From Transformative Classroom Management. By John Shindler. ©2008
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In this Chapter
This book is intended to demystify the process of creating a high functioning classroom. It will be your guide to creating the kind of class environment that you desire. For those who seek to do more than gain student compliance, this book offers strategies to make your classroom a place that changes lives for the better -- a transformative classroom.
If we had the ability to examine every classroom in every school, we would find that they vary dramatically from one another. We would find classrooms in urban, suburban, rural, public and private schools, from every grade level and subject area, kindergarten through twelfth grade, that were functional and productive places and we would find, contrastingly, those in the same sorts of schools that were dysfunctional and unproductive. If we were to identify the variable in each class that was most responsible for the quality of the learning environment, we would find that it is we ourselves -- the teachers. Our thoughts, values and actions all have the effect of defining the climate and experience in our classes. Too few of us truly appreciate the ultimately powerful influence that we have. We too often neglect to recognize that our classroom management choices can:
· Promote either community or fragmentation
· Lead to clarity or to confusion
· Create a psychology of success or one of failure
· Be a liberating influence or perpetuate an unjust social class structure
· Foster a climate of motivation and joy, or one of disinterest and drudgery
In addition, researchers find that our classroom management actions and attitudes can be the difference between our having either a sense of job satisfaction and a feeling that our gifts are being successfully utilized, or a feeling of burn-out and unhappiness (Friedman, & Farber, 1992). Moreover, how we approach classroom management will significantly determine the degree to which we feel successful and satisfied with our teaching positions (Fallona, & Richardson, 2006).
WHAT IS TRANSFORMATIVE CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT?
To understand what makes a classroom a transformative place, we might begin by examining the description of the four actual case example classrooms in the text boxes at the beginning of the chapter. All four teachers have created what could be characterized as transformative classrooms. As we examine each of the four classrooms we notice they have common attributes, including clarity of purpose, self-responsibility, bonds among students, and an ever-increasing level of function over time. In other words, they promote skills that are critical for success both in and outside the classroom.
A “transformative classroom” functions to change for the better those who are within it -- as individuals and as a collective. Transformative Classroom Management (TCM) is an approach to classroom management that assumes that classroom management practices have a powerful long-term effect on student development and our ability to be successful as teachers. TCM presumes that over time, high function is possible in any classroom; that some pedagogical and management practices lead to greater function while others lead to greater dysfunction; and that if designed successfully, any classroom can be a transformative place.
TCM, unlike many other models, assumes that problems do not require reaction, but rather that the sources of those problems need to be identified and altered. Problems within any class should not be viewed, as some would suggest, as a finite quantity of misbehaviors that need to be “dealt with” or “handled.” Both functional and problematic/dysfunctional behaviors have explicable causes, and are in most cases related directly or indirectly to teaching practices. Most problems are manifestations of predictable factors including the interaction between teacher/school and student, the systems that have been put in place, congruence between the expectations of the students and teachers, and the degree to which our class meets the students’ basic needs. TCM places a special emphasis on perpetually working toward a better tomorrow.
Figure 1.A depicts the three domains of change within the TCM classroom. First, the Transformative Classroom supports each student’s individual progression from irresponsibility and a “failure psychological orientation” to self-responsibility and a “success psychology” (i.e., internal locus of control, sense of acceptance and belonging, and mastery vs. helpless orientation, Ayling, 2009). Second, the Transformative Classroom promotes the growth of the collective from its current state of function to one of greater function and ultimately into greater levels of community. Third, TCM endeavors to assist the teacher in his/her own growth toward greater levels of self-awareness, a more effective and intentional set of practices, and provides him/her with the tools to become a visionary leader in the classroom.
Figure 1.A: Depicting the Three Domains of Transformative Classroom Management and the Movement within Each
Movement and Growth from ________ à to à __________
Failure Psychology à Success Psychology
Irresponsible à Self-Responsible
Dysfunctional Behavioral Patterns à Functional Behavioral Patterns
Dysfunction à Function
Independent Survival à a Connected Community
Egocentric à Contributors
Reactive/Accidental à Intentional/Aware
Short-term Survival à Long-term Vision
Manager à Leader
DEVELOPING A GUIDING PERSONAL VISION
To begin the process of creating a high-functioning transformative classroom, you will need to start by developing a vision of what you want to accomplish. To do so it will be beneficial to take a few preliminary steps. First, clarify your intention. What do you specifically want? When you reflect upon this question, it is useful not to let your thinking be overly restricted by what others tell you is possible, or not possible, or what you have become accustomed to through practice or observation. Allow yourself to conceive a vision that is guided as little as possible by fear and resignation and as much as possible by what you feel is right. What kind of classroom would make you proud and would give you a sense of being true to your core values? Second, be purposeful about raising your level of awareness. If you have not yet started teaching, you might want to observe a broad range of classes from a variety of different schools. It is common that teachers default to practices to which they were exposed themselves, so recognize that what you have seen to this point may have been a limited sample of what is possible. See what is out there. And if it you do not see your vision “operationalized” within the classrooms that you observe, it may mean that you are in the position of making a significant contribution as a trailblazer. If you are currently teaching, this book will offer many opportunities to reflect on what you are doing and why you are doing it. Exploring both internally and externally will be useful. More effective practice begins with a examination of who we are and what we value, followed by taking stock of what we are doing and asking ourselves if it is getting us closer to our vision or not. Third, we need to recognize that every practice has an effect. Every choice we make shapes our overall classroom climate. Even the smallest action on our part can have a profound impact on the behavior, motivation, and achievement of our students.
In most cases, while common sense and teaching experience are valuable, they alone are not sufficient in helping us succeed at translating our classroom management vision into a reality. Good intentions and common sense do not necessarily lead us to good practice. If they did, we would see mostly excellent teaching and classrooms, free of conflict and full of motivated students, wouldn’t we? The actuality is that we do not. Likewise, experience does not necessarily lead to improved practice over time. If this were the case, we would observe that the most experienced teachers would be the most effective classroom managers. In some cases, this is true, and the value of experience cannot be underestimated; however, in many cases more experience simply leads to repeatedly applying the same flawed principles and practices day after day.
Moreover, adding isolated management strategies here and there may or may not result in improvements. We need to ask ourselves, “To what are we adding them?” Without a foundation that supports a positive strategy, the strategy itself may not bring about the positive effect that we desire, or even have a desirable effect at all. Having in place a sound set of guiding principles for our action and thinking is necessary for independent practices to be effective and to function as part of an integrate whole. Furthermore, in most cases, our classroom management will be more positively affected by what we cease doing rather than something we add to our repertoire.
In addition, we need to be wary of advice that includes the phrase “well, it works.” The fact is anything can be said to “work.” Every sound and unsound practice that is being used by teachers today is defended with “it works.” But the question should not be whether they work, the question we must ask is, “Is this practice getting me closer to my long-term management goals and vision?” In many cases, justifying a classroom management practice based on the rationale that it works is often a smoke screen for using an ultimately dysfunctional practice only because it is familiar or convenient. Many popular strategies have genial-sounding names such as token economy, praise, behavioral charts, reward systems and consequences, etc. However, as you will see throughout the course of this book, when we examine these practices more closely we will see that they have detrimental long-term effects. We might ask ourselves whether we are looking for practices that will sweep problems under the rug, lead to domestication rather than growth, deceive students temporarily, make us feel better or justified. Or in contrast, do we want our management practices to have real, long-lasting effects that change the lives of our students for the better? Isolated quick-fix strategies can be helpful for ameliorating problems, but in some cases they can disguise the true source of a problem, or worse yet, limit the growth of the students toward more evolved behavior.
The progression of the book is designed to be developmental, and each chapter is inter-related. The sequence of content is intended to support the new teacher in the development of a personal classroom management plan and the experienced teacher in the process of reforming and improving their classroom management practice. It begins with chapters intended to promote self-assessment and the development of a personal vision and set of intentions. It then offers a series of chapters that address essential elements of successful management including the practical steps in creating a democratic classroom. This is followed by chapters that specifically address what it takes to achieve the qualities of a transformative class.
In part one of the book: Assessing Where We are and Raising Awareness, we begin by examining the Teaching Style Matrix (see figure 1.B), and how one moves from practices characterized by the less effective lower quadrants to those in the more effective upper level. In this chapter, we examine the nature of the effective classroom and what types of practices lead to either function or dysfunction. Throughout the book the reader will be 1) encouraged to avoid practices characterized by approaches in lower quadrants of the matrix and 2) encouraged to compare the relative advantages of either an effective teacher-centered or student-centered approach when considering several of the ideas presented in the book.
Figure 1.B: Teaching Style Matrix
In Part Three: Developing a Functional Democratic Classroom Society, we begin in Chapter 8 with exploring how to create a functioning democratic classroom. At the heart of any functional class is a set of common understandings, and a sense on the part of students that they are responsible for being accountable and contributing to the collective. Through the development of a shared social contract, clear expectations, a sense of purpose and a set of logical consequences, any class can achieve the qualities of a high-functioning democracy. In Chapter 9, a distinction is made between punishments and logical consequences, and a process is outlined for developing logical and related consequences that will lead to more responsible student behavior and a stronger social contract. Chapter 10 outlines a system for implementing the social contract and promoting student responsibility -- the key to a functioning democracy.
In Chapter 11 of Part Four: Good Teaching Practices Lead to Good Management Outcomes, we examine the connection between instruction, assessment, and classroom management. The starting point for this discussion is the idea that teachers who are more effective pedagogically will inherently have fewer problems. In this section, we examine the relationship between how we teach and how it affects our management. Also in this section, we will examine how instructional and managerial choices work to either reinforce or liberate the social class structure and the students within that structure. In Chapter 12, practical ideas for successfully leading and managing cooperative learning are presented.
In Part Five: When We Need It: Remediation without Coercion, we examine how to work with conflict and the “more difficult” students in Chapter 13. Conflict is a natural part of life in and out of the classroom and can be a source of growth or result in suffering. Some students will come to us with habits that will require a greater degree of intentional effort on our parts than others. In Chapter 14, we will examine how to bridge the gap with students who appear disconnected, and help students who have developed a pattern of negative identity learn to reform the processes they have used to reach their goals and encourage them toward more healthy and functional behavior patterns.
In Part Six: Adopting a Transformative Mindset, we examine how to synthesize the strategies in the previous chapter into an approach for achieving the transformative classroom. In Chapter 15, we will explore how to successfully implement a student-centered 1-Style management approach and promote classroom community. Chapter 16 offers an in-depth exploration of the relationship between our thinking patterns and our effectiveness and job satisfaction. In many respects, the level of function or dysfunction in our classrooms will be a reflection of the thoughts, attitudes, patterns and beliefs we hold in our minds. Here we examine how to make our thinking an ally in the process of reaching our goals rather than a self-limiting hurdle. Chapter 17 examines how to move from a management approach characterized by a less effective 4-Style approach to a more effective 2-Style “conductor” approach. This chapter will be most useful to those teachers who hold the belief that the only way that they can succeed as a teacher is by dominating their students -- yet are at least a little open to considering a new approach that does not leave them feeling perpetually negative and disappointed and helps alleviate the hostile climate within their classrooms.
Part Seven of this book includes three chapters that supplement the previous 17, but may be more useful to some readers than others. Chapter 18 offers insights into the area of classroom competition, and how it can be incorporated in a healthy manner. Chapter 19 examines the popular practice referred to as “behavior systems,” “colored card systems,” or a “putting names on the board” system. This chapter will be useful to those who may have adopted one of these systems and are interested in taking a closer look at the effect it may be having, and/or those who might be considering implementing such a system in the future. Chapter 20 offers a step-by-step system for assessing process and/or behavior. It explains why this practice needs to be done correctly or not at all, and how it can be a useful asset for meeting the goals of the effective classroom.
The book finishes with a series of Appendices. These appendices include a question-and-answer session, extensions of some of the ideas introduced within the text, and an introduction to the Transform Your School (TYS) school-wide behavioral system. Transformative classrooms can exist in isolation and can still be powerful as independent entities, but when an entire school adopts a transformative mindset and set of practices, the burden for each teacher becomes lighter and the results become more profound.
1. Develop a personal vision for your ideal classroom. Make it entirely your own. Do not be too concerned--for now--about limitations that you feel are present in your school, or the kinds of schools in which you see yourself working. Paint a detailed picture of how it looks and feels. What kind of work is going on? How does it feel in the class? What do teacher-student interactions look like? What is the climate in the room?
2. In a small group, discuss the contents of the table in Figure 1.A. Do you see evidence of a transformational mindset in schools in general? How do you explain your findings?
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