it be YouTube, a certain game, or a certain social networking site are not uncommon.  This is what classroom management needs to address in my setting.

I have students who desire to do well in school, but tend to over-commit, trying to tackle one or two too many AP classes along with co-curricular activities.  Setting goals and managing time do not always come naturally.  This is what classroom management needs to address in my setting.

Interestingly, the students are just as aware of this as I am.  For their first assignment in my class, as mentioned in last week's post, they had to read my course syllabus and then post to a discussion forum on our course Moodle suggesting a classroom policy that would support one of our two major classroom rules: 1) Respect and 2) Cultivating a Comfortable, Healthy Learning Environment.

I read through nearly 50 posts.  50 policies would be too many, so I looked for repeats, recurring themes or policies that could be combined.  In the end, I was left with the following set of policies:

  • Expect that others will see things differently--disagree respectfully, agree supportively ("supportively" meaning: have reasons for agreeing--don't just say, "I agree").
  • No putdowns of classmates’ ideas or character--this includes nonverbal cues (rolling eyes, making faces).
  • Listen carefully and attentively to whoever is speaking or contributing--no chatting or interrupting.
  • Encourage and challenge one another, and yourself.
  • Put yourself in others’ shoes--be understanding and gracious.

Classroom environment:
  • Food is allowed, but keep the classroom clean!
  • Only use computers when instructed.
  • Computers are a tool to be used for classroom tasks; don’t misuse! 
  • Phones, off-task books, other homework should be stored in your backpack or locker.
  • Use your time well, and if you finish your work, look for ways to help classmates who are behind.
This is the product of the students' work, and not mine--I simply boiled the list down from the policies they recommended.  On Thursday, the students signed their names to a poster sheet with these policies written on them, effectively entering into a contract to consciously work on, encourage and protect these things.   We agreed upon a warning-consequence structure, though the details may vary depending on the policy.

I intend to refer back to these policies regularly with the students to review and reflect upon how we are doing, and to determine how we could be doing better.

My hope and prayer is that by the end of the year, the students will not need me to warn them or police them, that they will be able to hold themselves and one another accountable.  Already, I am seeing evidence that many of the students feel invested in these policies--ownership is exactly what I was going for in inviting them into the process of writing them.  I am committed to doing my part to help the students make these rules and policies genuine, internal values.  It won't always be easy, but then, the most worthwhile lessons rarely are.


  1. Hurray, Nate. So good to read of how you are putting your convictions into action!

  2. Hurray, Nate. So good to read of how you are putting your convictions into action!