Continuing our study of classroom management and culture, these two articles addressed issues that are very immediately relevant for me.
In "Assuming the Best", authors Rick Smith and Mary Lambert talk about the unwritten contract between teacher and student: The student wants to learn in a safe and structured environment, and the teacher does his/her best to provide that environment. When students act out, they are (consciously or subconsciously) testing the teacher to see if that contract will be upheld.
That, in and of itself, is not a new idea to me. There were some specifics in the article that I found valuable, though:
1.) The idea that we have our own "internal radios" projecting unhelpful static, just as the students do. While their radios are saying things like "Being seen as cool is more important than anything else" or "School is boring", our radios are picking up static like "These kids don't care" or "They're just lazy." That negativity can poison our relationship with our students and render useless any tactics that we might employ to gain their compliance. (As Victoria pointed out two weeks ago in our meeting, mere compliance is not the objective: engagement is.)
2.) How we correct behavior is as important as that we correct it. There were some incidents this week that I think I handled well on this front, but in other cases my tone was too harsh and the correction may have been too public. I'm still figuring out how to convey a firm, serious tone without it coming out unnecessarily harsh, and it gets harder when I'm short on sleep. I've got to remember to keep taking care of myself so I don't take out my own exhaustion on the students.
3.) The idea of the "Two by Ten" strategy intrigues me. (That means spending two minutes a day for ten days talking with your toughest student about whatever interests them -- as long as the conversation stays G-rated.) I can already think of a few students I want to try this with -- if I can keep them from running away from me. ^_^
Some of the ideas suggested in the article seem more immediately useful than others. The concept of building behavior rubrics (a set of guidelines for what good behavior should look like in various situations) sounds good in principle, but my mind shudders at the thought of any more organizational prep work when I'm already up until midnight three or four nights a week working on lesson plans.
The other article, "Reaching the Fragile Student", talks about creating an inviting learning environment that won't turn off students -- especially those whose lives, frankly, suck in a lot of ways we can't control. Our school is off to a good start with this, I think, in that no student ever gets a grade below a B: if your work isn't up to expectations, you have to fix it or take the class over again. Classes that you don't complete with at least a B don't give you any credit hours and aren't included on your transcript. Of course, we do have to deal with the problem of students who are (for example) juniors by age and 9th-graders by credit accumulation, but better for them to stay and learn with us than to end up with a diploma that isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
This article also talks about looking to heal conflicts through mediation rather than just suppress them with punishment. I had a couple of experiences with that yesterday, one of which I'll share here:
One of my students, A., is smart and diligent in her own work but has trouble relating to other people. She seems to have a big pile of resentments built up from the way people have treated her over the years, and it's caused her to put up defensive walls that make her seem mean and off-putting. She despises group work and doesn't want to collaborate with anyone. As a quite dark-skinned African-American woman in a school that is 85% Latino, she feels alienated from the people around her; she believes that the other students won't work with her because they're racist. That makes her more angry and defensive, which causes people to pull away from her even more -- thus reinforcing her opinions. When the class divided into teams for a project, she was the last person left unpicked and refused to work with the team that was assigned to her.
I talked to her yesterday in private about how we project impressions to the people around us, and how her very self-confident, "go to hell" persona was intimidating to others. I shared my own feelings of isolation, being an Anglo man in a Latino school, and that seemed to resonate with her. Racism, I said, is a hard thing to deal with directly because you can never know what's going on in another person's heart, and all you can do is strive to be the best person you can be so that others have a chance to see that whatever prejudices they might have don't apply to you.
I told A. that she's going to need to be willing to open up and be vulnerable, to risk getting hurt, in order to give people the chance to make a positive connection with her -- essentially, she needs to try to "assume the best" about her classmates. I then suggested several individuals in the class who could make good partners, and she agreed that a few of the ones I suggested were nice and would talk to her. I'm hoping that this will be the beginning of a new start for her, and that she can take the risky step of giving someone a chance to be her friend.