You've just completed the annual ritual -- the creation of next year's class lists. You've promised yourself you'll look for ways to make the process run more smoothly next year. First step: Read the advice in this Education World Principal Files story from school administrators who've been there, done that. Included: Why do parents request specific teachers?
In most cases, your class lists are set for next school year. Creating those lists is never an easy job and is sometimes a nightmare. Putting together class lists requires great thought -- and greater organization!
This month, Education World asked our Principal Files Principals to share information, while the class list exercise is fresh in their minds, about how they put together class lists in their schools. We thought this might be helpful information for all principals to have. By sharing information, these principals hope that the process of creating class lists might run more smoothly for all. Feel free to use and adapt to your own school situations the ideas our P-Files principals share below.
THE ANNUAL RITUAL
The annual ritual of putting together next year's class lists can vary greatly from school to school. However, our recent survey of Education World's Principal Files principals revealed a few generalizations about the process:
ORGANIZATION IS KEY
In order for the class list development process to run smoothly, organization is key. Some schools have adopted specific written policies to guide the process. Among those schools is Orangewood Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona. Each year, principal Peggy George publishes in the school newsletter instructions to parents who might want to request a specific teacher for the year to follow. That note to parents states, in part:
This is not an invitation for you to "choose" a homeroom teacher for your child for next year. In fact, you might consider it just the opposite. As professional educators, we take great pains in the development of homeroom class rosters. We take into account the needs of individual children and the ways they relate to various teacher styles. We know which children work well together and those who do not. Each class is balanced as much as possible with an equal number of boys and girls, with a range of high to lower ability levels, and we are careful not to place too many children with behavioral problems in a single classroom. These decisions are made very carefully by considering the best learning situation for all of our children. Our efforts are virtually wasted, however, when classes are filled by requests based upon vague reasons. "Her friend is in that class," "I heard something good about the teacher," and "My son begged me to request this teacher" are not valid reasons for a request, and in fact undermine school attempts to provide the best situation for all children. Remember, you or your child may not necessarily relate to a given teacher the same as another person might. Your child is different and special. Please make your requests based on sound, educational factors unique to your child's needs, and these will certainly be considered as we make our final decisions.
The letter goes on to explain what might constitute valid reasons:
Reasons for your request might include:
- traits and characteristics of your child that most affect his/her learning.
- traits and characteristics of a teacher that will facilitate your child's learning.
- the type of educational setting you feel will best meet your child's needs.
A form is provided for parents who might want to make a special request and a deadline is set. Parents are asked to request first and second choices for a teacher; that way, the staff has greater flexibility in maintaining balance as they create class lists. Parents are encouraged to observe classroom situations where they might wish their students to be placed.
"This [class list making] process is one we've refined over the years," said George. Initially, teachers had expressed concerns about allowing parent input. They were concerned that so many requests made it difficult to achieve class balance. After much discussion, and with the involvement of the school's Site Council, it was decided that consistent criteria were needed. The school's School Improvement Team created a list of tips and guidelines that would help make the process a smooth one.
After teachers at Orangewood Elementary have collected parent requests, they begin their part of the process by filling out a Student Placement Information Card for each of their current students. The easy-to-complete form provides checklists that relate to each student's ability, work habits, behavior problems, and leadership abilities. Checklists related to special services the child requires are also included. Teachers can make suggestions about other children who should or should not be placed in the same class with a particular child. And finally, parent requests are noted. All of that information is taken into account as teachers create class lists for the subsequent grade.
A DATABASE OF INFORMATION
"All of the information on the Student Placement Information Cards is placed in a database," says George. "Having the information in a database enables me to sort by many variables. It provides valuable information about my entire school population, for example, the numbers of students who are LD, ADD, ESL, or Title One.
"The resulting spreadsheets also enable us to analyze the makeup of each homeroom to determine if we've achieved 'balance' while incorporating teacher information with parent requests," says George. "Adjustments are made if a class is considered to be out of balance in any way."
SOME SCHOOLS ENCOURAGE PARENT INVOLVEMENT
Principal Stan Weir and his staff also follow a prescribed process for class list creation at Albert McMahon Elementary School in Mission, British Columbia (Canada). The process begins with the collection of parental requests.
"The legislation in this jurisdiction requires that schools make parents active partners in the education process, [and] allowing parents to make requests is one way of ensuring that this happens," said Weir. "Another benefit is that once parents have submitted their preferences, they have some ownership [in the decision]. Disputes throughout the school year are minimized as ... the parents recognize that they carry the onus for the student's being placed in a specific classroom."
Weir has a published policy on this process and the manner in which class lists are determined. Parents must make requests using a standardized form, which requires the parents to demonstrate a knowledge of their children's programs.
Once all parent requests are in, teachers carefully identify the unique needs and abilities of each student in their current classroom.
"Meetings are then scheduled that involve the receiving teachers and the current teachers," said Weir. "Students are placed in classrooms, with the first criteria being the professional educator's recommendation. In many cases, students do not require special consideration, so the parental requests are the next consideration. Finally, the factors of gender equity and group size (for split-grade classrooms) are considered and the class lists derived."
Weir went on: "While this has been a difficult sell with teachers who are used to exercising a high level of autonomy, it has been well received by the involved parents, and it becomes a little easier with each passing year as it becomes part of the school culture."
WHY DO PARENTS REQUEST SPECIFIC TEACHERS?
Why? The reasons are as varied as can be! Peggy George compiled a list of several dozen reasons parents at her school cited for requesting a specific teacher. Among those were requests from parents who wanted a specific teacher because that teacher
Some other requests were unrelated to a teacher's perceived approach or skills. For example, one parent requested that her child be paired with a specific student who was new to the school (to help the new student make the transition). Other parents requested that their children be separated from other children because they'd been together so long or because they didn't get along. Each of those might be a valid reason for assigning students.
"I shared the list of requests with my staff," said George, "because I thought it showed considerable insight from the parents ... as to what they value in a teacher and why being allowed to make a choice was important to them."
CUTTING DOWN ON LAST-MINUTE CHANGES
Making changes to class lists once they are set can be very stressful. Many principals have tried to head off at the pass such changes by providing one-time opportunities for parents to make requests.
At the Henry Barnard Laboratory School (at Rhode Island College in Providence), principal Ron Tibbets publishes his school's policy each year in an issue of the school's newsletter. That announcement states, in part:
"When preparing classroom placements for next year, faculty consider the match of student and teacher, the blend of students within a room, and the balance of both classes academically, socially, culturally, and by gender. Additionally, the students in a current room will be divided as evenly as possible between the two classrooms available for the next school year. This procedure is used so that classrooms of the same grade are heterogeneous and balanced academically and socially. Dividing the current students in one classroom between the two classrooms next year helps the children establish new friends and, therefore, to develop socially."
If a faculty member receives a parent request for a particular teacher for the upcoming school year, that request is factored into the placement procedure, added Tibbetts. But, he cautions, it is only one factor.
"The current teacher will consider the parental request, but the other placement factors take precedence. Once faculty members have made their student assignment recommendations in June, it is extremely difficult to make changes and maintain the goals of our placement procedure. Moving a student from one classroom to another inevitably changes the classroom environment. ..."
"If a parent requests a change of class during the summer months," Tibbetts added, "the assistant principal and I listen to the request and then decide on a case-by-case basis. Usually, we don't make the change unless it is a very unusual circumstance."
The administration at Halstead (Kansas) Middle School has worked over the past several years to reduce the number of parents who request specific teachers.
"It used to be that parents of students in grades 4 through 6 were allowed requests up until the actual enrollment," said principal Dave Younger. "As you can imagine, that caused quite a few scheduling difficulties during a very busy and stressful time of year."
So, last year, Younger mailed parents a letter asking them to make any such requests in writing within a week's time.
"That simple request cut the number of requests from 30 down to fewer than ten," said Younger, noting that the need for such requests has dropped even more this year because the fifth-sixth grade teams have adopted a team-teaching model.
VARIATIONS ON A THEME
At Bowie Elementary School in the Richardson (Texas) Independent School District, assistant principal Michael Davies's classroom and special education teachers take into account gender balance, academic balance, required special services, student relationships, and other factors as they put together class lists.
"Finally, after these lists have been created, the administration and counselor checks them," said Davies. But it isn't until the very end that a teacher's name is placed with a group. Parents are allowed to make special requests, and those are honored whenever possible.
"We have a very active community here in Dallas," added Davies. "We always emphasize that this is not a perfect system and that some changes may occur."
"We have a very active, involved parent community, so the process of class selection is a very difficult one," said principal Helene Dykes of Marian Bergeson Elementary School in Laguna Niguel, California. To help alleviate some difficulties, Dykes and her staff have developed a Parental Input Form, which is available to all parents.
"I personally read over each of the Parental Input Forms, but we do not allow parents to 'choose the teacher,'" said Dykes.
"I write articles for the school newsletter explaining the process of class selection, and each parent receives an individual letter explaining the process," said Dykes. "Most of the time I try to hold firm on the teacher selected by our process [which involves the principal, the teachers, and all specialists] ... [but] every now and then, parents have valid reasons for selecting a certain teacher."
Dykes went on: "If a parent comes to me asking for a change of teacher during the first week of school, I usually ask them to come to a conference with the new teacher and myself. I also ask them to arrange a visitation of the classroom. After talking with the new teacher and visiting the classroom, most parents withdraw their requests for a different teacher."
HAS THIS HELPED?
We hope that by sharing a variety of approaches principals use to create class lists we have provided some food for thought for school administrators who face this yearly ritual with trepidation.
We also hope that other principals and school administrators who are willing to share might join our group. If you'd like to be one of Education World's Principal Files principals, click here for more information. Currently, Ed World's P-Files group numbers about 100! Each month, a question is mailed to the group. No one is under any obligation to respond. Principals who feel they have something to offer to the "conversation" are free to answer; others can "sit this one out." So, come on down! Join in! Be an Ed World Principal Files principal!
Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2006 Education World