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Almost everybody agrees that strong classroom management skills are essential for successful teaching. But many teacher education programs don't provide courses to help future teachers develop those skills. So what is a principal to do with a new teacher who has great potential but needs help with classroom management? Education World's "Principal Files" principals have "The Plan." Included: Advice and resources for developing classroom management superstars.
Jon Smith is a second-year teacher. He knows his subject, he has creative ideas, but he is suffering because he lacks strong classroom management skills. Jon's principal thought the rookie teacher would figure out some things over the summer but, so far this year, little improvement has been observed. Jon seems frustrated, and the principal is worried that he'll become another statistic -- another bright young teacher who ends up leaving a profession that can't afford to lose somebody with his kind of potential. Luckily, the principal recognizes that potential, and is ready to step in with some support
That's the situation we posed to Education World's Principal Files principals. We asked our P-Files team how they would help out Jon. The advice they shared presents common-sense themes and unique insights for all principals to consider as they work with staff on a wide range of improvement issues.
A COMMON PROBLEM
Many teacher education programs recognize the need for training in the area of classroom management, but most principals agree that few programs give enough focus to so major a component of teacher success.
"Jon's problem is one every administrator has faced or will face," said principal Jim Clark. "Sometimes we principals think all rookie teachers should perform like veterans with 25 years' experience. Needless to say, it doesn't happen that way."
"Jon's problem is a problem for all of us," agreed principal Marguerite McNeely. "We want to attract new teachers, so we have to be willing to help train them too."
"Jon needs to change his classroom management practices so he can focus on providing the excellent instruction every student deserves," added principal Mary L. Russo.
SEEING THE LIGHT
"Like many creative and bright new teachers, Jon truly needs some guidance to get out of his classroom management pickle," principal Tracy Berry-Lazo told Education World. Key to helping Jon -- or any other teacher whose classroom management skills are lacking -- is getting him to admit that he can use some help, she said.
"I would begin by observing his classroom, then asking him to reflect on the status of the class. His comments will indicate to me just how aware he is of his situation and need," added Berry-Lazo.
"For starters, we need to know what is not working in Jon's classroom before he can determine what changes he can make," said Patricia Green. "Jon also needs to know that there are strategies and techniques he can learn and practice in his own class. And he needs to know that he is not alone in the struggle for classroom management skills."
What if the teacher doesn't conclude that he or she has a weakness in this area? What if that teacher blames the kids? "Educators who feel the problem is the kids, and that they have no influence over their students' behaviors, might want to consider writing books instead of entering the classroom," Berry-Lazo concluded
MASTER TEACHERS SHARE THEIR TRICKS
Almost every one of Ed World's P-Files principals suggested that Jon should be paired with a teacher who is a strong manager. Jon needs to be granted time to observe such a mentor in action. "A mentor can help Jon with curriculum issues, classroom arrangement, schedules, and discipline -- all of which are elements of classroom management," said principal Michael Miller.
"Jon will need to choose one or two of the procedures he observed and adapt them to fit his own circumstances," suggested Beth Burt.
"The mentor can provide day-to-day support as management tricks' are learned and applied," added Betty Peltier. Once Jon is comfortable with his mentor, the veteran might observe Jon in his own classroom and offer constructive advice.
Having a plan and a timeline for improvement is another key to helping Jon gain control of his class. That plan might be created by the principal, by Jon, or by the principal and Jon working together. Following is a sample plan -- a composite based on steps suggested by principals Clora Johnston and Tracy Berry-Lazo -- that might be adapted to meet the needs of specific teachers. You will find many ideas for adapting and customizing this plan in the Additional Strategies section of this article.
ADDITIONAL STRATEGIES FOR IMPROVING CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT
Reflection is key.
"Jon needs to be more introspective about his teaching style -- what works, what doesn't, and what needs to be tweaked," said Laurance Anderson.
Principal Mary L. Russo agreed. "Jon needs to hold a mirror up to his practice in three areas -- classroom organization, lesson preparation, and classroom routines," she said. "Developing strengths in those areas will enable Jon to manage his classroom with greater skill and confidence." Russo offered the following questions a principal might ask in order to lead Jon to reflect about those important elements of classroom management:
Classroom organization. A tour of Jon's classroom is an opportunity for reflection: Is the setup of the room easy to manage? Are materials placed in best spots? Are desk arrangements conducive to strong classroom management? Is the seating plan in need of changes? Are areas set aside for group and individual work creating problems?
Lesson preparation. Are all materials required for the lesson on hand and ready for use? Does the lesson include a plan for students who finish the assigned work early? Has Jon thought about how he will transition students from one activity to the next?
Classroom routines. Are there clear expectations for student behavior posted and visible to all students? Has Jon explicitly taught students routines, such as how to sit on the rug, when to transition to a center, how to ask questions?
Special teachers have special skills.
Special education teachers usually have special skills in behavior and classroom management. "I would have Jon shadow the special education teachers in my school," Michael Miller said. "They have extra training. They are always masters of discipline." Marguerite McNeely agreed: "People have always said the special ed teachers had it made with the small classes and paraprofessional help, but no one thinks that way at our school. We pair our special ed teachers with regular teachers to help them address needed modifications. This works especially well for young teachers who might need a little extra help. It also makes the special ed teachers feel very much a part of the school." Using special ed teachers' special expertise in this way drives home the point that educating our kids is truly a team effort, McNeely added.
Bit by bit.
It is important not to overwhelm any teacher, especially a new teacher who might already be feeling a bit inadequate about their classroom management abilities. If you wish to address multiple areas of classroom management, do it in bits instead of whole bites. "We work one skill at a time," Michael Miller told Education World. "We might start by working on questioning technique. We would observe, then provide feedback. Then we move on to the next skill."
Release time is time well spent.
Provide release time so teachers can get into other teachers' classrooms in your school at least twice a year. Provide a release day so teachers can get into classrooms in other schools too. "Jon will benefit from spending several days observing the best of the best' directly at work with children," said Laurance Anderson. "He will pick up wonderful tips and practical suggestions by watching master teachers practice their craft." In Jon's case, Patricia Green recommended using release time to observe his own students in another teacher's class. "If Sally or Tommy misbehave in Jon's classroom, they probably try the same tactics with other teachers," said Green. "Seeing how those teachers handle similar problems can help Jon get some ideas of his own."
Video can be an eye-opener.
"Oftentimes, new teachers are so involved in keeping a lid on things that they don't see the bigger picture," said Patricia Green. "It would even help to videotape a class or two so that Jon can have an opportunity to watch his classroom." That, combined with a mentor teacher's clinical observations of the tape, could be very helpful. Michael Miller encourages all teachers to use video as a tool for strengthening their skills. "This tool could be used for their eyes only, or for mine or a mentor teacher's too," said Miller. "The camera doesn't lie," he added.
Engaging lessons can solve many problems.
"Most classroom management issues are resolved with active and engaging lesson planning," principal Karen Linden told Education World. "If I was Jon's principal I would help him review his lesson plans and instructional strategies" as part of the effort to support him. "It would be useful for him to survey his students' perceptions too."
Start right by hiring right.
"My thoughts about Jon keep taking me back to the hiring process," principal Tony Pallija told Education World. "We must take our time and hire people who are ready to teach. That means checking references and making the interview process work."
Special training from special trainers.
"Jon probably needs crash courses in assertiveness training, including a seminar in the kids will still love me even if I must be firm,'" said principal Laurance Anderson. Sending Jon to an outside seminar that specializes in that kind of training -- as well as a seminar that will help Jon build a repertoire of positive reinforcement strategies -- might be the key to helping him get a handle on classroom management.
Many times, however, principals do not need to look outside their own districts for the support Jon needs.
In North Canton, Ohio, for example, "we are lucky to have instructional supervisors for each grade level," reported Tony Pallija. "They visit classrooms to help teachers improve instruction and, when necessary, they work with the principal and teachers to develop improvement plans" for teachers who might be struggling.
In Cincinnati, Ohio, school administrator Bonita Henderson has accumulated a library of great resources for teachers. In addition, "we have a wonderful teacher institute, the Mayerson Academy (Center for Teaching Excellence), which provides courses in classroom management" and a wide variety of other areas. "We also have a group of district teachers on 2-year leaves from the classroom," added Henderson. Those peer teachers "work with administrators to help teachers such as Jon. They will arrange visits for Jon to observe strong teachers in the district, recommend books and other materials, suggest courses at the Academy All the stops are pulled out to support teachers!"
Principal Larry Davis went outside the box and wrote a Title I grant to bring training to his entire staff. The result was a recent visit by nationally known psychologist John Rosemond. Rosemond presented a 2-hour session for teachers focused on effective ways to help students stay on task and behave. Then, in the evening, he did another 2-hour session -- for parents. The premise behind that session, Davis said, was "if we can get parents to be more effective with discipline at home, then our teachers will have more time to teach."
A change of scenery.
Principal David Christensen suggested an idea worth consideration: a change of grade-level assignment might be in order for some teachers who have classroom management issues. While it might be upsetting to a teacher who sees the move as a "demotion," Christensen recommended sitting down with the teacher for a little heart-to-heart talk. "Make sure the teacher understands that you feel he or she has much to offer and that this step is an opportunity to develop stronger skills. Then cross your fingers." Principal Les Potter has seen teachers who benefited by moves to new teaching positions too. "I have had several successes placing teachers in different positions, including jobs as intensive reading or math teachers or as members of team-teaching situations," he said. "I would even consider sending a teacher to another school." A teacher who is having difficulty managing students at the middle school level might have much more success with elementary students, he added.
The last resort.
What if Jon still isn't cutting it after you have tried The Plan? Hopefully, Jon will be the first to make a move. He will announce that he would like to "take a year off" to re-evaluate. But, if Jon doesn't come to that conclusion and things are still not going well, perhaps the only alternative is to terminate his contract. "Unfortunately, if a teacher does not have good classroom management skills, the kids will not be learning to their fullest potential, and that is not fair to them," said Les Potter.
WE'LL TRY ANYTHING!
If you're lucky to lead a school where the teachers are willing to try anything, teachers such as Jon will probably be successful. "I am lucky to have a staff that goes along and is willing to try it all because they know I am always looking out for the students, and for them," Marguerite McNeely told Education World. "When we are not successful, we just adjust and start over."
And starting over several times might be what it takes to get Jon over this hump. But, through it all, it is important that he knows that you value his strengths. As he works through his classroom management issues, "I would make frequent and strong references to the things Jon is competent at -- his instructional techniques, cooperative attitude, parent communication" said Teri Stokes. "I would make every effort to appear to be a resource and support system to him, rather than simply an evaluator of his performance."
"The combination of one-on-one with peers and clear theory and action presentations by pros who truly know how to teach teachers to teach, will help Jon be successful," concluded Patricia Green.
That combined with all the other great strategies our "Principal Files" team has suggested!
THIS MONTH'S CONTRIBUTORSEducation World would like to thank the following contributors to this article: