I have been reflecting on the development of my classroom management philosophy as part of my first year of lecturing pre-service science teachers at the University of Wollongong. As I look back, I am reminded of the people who have influenced my teaching practice over the past 17 years and that some of those influences come from some unexpected places.
I quit teaching after my first year as a teacher because I had such an awful time. This was due to some unforgivable class allocations (now, as a head teacher I would never inflict similar on another human being) and a lack of support for the casual teacher (me) on a 3 term block. I learnt a lot that year, both good and bad. My classroom management strategies were sourced primarily from Bill Rogers. I had a dog eared copy of Making a Discipline Plan, which I have subsequently loaned to a pre-service teacher who didn’t return it. I hope that they, in turn, will lend it to another.
My favourite Rogersism is:
“You establish what you establish. Anything you allow, you establish as allowed.”
This blog post is a nice summary of the best of Rogers:
During this first year of my teaching practice a fellow teacher took, pity on me and introduced me to the work of William Glasser and Choice Theory (or Control Theory as it was originally called). This appealed to my Science brain. While I no longer remember the details, some of the bigger ideas have remained with me.
My favourite quote from Glasser:
“We have very little control except over our own thinking and doing and humans are driven by genetically programmed needs: to survive, to belong, to have power, to have fun and to be free.”
If you are interested:
I also had this strong gut feeling that I had to reward positive behaviour.
After I quit teaching, I did some time as a data base administrator and as an administrative assistant to the Inspector of Science at the Board of Studies. Rosemary Hafner, Margaret Watts and Joe Merlino convinced me to return to teaching and mentored me through this. I did a few more blocks, had a baby and finally got a permanent appointment in South Western Sydney. On my return to teaching Rogers and Glasser served me well until I had my second child. Then things changed.
I had returned from maternity leave, lost the hearing in my right ear due to a benign tumour and I had a 2 year old who was the textbook terrible two. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and every class I taught was fraught with anxiety and stress. Every minute felt like a battle. I was stressed out of my mind and was having a teary breakdown at least once a week in the staff room. Although everyone else saw me do what I always did, I felt incompetent. That was 9 years ago.
Two things saved me. I am a little embarrassed to admit that neither had anything to do with education. I had an Oprah moment and I went to a parenting course. These 2 things changed me and my classroom forever.
The first was a cringe worthy ah ha Oprah moment. I was watching Oprah on my 1 day per week of continuing maternity leave. Her guest was Gary Zukah and to paraphrase in order to cut a long story short, he described the concept that the energy you put out into the world is the energy that is reflected back to you. In other words my stress and frustration was being reflected back at me from my students.
The second was a parenting technique called 123 Magic by an American psychologist Dr Thomas Phelan. The take home message from this program for my classroom was ‘no talk, no emotion’ and it provided a clear technique for giving warnings to calmly achieve positive behaviours. (As an aside, it worked on my 2 year old too). Like Rogers’ work this program insists that you have to know what you are going to do and do it in a calm way.
These two things combined for a light bulb moment that changed my classroom forever. I implemented a modified version of 123 Magic and changed the energy I gave off in the classroom. I have no empirical data to suggest whether my students behaved any better than they did before but I was calmer, more in control and enjoying being in the classroom again.
Since then I have added a third non-education influence, Cesear Milan, the Dog Whisperer. I would like to add a caveat though. In no way am I saying that my students are dogs, and I am Not advocating that you should tap, touch, snap your fingers at or make ‘tsch’ sounds at any of your students. I am advocating owning your space and having a calm and assertive energy before you enter a classroom.
In the last 5 years I have also been trained in Positive Behaviours for Success which dovetails nicely with all that I had assimilated for myself over the years.
What I will be trying to show my baby teachers is that classroom management is personal and needs to be based on you being true to yourself. But it MUST contain the following elements to be successful:
– have a plan and a script of what to do and say when behaviours occur.
– explicitly teach your expectations.
– have a system to reward positive behaviours.
– own your space and exude a calm, assertive energy.
– deliver warnings and consequence with minimal talk and no emotion
– and when you or a student become upset, give them or yourself time out to calm down