Far More Than Meets the Eye: Becoming an Effective Manager of Student Behavior

February 13, 2009 at 2:43 pm 3 comments

posted by Pam Jones ’05, Bank Street advisor and instructor

pamjones“One, two, three, eyes on me.  One, two, eyes on you!”  This is but one of countless examples of attention-getting strategies used by teachers in the hopes of instantly capturing the attention of a classroom full of students.  Time and again, we (as teachers) have searched for that perfect phrase or signal–in short, that magical “trick” that will cast a spell over our classes to render them attentive, focused, and obedient.  While the quest for this elusive mantra continues, we have begun to realize that effective management involves far more than the ever-so-perfectly-worded phrase.

Teachers, especially those new to the field, want (and even need) to find that “trick” that will help either establish or regain control of a class of students.  The desire to find this quick fix is even understandable in some ways, as new teachers are too often overwhelmed by excessive demands on their time.  It is therefore no wonder that the novice pedagogue would seek the shortcut about which they have dreamed and of which they have heard many stories!

One of the courses I teach here at Bank Street is entitled “Designing and Managing Classroom Environments for Children and Youth with Special Needs, K and Up.”  Eagerly and expectantly, many new teachers enter this course hoping that I will impart quick tips that will translate into classrooms that run smoothly moments after implementation.  Much to some students’ dismay, they realize rather quickly that there are no quick fixes because I tell them this straightaway.

On the heels of this check-in with reality, I provide my students with news that proves to be even more valuable–especially in the long run. The groundbreaking work of Ruth Sidney Charney and others has proven that good management and positive classroom environments are not products of coincidence but, rather, are the result of careful, consistent, and clear cultivation of certain key factors.  I tell my students that while there are no quick fixes or magical phrases, good and solid classroom management is indeed possible and involves thoughtful and consistent application of the following ingredients:  (1) knowing themselves and people and learners, (2) getting to know their students and hearing their students’ voices, (3) community building within the classroom, (4) collaborating with their students’ families, and (5) collaborating with colleagues.  I have called these the “five dimensions” and students in my course leave with a deeper understanding of these dimensions and the important role that they play in the cultivation of a classroom environment in which students respect one another and are able to learn from and support one another.  So how do we make this happen?

  • Knowing Yourself as an Educator: The most effective educators–those who are able to understand and manage a range of behaviors–are those who truly know themselves as learners and as people.
  • Knowing Your Students (Hearing Students’ Voices): Getting to know your students (that is, who they really are as people and as learners), is one of the most important things you can do as caring and empathic educators. The more that you know about your students and who they are as people will help you design, manage, and teach them better.
  • Community Building: Taking the time to build a classroom community that is built on mutual trust, respect, and support can foster the growth and development of positive behaviors and prevent many unwanted/negative behaviors.
  • Collaborating with Families: Who knows more about a child than his/her family? Educators who take the time to get to know their students’ families will be in a better position to intervene more successfully with students for behavioral, social, and academic reasons. Collaboration with families is crucial and non-negotiable.
  • Collaborating with Colleagues: The most effective designers, managers, and teachers are ones who act as teams. In order to effect change, real change in the lives of students with any type of ability or disability, team-based intervention is the key. Acting together, in concert with one’s colleagues, is the best way to achieve real and lasting change in the lives of all children.

As we consider these essential “factors” in the classroom management equation, the conversation about effective classroom management is just beginning.  For any teachers who read this piece, I hope that they walk away with a message that is at once both sobering and hopeful–sobering in that there are no fast answers, yet hopeful in the knowledge that there is much that can and should be done to grow our classrooms into caring, effective, and functioning communities of learning.

Pam Jones is an advisor and instructor in the Special Education Department at Bank Street.  Pam has also worked as a learning specialist for grades K and 1, as a 3rd grade general education teacher in an inclusive setting, and as a 5th grade teacher in a general education classroom.

Entry filed under: classrooms, collaboration, families, social-emotional learning, special education.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jackie  |  March 3, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Loved reading your article and being reminded of those things that have made me a more mindful and sensitive teacher. Now, as a parent, I am struggling. My 5 yr old has a teacher who is experienced but flustered, and every week I observe things that, were I a colleague or supervisor I would not hesitate to discuss. So how do I advocate for my daughter and the atmosphere in her classroom as a parent/teacher who understands how critical it is to offer a supportive community environment?

  • 2. Pam  |  March 16, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Jackie, you pose a great question! It’s often tough to know how to approach a teacher about classroom issues, especially when we are not a colleague of said teacher. First, a couple of questions come to mind: (1) are parents and families welcomed into the classroom and encouraged to collaborate with the staff, (2) have you told your daughter’s teacher that you are a teacher, and (3) has your daughter mentioned feeling any uneasiness regarding the classroom’s atmosphere?

    I do have a couple of suggestions for you:

    * At the next Parent-Teacher Conference, when your daughter’s teacher asks you if you have any questions, you should take this opportunity to broach this subject with her. As I am sure you know all too well, this will need to be done tactfully and my recommendation is to open that discussion by saying something to this effect: “I’m so glad that my daughter is in the classroom of a teacher who is clearly experienced in her teaching practice. One of the things that I think could be added to my daughter’s classroom experience to make it even more beneficial is more community-building activities. In my own practice and in my studies of the field, I have developed a growing appreciation for the consistent integration of community- and character-building activities into the classroom. Since parents are encouraged to participate in the classroom here at P.S. ___, I would love to lead one of these activities with the kids one day. Would you be open to that?” I would also have a quick “list” of quick and easy activities that she could integrate into the daily schedule.

    * Another idea is that you can suggest introducing a school-to-home dialogue journal. This would be a journal in which you and your daughter’s teacher could correspond about different aspects of your daughter’s academic and overall classroom experience. It would be in this journal that you could mention (specifically) your questions about the classroom’s atmosphere and present your ideas on the classroom atmosphere.

    Jackie, I hope these ideas will be of some help to you.

    Community-building is a cornerstone of the well-run classroom (as is collaborating with families). For additional ideas, I recommend reading the book TEACHING CHILDREN TO CARE (by Ruth Sidney Charney). Please feel free to respond to my response, as I will check back in within a few days.

    Thank you for reading my article and taking the time to send your comment!

  • […] setting, and as a 5th grade teacher in a general education classroom. Her first article/posting Far More Than Meets The Eye introduced us to a comprehensive approach to classroom management. Possibly related posts: […]

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