An amazing turn around happened in my school this year that no one ever writes about being possible. A struggling teacher didn't win the race in the first 100 yards, she won in at the end! After years struggling with classroom management, she got the class on board with respect and kindness in the final months of school! How did she do it? Read on...
A teacher was struggling with classroom management since she started teaching three years ago. She reached out for help, to no avail. Before I became principal we had already established a good professional relationship. She reached out and we videotaped lessons, modeled, observed, had meetings, the counselor visited the class often, etc. but nothing worked. I would visit her class and continue to see students arguing, roaming around the room, calling out, having side conversations off topic and the class was loud in the hallways.
I knew it wasn’t just a bad class. I refuse to ever believe that there are “bad classes”. Students will rise to the bar that is set for them, but the bar must be set clearly and with consistency. I also, I knew she was a great teacher with kindness, a love of learning, knowledge of teaching and a willingness to improve. She would try new ideas and see how they worked and had the creativity to explain concepts in many ways. However, she wasn't able to put her knowledge about management into practice which was hindering her class from learning. As the principal, it came to a point where the superintendent and I had a talk with her. We told her she had to do it, she must fix it, she needed to get her classroom management under control.
I asked what she needed and she said for me to observe and give feedback, a lot of feedback.
True to my word, for the next three weeks I observed a lot, several times in a day. I would leave notes with feedback, we met regularly, I commented on her reflection google doc she made for herself, and more. She observed other teachers and they observed her too.
There were baby steps in the right direction. Math became more structured and orderly with a predictable flow. Students were learning more during math lessons. Great! But it wasn't enough yet! It still wasn’t a well managed class, transitions and group work was still difficult. Students were still not responding to the attention signal the first time and were still roaming around the room.
Three weeks after the meeting we had with the teacher, the class’ parents called a meeting with the teacher, myself, and the counselor to talk about the problems they were hearing about at home and their concerns. We listened to their concerns but they wanted answers and change now. Together we presented a Discipline Menu for teachers to choose from based on the child behavior and a Discipline Reflection Sheet. The teacher was going to start using these tools. I knew the teacher could make the changes, she just needed time. I was seeing evidence of the baby steps. At that meeting we guaranteed an improvement. I was just hoping it would happen sooner rather than later!
A few days later during an observation, I walked in the room and what did I see??? A well managed classroom. Students were sitting in their seats, responding to the attention signal the first time, students were being respectful to each other and the teachers, they were all on task. What I really noticed was that the students all were doing what was asked of them. It seemed like it all clicked overnight. I knew she had it. I visited again the next day and I saw the same success. The classroom had a different feel. I could tell students felt safe and calm. I was not surprised. I was relieved...she had finally done it!
We met to reflect and celebrate. I had to know, what made the difference? How did she do this? What had worked this time that hadn’t worked before?
What I saw from the outside was a determined teacher trying, failing, reflecting, revising and trying again. I saw the inquiry cycle in process. She wanted to save her class and she figured out how to it. She stopped making excuses, took responsibility and set a system in place for holding students to expectations and consistently put it into action. Every fiber of her body was managing that class while she was teaching and kids were learning. She became consistent and communicative with parents.
Her answer about what happened was simple. In her head she had been blaming parents for not being supportive, blaming kids for being rude, blaming others for the problems that were happening in her class. When she realized that it all depended on her and how she responds to what happens in her class, that is when what became so liberating for her. She said she stopped making excuses and took responsibility over what she could control, She knew she had to it for the students and she did.
If you like to see the data, when she got the classroom management under control, you would be happy to know the students’ math scores improved. But so much more than that happened too. The students were happier, calmer, more inquisitive and respectful to others, used better teamwork...the class had a pleasant buzz of learning for the remainder of the school year.
The message of this story is that it is never too late to be better. It is not too late to gain control of a class in the last semester of school or learning something new. It isn’t too late for administrators to work together with teachers for the students benefit. When administrators support and believe in teachers, changes are possible at any stage of the race! Equally important it is the teacher’s hard work and in her words, “not making excuses”, that made it all possible.
**This didn't seem to fit in the story above, but I wanted to include these thoughts. I feel an immense amount of gratitude for the trust this teacher shared with me along her journey. I saw some really low lows and she continued to ask for help and try. She didn't hide and that takes courage. I am so honored and grateful to have been apart of this amazingly twisty windy journey that ended up as a huge win! The win was two fold, for the students' learning for the remainder of that school year and the teacher's future in the classroom has forever been changed.
An easy to do item sat on my to do list for about two weeks. It was something new to try, it was unknown. How would it be received? How would I find the time to talk to everyone involved?
"Get Out of DUTY Free Cards"- that what was written there for two weeks.
Making the cards was easy, passing them out was fun! It also gave me a chance to check in with each of the 19 Class Assistants, whom I supervise. So, why did I wait so long?
It comes down to trying something new, leaving the status quo behind. This little gesture of taking a duty for each of the Class Assistants made a big impact. One of the Class Assistants said, "Is it Christmas again?" Another said, "Really, you are going to do my duty?" Another said, "Thank you, I need this!" The reactions were priceless and gave us a moment to smile together, to connect.
The Class Assistants have a lot of supervision duties, beyond their classroom responsibilities. They often feel unheard and underappreciated. I wanted to reach out in a small way to say thank you. When the Class Assistants "cash in" their cards, it will also give me a great excuse to walk in their shoes for 60 minutes. See supervision from their angle, allowing me to listen with different ears and see with different eyes.
The first card was "cashed in" to take a duty to give someone a break they really needed to regroup and get organized. This break for them was the busy most high impact learning situation I have been in in quite some time. I shadowed to a student for an hour during Portuguese class, a language that I do not speak. This child taught me a lot...he reverted to behaviors that are not seen as frequently any more. But I was ready because I had his behavior chart and reward in hand for when he showed the good behaviors. Well, the behavior chart was ripped in two before we could even review the first goal, one minute later an eraser was in his mouth, shoes and socks were sneakily taken off under the desk and for the grand finale he went running down the hallway. Wow...action packed hour (which I must record that I was wearing heels, already out stepping out of my comfort zone, making the sprint even more challenging for me)! There were sweet and tender moments intertwined throughout the unexpected ones...the child turned off the lights for the class as he was asked to do, sat with me to watch a short video and whispered "I love you" while rubbing my arm, and the child passed out erasers to all the other children so nicely. There were moments that were great!
The final moment came when a colleague walked by and asked if I needed help shortly after my sprint, in heels. I calmly accepted and we all sat together in the hallway for a moment trying to help the child understand why he needs to wear shoes at school. The child took the teacher's name tag and the child proclaimed, "I am Miss K!" That was where we were able to break through and get an in with reason. "OK! Teachers wear shoes and have to be with the students," we said. The child understood, got his socks and shoes on and walked to the assembly with the others. WOW again! He then danced and sang to his favorite song as the year three students presented their learning to the tune of "Don't Let me Down." The day ended with a high five and fist bump.
So, in conclusion, I have a lot to learn and was thankful for the opportunity of the staff member cashing in their Get Out of DUTY Free Card. Why did I wait two weeks to cross it off my list? I wonder what learning the other 18 cards have in store for me?!?!