The first day of school is approaching, and I see many of us teachers are putting together our classroom management systems and tools for the next school year. I have had my fair share of management systems in the past. I’ve had the treasure box and clips. I’ve used class dojo. I had the sticker charts on each kids desk. And I’ve had individualized behavior charts for select children who needed extra support. I’ve pulled kids into the hallway to speak and I’ve had silent lunches. I’ve also had lunch with the teachers and positive phone calls home. I’ve sent home “I noticed you” notes and I’ve done class jars with class parties. I’ve done all of these, and I’ve been teaching for only three years. So this all made me think. What in the world am I trying to accomplish with all of these “tricks” and treats?
I want to teach my students to be great critical thinkers, to problem solve, and be independent. I want the classroom to truly be OURS, and for each child to have a sense of ownership and pride in the room they spend 40+ hours in per week. How in the world am I achieving this if I am giving points for pushing in chairs and keeping work spaces clean? Shouldn’t the driving factor for taking care of our room and friends be just that, taking pride in our room and caring for our friends? How can I teach my students this if they are actively asking for points/stickers/clip-moved-up for everything?
And, then, came my next question. Is there a more productive time to use a point system? Immediately, I thought of the students who need a constant reminder or extra nudge, but these kids are usually on their own behavior management plan, anyway. The point/clip/reward/consequence system doesn’t seem to phase them, and really only provides an inadvertent label for the other kids. “John is always on red.” Or, “John never gets to the treasure box.” Of course, these are more extreme, because I hope the teacher is mindful of each child’s progress. But, then, we end up sending a child to the treasure box for doing something like showing up to school on time or tying their own shoe laces. So, again, what am I trying to achieve? And what am I actually achieving?
Or, think of it this way. Our students have feelings just like we, adults, do. What if our principals had a point system for each teacher and if you made an infraction, your points were reduced or your clip was taken down? We could lose points for making too many copies or being late to our designated lunch time (the precise time of 11:36). Usually, we rush to make it to lunch on time so we don’t delay lunch for the following classrooms, but, if a point system were in place, the focus shifts. Not only am I disappointing the next hungry class, I, now, have lost points. Whether or not this system is public knowledge, doesn’t change the fact that the next class teacher knows I’ve lost those points. It’s embarrassing on more than one level and now I would be focused on how to build my points up. Not the learning process. Or, maybe, I just wouldn’t care and start to despise the system altogether.
Our students are the same way. My students would become fixated on either not losing a point or how they can earn the next point. Sometimes, it just looks like sitting super still on the carpet, even though they may not be paying attention to the book that I am reading. My classroom did not truly reflect the type of learning and communication I wanted.
I believe that learning is a messy process. I believe that it is not and, dare I say, never linear. I want my students to be making numerous connections across texts, subjects, and time. I want them to recall and build on prior knowledge. I want them to be able to carry focused and inspiring conversations that provoke more questions, and, therefore, provide opportunities to find answers and solutions. But, how can I encourage this if I am dictating how they are to carry a conversation?
Roughly two years ago, I went through a training called, 21 Keys for High Performance Teaching and Learning, by The Pacific Institute. I highly recommend this training and wish I could sum up the gist of the training into a couple paragraphs. However, if I did, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective. Here is a video clip as a taste of the training I had. I can say that this training transformed my thought process and really made me question the classroom techniques I used, the techniques I was taught, and the techniques that are so highly applauded.
Two years and some experimenting later, I’ve decided to quit all extrinsically motivating management tools. Just say no! I know that this will be hard, especially since it is what I consider to be the norm. I know that this will be more time consuming. I will need to carry more conversations with more students regarding acceptable and not acceptable behavior. I know all of this, but I am also very excited.
My students who always got a star in their take-home folders, or often visited the treasure box, truly do not need the extrinsic motivation. They weren’t following the rules for the star. They would probably be following the rules, anyway. These are the teacher-pleasers. The students who teeter on the edge of “Great Day!” and “Let’s do better” respond to personal connections with the teacher. The students who are almost always on the “Let’s do better” list need the personal connection with the teacher. So, what is the take away?
Students need the personal connection with the teacher.
We all know that teacher-student connections are important in the classroom, so shouldn’t our classroom management techniques reflect that?
And, that is why I came up with this classroom management tool. I had already been doing this with some of my students, and thought, “Why aren’t I doing this with everyone?”
I call this Goal Oriented Classroom Management for what I believe are obvious reasons. The focus of this system is very individualized, student guided, and teacher monitored. All of the students are using the same tools, however, each goal is different for each kid. Some students need more short term goals, such as staying seated during lunch for one week. Other students can set long term goals, such as increasing reading fluency from 95 to 135 words per minute. The key is to make certain that the goals set are important to the students. If they don’t deem it important, then they won’t be motivated to achieve them.
Now, some of you may be thinking, what about classroom management? What about the unruly behavior and the shout-outs? All of this falls under what is deemed appropriate and respectable in OUR classroom. Before the students even know that they will be setting personal goals, we set classroom goals first. We discuss what kind of classroom environment we want. Of course, I will heavily guide this discussion. Here are some questions I intend to ask my class in order to provoke deeper discussions. I try to steer clear of any yes/no questions and focus on the more thought-provoking questions.
- How can we show pride in our classroom? How can we show visitors that we care about our class, classroom, and school?
- Why is it important that we show respect and kindness for each other? How can we do this?
- When we walk down the hallway, are other classes still learning? How can we show respect for the other students and teachers in the building when we are walking down the hallway?
Once the class goals are set at the first of the year, I intend to slowly introduce the other sheets and graphic organizers. The first sheet I would introduce is the Pocket Statement. I would encourage each student to write one class goal statement onto their little Pocket Statement. We would discuss how having a statement in your pocket can be a great reminder and help us to make more positive decisions. I do not intend to monitor the use of these Pocket Statements. I will simply have a stack by my desk, and quietly encourage students to write their statements when needed.
I would then introduce the Reflection sheet as a whole group. Up until this point, any poor decisions are discussed privately with the teacher and always referring to the goal statements set by the class. The reflection sheet is a great way for students to think about any decisions they made that were positive or negative influences based on the goals set for the class (or themselves). I intend to provide a time weekly for my students to fill out this sheet. Although this sheet would be a great alternative to “time-out”, I don’t want this sheet to be affiliated solely with negative consequences. It is also a great way for students to reflect on the progress they may have made in achieving their short or long-term goals.
And, speaking of achieving goals, once a student does so, they get to fill out their Goal Achieved Certificate. Since the students guided their own goals, I believe that they should write their own certificates. This shows the students that their goals are their’s to achieve and encourages autonomy in the classroom.
One of my goals as a teacher is to promote independence in the classroom, but I also understand that my students will need encouragement throughout this process. Some students will need more encouragement than others. That being said, I want all of my students to feel supported by me, as their teacher. And this is where the Shining Moments letters come into play.
In the classroom, I will have a class mailbox. After school everyday, I intend to write 2-3 letters to any child I notice making a positive choice. The choice can be related to a classroom goal or personal goal. Every morning, I will show the students that I noticed some classmates yesterday make some shining moments and slip those letters into the class mailbox. These letters should take no more than 10 minutes after school, and, by the end of the week, I should have 10-15 letters in the mailbox. (I have already invented a simple system to insure that every child receives a letter within 2 weeks.) During dismissal on Friday, I will deliver those letters to the children.
I have toyed with the idea of letting the students write letters to one another after the winter break, but I’m a little apprehensive about this idea. I have noticed that you learn very quickly who is or isn’t popular, and the purpose of the letters is to be encouraging. The focus is on being goal-oriented, not most liked. However, if I teach the system well to the students, then I may trust them to be mindful of their letters. I should not see a letter about how much you like your friend’s shoes or book bag, for example.
As you can imagine, sending home a daily behavior correspondence sheet would be difficult with this management system. And, honestly, who truly enjoyed filling in 25 stars in 25 folders every day? The kids loved it, but I, personally, would love to do without it! If I need to contact a parent, I will do so via phone or e-mail. If a kid has an exceptional day, I would rather call, anyway, than leave a simple star in a folder. It builds a strong connection with schools and families and builds a strong bond with the students.
I apologize for such a long-winded post, today. I hope it was helpful and informative. Please let me know what you think in the comments below. I will keep you all posted with this upcoming school year and how smooth the transition goes for myself.