Depending on when your school year started, you’ve probably made it through the initial sprint of setting up routines, establishing the foundation for your class culture, and everything in between. Now as you move into the fall, it’s time to evaluate and refine your communication with families.
- How are you letting them know about your classroom’s activities?
- How are they learning about the progress of their children?
- How are you getting families involved?
Check out these four tips for communicating with your students’ families throughout the school year.
You stand in front of your class, ready to dive into the lesson for the day. Before you speak your first complete sentence, two students start an audible conversation in the back of the room. And from the corner of your eye, you notice a boy in the front taking things out of his desk. Before you can deal with those two issues, you’re interrupted by a fourth student, who yells out a question from the periphery.
It’s not even 9 AM and you’re already feeling a little overwhelmed.
If this sounds like a typical morning, you’re not alone! No matter where you teach, classroom management is paramount to learning. Fair or not, part of your performance evaluation will depend upon how well you manage your classroom so that student behavior doesn’t create a barrier to learning. So, let’s look at some key ingredients for a well-managed classroom.
I began my teaching career in January, after a December graduation.
That first day, I took a deep breath and started to tell my first period class of eighth graders about my expectations.
A boy I’ll call Ben bounced out of his seat and turned away from me.
“Sit down,” I said.
“No,” he said. “We have to say the pledge.”
Just then, the speaker crackled to life and a voice from above asked the students to stand.
Ben was a challenge throughout the semester. But the first day Pledge of Allegiance was just the first of many things that could’ve gone better — if only I’d had someone to tell me the simple things about the school’s routines, and was there to help me improve my classroom management. By the end of the semester I decided to give teaching one more year, promising myself that if it didn’t get better, I’d look for a different career. The next fall I had a new job in a different district, where I was happy to stay.
Over time, I’ve benefited from the help of many of my more experienced colleagues. And I’ve mentored numerous student teachers and first-year educators, both formally and informally, and learned from them as well. Unfortunately, many districts still expect beginning teachers to “go it alone.”
What can you do if you find yourself in this situation?
Your only choice is to be your own mentor.
Before I ever set foot in a classroom, I knew what kind of teacher I wanted to be. I created a composite in my head of all my favorite teachers. You know them, those teachers who were exactly the person you needed at exactly the moment you needed them. I wanted to be warm, funny, and to encourage creativity. I wanted to protect my students and to advocate for them. I wanted to make them write both silly and serious things and understand just how clever Shakespeare really was.
I never anticipated how difficult it would be to keep that ideal version of myself alive. There were activities I had to fight for, actions I had to justify, and ideas I had to let go. It was exhausting to maintain my ideal teacher persona. There were nights when I was packing up to head home at 9 p.m., furiously apologizing to the maintenance staff for not leaving sooner. It wasn’t until my second year that I realized all of those traits I’d envisioned weren’t about the type of teacher I wanted to be. Actually, those traits embodied the classroom culture I wanted to create for my students.
Does anyone not want to get better at classroom management? Even the most experienced teachers can find ways to make their classrooms more welcoming and productive places. But for new teachers, classroom management can feel make it or break it.
If you’ve had a rough year, congratulations on getting through it!
This summer, let’s settle in and learn how to get better at classroom management.
My first year as an instructional coach was a learning year.
I was experienced as a department chair, but the role of an instructional coach was a bit different. For starters, I was in a different district. The District of Columbia Public Schools have a robust approach to coaching called LEAP — Learning together to Advance our Practice. This method of coaching almost mirrors how assistant principals observe, except for the evaluation component. It was an adjustment at first, but LEAP has helped me to hone my craft as an intentional observer.
The school where I coach and teach, the historic Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, was America’s first Black public high school. In the first half of the twentieth century, this school was an elite institution, which attracted an extraordinary faculty. (Watch as I give a tour of the school’s museum.) Today, we remain a committed and extraordinary faculty; however, like many urban public schools, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School is a high-poverty school that has historically experienced high staff turnover. Nearly half of my ELA department is either new to the building or new to teaching.
Finally, understanding the human dynamic present within the feedback cycle is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated. Teachers are humans, just like every other professional, and their humanity must be maintained throughout the observation and feedback process. At the same time, however, instructional coaches and other school-based leaders must see the potential in each teacher and design learning opportunities that help them to see potential in themselves as well.
I learned a new word: kuleana. It’s a Hawaiian word that means one’s personal sense of responsibility. I accept my responsibilities and I will be held accountable.
As an educator, having a vision is important. We have a great responsibility to our students and to society. I’m privileged to be an educator, and part of my vision is to teach children not only academic skills, but social-emotional skills that will prepare them to master this concept of kuleana and use it throughout their lives.
This same personal sense of responsibility is naturally embedded in the work I do every day. I’m part of a community of educators who believe in the principles of the Responsive Classroom, a K-8 approach to teaching and learning which includes specific tools, strategies, and practices to help teachers provide a high-quality education to every student, every day. It’s not an add on nor a stand-alone program. These principles, woven into everything we do, how we speak, and how we model behavior, are based on research that shows a strong link between academic success and social-emotional learning.
This entry is the fifth post in the series #TchWellness.
This year, as I continue to focus on issues that impact teacher wellness, I had the opportunity to interview an expert in how we build trusting relationships: Nan Russell, author of Trust Inc.: How to Create a Business Culture That Will Ignite Passion, Engagement, and Innovation. My goal for the interview was to better understand the concept of trust and then work to increase the development of trust in my professional relationships.
Why do I trust some people and not others? As I pondered this question, I initially thought the answer may be connected to likeability. Do I trust people whom I like more? Yet, thinking back to coaches who challenged me during my days as an athlete, I realized I often trusted the coaches who pushed me the most, even if this was at the expense of a more comfortable, lighthearted relationship. I knew it had to be more complex than likeability.
As I interviewed Nan, I asked how teachers could build trust in a world that focuses heavily on performance evaluations that so often work from a deficit model, focusing on what needs to be fixed in our instructional practices.
This entry is the fourth post in the series #TchWellness.
As part of Teaching Channel’s #TchWellness series, I’m connecting with a series of authors who are helping me — and you — understand issues impacting teachers. Our first, Nan Russell, author of Trust, Inc.: How to Create a Business Culture That Will Ignite Passion, Engagement, and Innovation, recently sat down with me for an interview. Her work, not limited to education, explores how trust is developed and sustained.
Editor’s Note: Interested in Culturally Responsive Teaching? Listen to our #anewkindofPD podcast episode featuring Zaretta Hammond. Subscribe here on iTunes or Stitcher for reminders of new podcast launches.
This school year, I have the privilege of working shoulder to shoulder with teachers who are rolling up their sleeves and asking hard questions about how they can better serve their under-performing students who are disproportionately English learners, poor students, and students of color. They are working to incorporate culturally responsive practices into their classrooms.
I believe culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is a powerful method for accelerating student learning. But truth be told, most educators are not really sure what it is or what it looks like. For some, it seems mysterious. A number of leaders discount it because it seems too “touchy feely” or only focused on raising students’ self-esteem, when they need to raise achievement levels. But CRT is so much more than that. It’s the reason why I wrote Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.
Two of the biggest challenges I see teachers struggle with when first embracing CRT, is understanding the role culture actually plays in instruction and how to operationalize culturally responsive practices. They worry that they have to learn 19 different cultures — everyone’s individual customs, holidays, foods, and language. This simply isn’t true. Here are four other big ideas about culturally responsive teaching to keep in mind: Read more