Don't Miss the Main Thing

November 29, 2017

I may make more mistakes than most principals, but I try not to make them twice. I'm constantly reflecting.

 

Earlier this year, I received an e-mail from a teacher looking for some feedback. She was finalizing her classroom management plan and preparing to share it with parents. This got me thinking..."What would my classroom management plan look like if I was still teaching 2nd grade?"

 

I'm not sure how helpful I was, but I tried jotting down a few things that I would want to convey to families about classroom community. I eventually shared my formative thoughts with the teacher who had been interested in feedback, but I continued thinking about classroom management long after she and I chatted.

 

I recently went back to reread what I had shared with her and cringed. It seemed as if I had missed the "main thing." The reflections I shared with her several months ago are listed below. 

 

My Classroom Management Thoughts

 

Parent Partnership: Believe it or not, the effective classroom management flows from strong parent-teacher communication. There will be times when you become aware of an issue that might not be on my radar yet. Please reach out anytime to share with me because your child's hopes, dreams, and concerns mean more to me than you might imagine. If you're ever in doubt about an approach I've taken it's best to ask me about it. 

 

Child-Centered Environment: Our classroom is designed with the success and developmental level of your child in mind. This includes designing a space conducive to play, exploration, cooperative learning, independent work, and more. It also includes access to a large library of books, songs, and other learning experiences that reflect the wonderfully diverse group of students in our classroom.

 

Clear Expectations: We will clearly communicate classroom expectations so students understand what's required to be safe and learn. Your child is encouraged to ask for help anytime something is unclear, and I'll do my best to be proactive and scaffold learning activities so all children are successful.

 

Classroom Routines: We will practice routines together and discuss how and why they are important to our classroom community.

 

Emphasis on Positive Character and Empathy: We will take time to learn about positive character through our school's 6 Pillars of Character from the Josephson Institute. We will also take time to examine other people's perspectives. This can be challenging for a kindergartener, so please be patient as we grow in this together.

 

Modeling: I will model treating others with respect and dignity so your child has a chance to learn by observing me work with students, my colleagues, and parent volunteers.

 

Teachable Moments: We will use misunderstandings and mistakes as a springboard to learning and deeper empathy. Our goal is not to create a mistake-free environment, but a community of learners who grow each and every day.

 

Celebrations: We will celebrate learning and success in many different ways. Sometimes we'll gather as an entire school for Character Assemblies, but most often we'll simply celebrate the innate value of being curious by asking questions and learning together.

 

"Take a Break" Spot: This is a safe space in our classroom where anybody can go to regroup, relax, and take a break. This is not intended to be a teacher-directed tool, and by the end of the year, I hope you'll notice that students are empowered to use the chair when they see value in it. (We'll also work towards providing students the choice of where to take these breaks since this is how most adults prefer to regroup and recharge.)

 

Gentle Reminders: From time to time, all children will have difficulty during the school day. When this occurs, I will provide age-appropriate reminders that may involve non-verbal signals, redirection, practicing expected routines, or simply standing close to your child. (Sometimes simply being in close proximity is the perfect support a student might need to move past a challenge.) I will always take great care to maintain your child's dignity. I will not yell, demean, or intentionally single your child out.

 

"Stop and Think" Slip: These slips are a tool I use to teach skills and expectations while other students might be working. I typically try to tap into some of the strategies above prior to using a "Stop and Think" slip, so don't be alarmed if you do not see too many of these slips during the year. Rest assured, many productive conversations are occurring. I will be sure to send home Stop and Think slips so you can respond to me with any questions or let me know what I may have missed. (I do ask that you sign and return the tickets indicating you had the opportunity to hear your child's heart on the issue at hand as well.)

 

Additional Support: Our school principal, teacher support specialist, and the rest of the team stand ready to support your child as well. If any of these professionals work with your child we will let you know. If there's anything I can do to support your child's success please let me know. I'm always learning and open to feedback if your child is not responding to the support and guidance we're providing.

 

More Reflections on Classroom Management

 

So let's talk about what I missed. At this point, I feel the need to ask you to go easy on me because there are probably a multitude of things that I missed in my management plan. There's a lot of wordsmithing that needs to happen, and probably even more word-chopping. (Not sure if that's a real word or thing, but it needs to happen.)

 

It seems like I should have included "building relationships" as a top priority and part of my management plan. Deeper learning and student success are unlikely in the absence of a meaningful relationship.

 

You might be thinking that this is so obvious that it doesn't need to be mentioned in writing. I actually do think it should be mentioned. Students are real human beings who will undoubtedly come to school with talents and passions of their own. Failing to unearth these passions is a recipe for mediocre leadership and teaching.

 

So, here's what I would add to my initial draft if I could do it again.

 

Building Relationships: I'm committed to getting to know your child as an individual with passions and talents that we can learn from. I will strive to tap into those talents throughout the school year so that your child develops a sense of belonging, and an increased capacity for success. I believe lasting learning starts with a heart-to-heart connection. I am committed to getting to know your child's heart while also making mine vulnerable.

 

One Final Reflection

 

I've always believed that discipline should be done in the spirit of "dignity" and emphasize "teaching" over punishment.  It never occurred to me that some of the things I was doing when I started teaching could be done better or differently. Two years ago, Pernille Ripp wrote a blog post about publicly shaming students that still inspires me to think deeply about how I work with students. I'd encourage you to read it HERE

 

 

 

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Dr. Brad Gustafson is an elementary principal, author, and speaker. He believes schools can be spaces where creativity and innovation thrive, but only when we prioritize relationships and a relevant, connected pedagogy. 

 

Connect on email at:

AdjustingCourse@gmail.com

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