Sunday, July 25, 2010

Engaging classrooms "manage" themselves...




 I'm not too sure- do authentic, inspirational classrooms have to be 'managed?' When teachers use the term "classroom management," they generally mean managing behavior in the classroom. I've worked with the most challenging students imaginable from first grade through tenth grade and I have never understood this terminology.

The term management has many different connotations. From http://www.answers.com/, management is defined as:
n.

1.The act, manner, or practice of managing; handling, supervision, or control: management of a crisis; management of factory workers.
2.The person or persons who control or direct a business or other enterprise.
3.Skill in managing; executive ability.

There's a common theme in all three versions of the noun 'management' above. Each connotes an element of control... a word that also has an excessively broad spectrum of connotations. Of course teachers need to be in control, but what does that mean in a classroom context? To me, it's simple- teachers need to be in control of the learning process, and if they do this well, there will be no imminent need to manage student behavior at all because kids will feel so engaged in the process of learning that they won't have any idle time for their thoughts to wander.

Kids, no matter the age, need to feel engaged. They feel engaged in a classroom because the learning activities they are involved in capture their interest; they're fun and they don't feel like a chore to be endured. Teachers can create engaging classrooms in a multitude of ways, and I'm going to begin a new series of posts with this one dedicated to sharing those that have worked for me. They worked for me in classrooms that most teachers will never experience filled with kids who arrived there as the most disengaged students imaginable.

Before working as a middle school counsellor, and now as an elementary school vice-principal, I taught in First Nations communities and behavioral programs for fourteen years. My experiences weren't just career altering, they were life-changing. I wish to share some of my experience with you in the effort to initiate dialog surrounding engaging teaching. There should be no end to the professional conversation surrounding engagement in the learning process... the issue of engagement permeates everything teachers do. Engaging students is arguably our most important responsibility.

Rule of Engagement # 1: Talk to students.
This sounds so simple. Why then do so many teachers not understand this rule? My take is that we get so caught up in the scripted teaching we feel we're expected to deliver that we forget we're teaching young people; people with personalities... strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, talents and challenges that may or may not jive with our scripted teaching usually designed inadequately to address the majority of faceless kids in class- the infamous cohort of kids who supposedly fit the mean. Here's a bit of news for us all- there is no average student in any class anywhere.

Every single child in every single classroom is unique, worth celebrating and needs us to talk to them sincerely and purposefully- not at them with our scripted teacher talk. When we do this we show kids we are serious about building a relationship with them as individuals; that we care and we want to help them be successful. We can't go wrong with this message.

Talk to kids about their strengths, their anxieties, their families, their lives away from school... and about the daily things that just happen. Forging on with the script knowing there are kids not really 'with' you, for whatever reason, is professionally irresponsible... we have to make sure every kid is engaged, and if not, we shouldn't be moving on without them, we should be talking to them about what's bothering them and hindering them from being present and mindful in class.

Talk to kids.
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