Top three classroom management tips that have nothing to do with procedures

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my profession, I have worked with first-year teachers, seasoned teachers, and teachers in between and have noticed one common thread – struggles with classroom management. This is not to say that all of the teachers I have worked with have classroom management issues – instead what I’m saying is that when I see issues in a classroom, or ask a teacher what their biggest struggle is, classroom management is usually at the top of the list.

When I see classroom management issues, I can usually see the reasons for it. It isn’t always about procedures and it isn’t always about whether the teacher has prepared a meaningful lesson that will reasonably take the whole class period to complete. Often, it has so much more to do with the way the teacher interacts with his/her students.

I’d like to point out the three most important things (in my opinion) to consider when examining the reasons behind classroom management issues:

1. Like children. We all got into this profession, hopefully, because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. However, I have seen teachers who clearly do not like kids. Whether they have always disliked youngsters or whether they have become burnt out and resent them, the result is always the same – constant battles between students who are keenly aware of their teacher’s dislike for them and the teachers who are just counting the minutes until class is over.

If you find yourself in a position where you are quick to make statements like “kids nowadays have no respect” or “teenagers are just a bag of hormones” – you may want to step back and see your students for what they are – young versions of the adults you and others will influence them to be. Young people are all the hope and possibilities contained in our futures, wrapped up in little bodies and brains that are (or can be) excited into wonder. Be in awe of them as they walk in your door. Smile at the realization that you have been given one more class period to be a part of who that child will be for the rest of his/her life.

2. Have clean slates. I’m not talking about making sure to clean your whiteboards or chalkboards, I’m talking about wiping clean the slate in your brain that says “Johnny always gives me trouble” or “Susan never has her books”. This slate absolutely must be clean every single time a student walks in your door. If you are remembering Julio acting up during yesterday’s class while he is trying to answer the question you just asked, you will react differently to his answer than you would if you had wiped the slate clean. It is so important that each new day is truly new – that our students understand that if they made a mistake yesterday, it will not be held against them today. If you tend to hold grudges, or predict how your “troublemakers” are going to react, the result will be constant battles with specific students which quite possibly could be because of your own influence.

3. Think about the big picture. I have witnessed teachers spending many precious minutes of instructional time enforcing rules that have no bearing on the potential for learning in that classroom. If I have a rule that says my students cannot chew gum in my class, and it takes me the first five minutes of class each day to make students spit their gum out, I’ve just placed gum as the most important thing in that classroom for the day. We all know it is going to take longer than five minutes in a secondary classroom, because students who are subject to rules that make no sense to them will stretch those rules to see how far they can go. I’m using gum as an example, but what I want you to do is take a look at the rules you have in place – are they really necessary? Did you just add this one because the teacher next door has it on her list? Does it really matter if Tanya has a pierced lip?

Ask yourself: Does this affect the ability of students in my classroom to learn? If the answer is yes, then it must be a part of the rules you enforce in your classroom. If the answer is no, choose your battles wisely, because it is very easy for us to make a small situation much worse and demand much more time than is warranted. When working with teenagers, this is especially important because when they are in your classroom and you think they are thinking about other things, they are often considering the reasoning behind the rules and the reasoning behind the assignment you just gave them. If they cannot “buy in” to why they have to comply, they won’t, and some of those students will turn nonsensical rules and irrelevant assignments into the miserable hours of disciplinary issues that some teachers face daily.

I’m not trying to say that procedures should get thrown out the door. Obviously, there must be procedures in a day of learning that has so much in it and so little time. These tips are just a way to think about classroom management AFTER you have the procedures in place and are still struggling.

Take a look at your style from an outsider perspective. Then take a look at it from a student perspective. Reflect on those perspectives and make the changes necessary to provide the best learning environment for your students. You will go home at night much less stressed and there is a bonus – you will build stronger relationships with your students.

Even then

I’m working on a master’s degree in Sociology with a focus on cultures and institutions. Today, I came across an interesting observation in a paper written in 1903 by Georg Simmel entitled The Metropolis and Mental Life. I have nothing to add to what he says here. I’m sure that educators will understand its meaning, and considering this idea has been around for over 100 years, can ponder on the reasons why things have still gotten to where they are today:

Here in buildings and educational institutions, in the wonders and comforts of space-conquering technology, in the formations of community life, and in the visible institutions of the state, is offered such an overwhelming fullness of crystallized and impersonalized spirit that the personality, so to speak, cannot maintain itself under its impact. On the one hand, life is made infinitely easy for the personality in that stimulations, interests, uses of time and consciousness are offered to it from all sides. They carry the person as if in a stream, and one needs hardly to swim for oneself. On the other hand, however, life is composed more and more of these impersonal contents and offerings which tend to displace the genuine personal colorations and incomparabilities. This results in the individual’s summoning the utmost in uniqueness and particularization, in order to preserve his most personal core. He has to exaggerate this personal element in order to remain audible even to himself.

Microsoft vs. the Google

This year’s ISTE conference has been a very different experience for me. It is the first time I’ve attended without having a presentation obligation. I’ve really enjoyed having power over my own schedule and I’ve noticed some things that I believe may be unique to this year.

One of the things I’ve noticed is an increased presence from Microsoft. Beginning on Saturday when they started handing out free Surface RT tablets, continuing when Bing made the announcement about Bing for Schools, then surprising me when Bill Gates himself tweeted using the ISTE13 hashtag. I know he was tweeting for the foundation, but Microsoft still comes to mind when one sees that name.

I had a bit of a Twitter conversation with Mark Wallaert, who is a behavioral scientist working for Bing, and it really got me thinking about how Google is embedded in education and Microsoft is sort of skirting around the outside of it.

Google has been working its way into classrooms for years. There are thousands of teachers who have adopted the free and easy-to-use Google docs in their classroom, districts have adopted the free Google Apps for Education, and ISTE has been full of sessions about how to maximize the use of free Google products. All of this seems very nice of Google, but the company has actually earned millions of dollars from the advertising that appears in searches at schools across the country, so don’t feel sorry for them.

I have always been a Microsoft user who also loves Google. Because of pricing, I choose to use the PC platform and my first smart phone, by choice was Windows based. I’m an Android user now, but that would be a topic for another blog post. I have spent the bulk of my adult life in the corporate world, not the education world. In that universe, Microsoft is king. In the education world, it is not.

Will Microsoft take a bite out of the education market with the roll out of the new Bing for schools project? Time will tell. It is just interesting to me that Microsoft is making the move for the education community – I will be standing on the sidelines with my Surface tablet, iPad mini, Android phone, and PC laptop, ready for the ride!

Tell me what you think . . .

Things I never remember to do at ISTE

I’m not a newbie at ISTE, but I wouldn’t call myself a veteran, either. I have attended a few, but I never attend two consecutive years. This means that I have two years, at minimum, to completely forget all of the things that I learn when I attend. Here are some of the things I’m realizing that I have forgotten this year. I’m sharing in the hopes that typing and reading this list will help me remember next time. I also hope it might help someone who is visiting ISTE for the first time not feel quite so much like a newbie:

1. I really wish I had thought to get shirts printed with my Twitter handle. Either that or purchase one of these cool Twitter nametags. This isn’t an ego thing – I just really like to connect with folks who are in my Twitter network, and the more of us who are walking around with our Twitter handle visible, the easier those connections can be. I also really like Dave Tchozewski‘s wish that we all have our Twitter handles hanging above our heads in word clouds, but that augmented reality app isn’t quite perfected yet.

2. Once again, I totally forgot to bring printed sheets of address labels with my contact information so that I could sign up for anything and everything in the massive exhibit hall. Truth is, I normally run from the exhibit hall after just a couple of minutes of exposure – it is just too much for my easily distracted mind to take in. However, this year my main goal is to last at least one hour in there, and the stickers would have been nice. If you see me in there tomorrow, ask me how long I’ve been there – and encourage me to meet my goal. It will be difficult, but I am up to the challenge!

3. I never remember to pace myself or to take restful breaks. This means that I’m overloaded and worn out by 2:00 (which is also why I have this rare moment to write blog posts - I’ve already returned to my hotel for the afternoon. For those of you who are attending ISTE on school business, this works out okay if you do like I did and arrive a couple of days early to take in HackED or workshops, or other pre-conference offerings. We don’t normally work on Saturdays or Sundays, so the hours you accumulate on those days can spread through Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, to complete your full work day.

4. Bring cash. In my “regular” life, I never carry cash. Transactions with me are strictly a plastic or app exchange. When I’m in the same location for this long, I really need to have cash on hand to tip hotel staff, valets, etc., and I never have it with me. Note to hotel staff, etc.: If you got one of those nifty gadgets that plug into your smart phone and allows you to take credit card payments, I would be really generous!

It isn’t all forgetfulness, though. Some of the things I have done right this year are:

1. I took Kathy Schrock’s advice and purchased a case for the Surface tablet. I bought a cheap one and had it shipped to my hotel so that when I returned to my hotel on Saturday with Surface in hand, the case was waiting for me at the hotel desk.

2. I’ve been very strategic about what I carry with me. I’m quite happy using my phone (an HTC Evo LTE) as my only mobile device. I can do anything I need to do with it. Blogging isn’t so comfortable on it, but I would be lying if I told you I will ever blog during the conference. I always reserve that for reflection at the end of the day.

3. I actually remembered to bring a water bottle this year. It is great to be hydrated all day without having to purchase an expensive bottle of water at the convention or wander the streets of San Antonio looking for a CVS.

4. This is something I never fail to do at ANY conference – I found Starbucks! There are a bunch of them close to the convention center. The best ones of the nearby stores are the ones in the lobbies of the Marriott Rivercenter and the Marriott Riverwalk.

Enjoy the conference! 

Parents need to know

I was lurking around in an #edchat Twitter conversation this morning when the discussion turned to the question of why parents do not cry out against standardized testing in education. I began thinking about the 15 (yes, that is a number high enough I don’t have to spell it out according to grammatical rules) tests that each student in Texas must now pass in order to graduate from high school. It has taken a long evolution to get us here, but here we are, expecting every student (in some districts) to grasp the concepts of physics, every student to understand more Chemistry than I did as a second year science major in college, every student to embrace the concepts of pre-calculus to the extent that they can pass an exam at the “end” of the year (the tests are mostly finished by the end of April).

I am old enough to remember the movement that started all of this. I remember hearing news stories about people graduating from high school who couldn’t read or sign their own name, perform simple addition and subtraction, or compose a complete sentence. Appalling, yes. How did we get from there to here?

I believe it has a lot to do with trust.

Parents trust the education community to be the experts – to know the best practices that facilitate student achievement. The slow evolution of testing from making sure every student has the basics – reading, writing, and arithmetic – to this expectation that every student is a carbon copy of the next one, and therefore, should know exactly the same things before graduating from high school has effectively desensitized parents (and I say this as a parent myself). It simply doesn’t register when our 3rd grader wakes up one morning, begging us to cook a huge breakfast for him because his teacher said he would fail his high-stakes test if he didn’t eat well, that there is something wrong with a child this age being stressed about performance. We don’t connect the dots when our sixth grader calls herself stupid in math when it used to be the subject she loved the most that her confidence level is directly proportional to the score she got on the district benchmark test.

Parents trust that the institution forced upon every child in America knows what it’s doing, and the fancy titles “Exemplary”, “Recognized”, an “A+ school” are indicators of student success, but what they don’t know is that these titles are only measures in a moment of time. These measures only reflect how much that student knew in that moment when they were taking their test. It has more to do with “cramming” and test-taking strategies than it does with any skill needed to live a successful, productive life.

As a parent, I am disgusted with the importance that is placed on test scores. I am disgusted with grading policies that reflect how well my kids can comply with their teachers’ directives than how well they can apply what they know.

I have wished that I didn’t know – that I could just trust.

The good news is, I see a revolution on the way. I see more and more parents saying “wait a minute!” and asking the questions that need to be asked, giving their children the okay to not stress about the test, and demanding recognition that each student be seen as an individual, not one who came from the same blueprint as the next one, but one whose unique abilities and interests should be championed. Even students are keenly aware of the impact this reduction in their individual worth has had on their own futures and are speaking out.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take too long for them to be heard.


Because I am a teacher

When I was in college, I had a professor tell me that I was made to be a science teacher. At the time, I was an English major and science was the furthest thing from my mind. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that she was right. It was my Biology class that I was excited to go to each week and my English classes I dreaded.

Still, she had said “teacher”, and I wasn’t so sure about that. I had teachers through my K-12 education who had made me want to be a teacher and I had teachers during that same time that made me want to have nothing to do with education. I was skeptical.

During my sophomore year, I got a paid gig doing supplemental instruction for Biology students. This wasn’t tutoring, per se, it involved planning on my part. I had to attend various Bio lectures, then create a supplemental lesson plan designed to revisit the content from lecture in more visual or hands-on ways. My students were usually either athletes who were being forced to attend by their coaches or non-traditional students who really didn’t want to have to pay for the class more than once.

I found that I loved those classes. I loved sitting in the lectures, I loved planning, I loved getting to know my students, and I loved differentiating for them (before I had ever heard that word in reference to education).

I changed my major to Science Education, then Biology itself, and happily continued pursuit of a degree. During my senior year, I found myself restless and anxious to finish, anxious to have my own students. At the time, Yahoo had a feature that allowed users to create chat rooms and I began to create one called “Biology tutoring”. I would get students from all over the word and of all ages. A few continued to chat with me throughout their Biology experience (and two of them still contact me from time to time, all grown up). I found these little snippets of “teaching” to be something like sustenance.

Fast forward through my high school science teacher career to where I am today, an instructional technology specialist. This means I don’t have a classroom – or students. I take on teaching gigs for online classes, which helps to sate my appetite for teaching young people. However, I have discovered one way that also satisfies that need without any effort on my part – a YouTube video.

Yes, a YouTube video. Not just any video, but one that I uploaded three years ago. This thing is embarrassingly simple and goofy-looking. I created it quickly to help some of my online Chemistry students learn an alternative to dimensional analysis. I posted it to YouTube for them. I never thought that three years later, I would be approaching 20,000 views.

The part about the video that satisfies me are the comments. They ebb and flow. Sometimes I will get a new comment each week. Other times, I might have to wait a month, but those comments always give me that warm fuzzy feeling all over again. Sometimes they just tell me thanks, sometimes they ask me questions (which I try to always respond to), and sometimes they share the video with their friends or teachers.

I have the heart of a teacher. I might not be in a classroom. There might not be any students who even know my name, but I have made a difference to, surprisingly, mostly college students who are struggling through Chemistry and find my video.

When we are struggling with whatever stresses are coming our way – and as educators, this is an ongoing flow – we must always remember that we are making a difference – because we are teachers.

DENSI field trip fashion

I’ve been participating in the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute (affectionately called DENSI) since Saturday. Today, we took a field trip to Yellowstone National Park. This trip brought the number of things that DENSI has crossed off my bucket list to three:

  • Visit Montana
  • Visit Wyoming
  • Visit Yellowstone National Park

It was a great trip, and if you do a search for #DENSI2012, you will find all kinds of pictures on Flickr, tweets on Twitter, and probably blog posts from other participants.

What I want to talk about today is gear. This institute is all about technology, so everyone always brings lots of it. I have been experimenting over the last year with scaling down, so the tech I brought with me fit into a small bag. In the spirit of my experiment, I thought a lot about what I wanted to take with me on the field trip.

As we loaded on to the buses, I saw lots of people with stuffed backpacks. I even saw some taking large tripods. I know that a place like Yellowstone definitely calls for tripods for some serious photography, and this post does not mean to say the people who took them are wrong. On the contrary, I would say that for them, it was definitely right. Do a search on Flickr for #DENSI2012 and you will see some incredible photos and I bet some of them were taken by the people who took their tripods.

I had carefully chosen the items I would take with me. Here is my photo, just before getting on the bus. I would like to suggest that my choice of gear was appropriate – for me. I do not have a nice camera, and as I said before, I am experimenting with traveling light. Take a look at the photo and tell me what I missed.

Did you guess what I forgot? Yes, I have a bright red forehead now, because I decided I didn’t need sunscreen. Oh well, the rest of my gear served me well. I got some decent pictures with my phone because of some tips we received from a professional photographer on the way to the park, I got some videos to add to the institute video collection, and I looked cool with my tripod hanging off my wallet, just like the guy in front of me in the line to get frozen yogurt looked cool with his gorilla tripod hanging out of his back pocket.

How about you? What would you take?