Thursday, October 1, 2015

Effective classroom teachers successfully integrate four critical skills into their classrooms:
1. Content Planning
2. Assessment
3. Instruction
4. Classroom Culture/Management

In this post, I'll describe some of the elements of effective classroom culture.

All education is ultimately self-education, but teachers play a critical role in only guiding students' learning but in providing an orderly and gracious place where learning can best happen. Classroom environment has often been described in terms of managing the behavior and actions of students, and while this is necessary, it isn't a substitute for teachers creating a class culture of mutual respect and a love of learning. 

In an effective classroom, the teacher's interactions with students are professional and respectful, warm and loving. These will be expressed differently, of course, accounting for differences of temperament of both teacher and student. But the character of the effective classroom is one of kindness and respectfulness. Certainly teachers must be the undisputed authority in the room, but this doesn't mean that the classroom is a cold place. Warm and courteous relations are the norm in the effective classroom.

As the tone-setter in the room, the teacher can help students to fit comfortably into this culture by carefully thinking out in advance, and communicating clearly to students,the expectations they have for routines and movements. Students need to know what is appropriate to say, how to move, what to do, how to ask for help, etc., for each activity and transition. Again, the point isn't control but a classroom that runs smoothly so that students can get on with the business of learning. The fuzzier the expectations are, or the less consistently they are applied, the more potential trouble the teacher is encouraging in the room. And this is, of course, very detrimental to learning. Teachers who don't clearly communicate expectations or who don't consistently enforce them are, in effect, training their students to disregard them. If there is turmoil in this classroom, the problem is much more with the teacher than the students.

Effective teachers take time to practice routines and transitions early in the year, particularly with younger students. While this will take class time up front, experienced teachers know that in the long run much more time is gained since students will move quickly and efficiently between activities. Teachers who are too concerned about curriculum to teach necessary routines will experience frustration as the year goes on.

Teachers who do these things well also consider the arrangement of the room and how even the furniture will best support learning and classroom culture. Wisdom is required here, since classes of students vary from year to year or class to class, and what might work very well for one group of students might be inviting trouble in another. 

When it comes to enforcing classroom or school rules, effective teachers know how to do this in a way that communicates to the student that the teacher is 'on their side'. The consequence (whatever it may be) is necessary and is, in fact, for the student's good. Teachers who stay calm and who doggedly refuse to take disobedience personally are in a much better position to communicate graciously (if firmly) to the student.

When conflicts happen--and they will--effective teachers are able to avoid a mere behavior modification approach,which can work for the short term, but rather are able to get to heart issues with students, which is the only way to make classroom discipline gospel-centered. What is needed is internal motivation rather than external conformity. An effective classroom culture should be one that explicitly and implicitly teaches and supports the cultivation of wisdom, virtue, and godliness of students and teachers.

Classroom Culture/Management Checklist:
-The teacher's interactions with students are mutually respectful
-The teacher communicates predictability and support to students
-The teacher has carefully thought out and clearly communicated instructions for routines and transitions
-The teacher has considered how room arrangement may support learning and classroom management
-Students practice classroom routines
-The teacher is consistent in enforcing school and class rules in such a way that students know that the teacher is on their side, wanting them to be successful
-The teacher does not take conflicts personally
-The teacher communicates frequently with parents, and works together with parents on behavior and character issues

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