Sunday, September 1, 2013

What I Do When Things Go Awry

In my last post I wrote about classroom management and it has been wonderful to talk to you all about it – here, or at Facebook and Twitter. As I had said in it, I had a feeling I wasn’t alone in the way I approached “rules” in the classroom, and boy was I right. There are quite a few of us out here! There are also many of us that want to move to this type of management system. Those two words just made me laugh a little. Think we could patent it and put it up on Teachers Pay Teachers? We could all be rich!

But seriously, some of you did ask me what I do when everything isn’t running smoothly? It’s hard to answer generally because it really depends on the scenario. Big deals require more action and possibly the involvement of my principal. That would be extremely rare. Let me state a few things. I do know the students coming in very well. I know many teachers say that they don’t want to look at records ahead of time or hear from the teachers in the class below regarding what the new class of students are like, they want to develop their own opinions. I respect that and understand the thinking, but my approach is pretty opposite. One, I’m in a tiny school – two grade levels, 130 kids per grade level. I have already seen the kids the year before. I know who was in trouble. I know who was in the office. So that information is already filed away and I can’t erase it. I do talk to the teachers as well. I find that if I’m really well informed, I can decide on what approach I need with each student. If I know I will have a student with some major behavior problems in my class, I work extra hard to establish a relationship with them quickly. Most of the time, that helps us get off on the right foot.

When we do have issues – and there are small ones on a regular basis – I think the way you approach them speaks volumes to the students. As I said in the earlier post, one issue we’re having is that we’re chatty in writing workshop. As a class we’ve been brainstorming ways to solve that. I’m anxious to see what they think after we have workshop on Tuesday – if the students will think it has improved or that we still need to problem solve a bit more. By turning the management issue over to them to fix, it saves me a lot of time trying to convince students to try my way of thinking.

Other issues arise like one I heard about through the grapevine of teachers on Friday. I heard that two students in one of my classes were unkind to a classmate on the bus ride home. I thought about that. I could just approach them and let them know that I had heard. I chose instead to switch my plans for the day. I shared with each reading class the book Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. If you haven’t read this beautiful picture book, I highly recommend it. We talked about Maya in the book and how Chloe treats her at first. How when Chloe realizes the error of her ways, it is too late to fix it. The students connected it to Auggie and Wonder, which was an all-school read last year. And then, I shared with them.

I told them how I believe we know in our hearts what is right. How when we go against that it hurts not only others, but hurts us. I shed a few tears talking to them, telling them how it hurts me when they hurt each other. They were quiet, and I could see many thinking about their choices. Then I told them they each had a gift, that we all do. We get to choose what type of person we become. We wake up everyday and we make that choice. I asked them, what type of choice were they going to make today? And if they’d made the wrong one before, could they change it?

I use books a lot. Sometimes it is easier to see right and wrong in the actions of others and then bring it back to ourselves. I talked to the boys separately later and let them know that I had heard what happened. Both were very upset. It was a small incident on the bus, but I address small incidences so they aren’t allowed to become bigger later. I told both that I still loved them, but wanted them to make sure they had made it right with the other child. They nodded and we left it at that. That might be enough, or we might need to talk more later. I can’t know the answer until they show me the path they are going to take. That’s why I don’t have rules posted – the things that arise rarely fall into neat categories.

My classroom is far from perfect, and that’s ok. We work everyday to be better people – the students do and I do too. I want them to know exactly that that, it is work! Making the right choice takes deliberate action. I want to teach them that through conversations, expectations, and often a story we share. I think the fact that I start every day believing they will make the right choice and they start each day coming into a class where they know they are wanted, makes our journey together a positive one. When they look back at fifth grade that is what I want them to remember. Not that they moved a clip, but that a teacher cared enough about them to talk to them when they messed up, to show them the right way, and that she loved them.