This post is a reflection on my strategies for classroom environment and management (Domain 1) for the American School Foundation of Monterrey Track 1 project.
|DOMAIN 1: CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT AND MANAGEMENT||Level|
|1a. Creating an environment of respect and rapport.||Meets Standard|
|Interactions with students are friendly, warm, caring and respectful. Students show respect for me and interact respectfully with each other. However, positive classroom tone is inconsistent and not all students feel safe in taking risks.|
|1b. Establishing a culture for learning.||Approaches Standard|
|I communicate the importance of the work but buy-in is not consistent; instructional objectives, activities and interactions in the classroom convey high expectations for achievement.|
|1c. Maintaining appropriate expectations of behavior.||Approaches Standard|
|Expectations of behaviour have been established and are understood by most students, I am generally aware of student behaviour but may miss some student actions, and my responses to student misbehaviour has inconsistent results.|
|1d. Managing classroom procedures, routines and transitions.||Approaches Standard|
|Routines for handling materials and non-instructional duties are generally efficient and smooth, however transitions are sporadically efficient, resulting in the loss of some instructional time. There is some off-task behaviour during group-work tasks.|
|1e. Organizing physical environment.||Meets Standard|
|My classroom furniture is organized for a purpose and adjusted for particular lessons, and I display well-organized materials that aid instruction.|
Managing the classroom environment to create a respectful, positive and welcoming place to learn is one of my priorities as a teacher. While some elements of this (e.g. relating positively to students) have come naturally, others (e.g. keeping a Gr 9 class on task for 60 minutes) have been a struggle. I have maintained some classroom management strategies consistently throughout the year and, in consultation with the instructional coach, am continually incorporating new or different strategies in order to better establish the classroom environment I want.
At the beginning of this year — the beginning of my first year as a full-time high school teacher — I established the basics of my classroom management structure. I gave a welcome handout to my students, which laid out the basics of my expectation for respect and hard work. I established a consistent routine so that my students know what to expect at each stage of the class: PTT -> Class Agenda -> Unit Outline -> HW Review -> New Material -> Work Time -> Closure. I also had all my students submit a survey through the online tool Socrative on their expectations of me as well as their expectations of each other throughout the year. The results, arranged into a word cloud (above), have been posted in my classroom since the first week.
I have also paid attention to the physical layout of my classroom since the beginning of the year. My initial classroom setup (shown to right) aimed to balance between the need for students to view direct instruction on the SmartBoard and my desire to orient them towards each other for in-class work and math discussions. In the second semester I have rearranged the classroom into paired desks rather than groups of three, with the same desire for balance. For individual lessons (e.g. tests or group work days) I rearrange the desks to a suitable configuration. I place an emphasis on having student work on my walls, both to create a welcoming atmosphere and to signal to students that their work is valuable.
As the months progressed and I got to know my classes, I became aware that my starting point would not be sufficient. While I had created a welcoming physical environment and in general had a good rapport with my students, I found that I spent more and more time reviewing behavioural expectations and responding to students who were not meeting my expectations. Like many new teachers, I was not backing up my expectations with consequences, and some students (especially in grade 9) did not have the maturity or independent motivation to meet the expectations without a consequence structure backing them up. A significant problem was students disrupting direct instruction by chatting with their neighbours.
At the end of Semester 1, I sat down with the instructional coach and we worked out a plan to improve my class environment. We focused on two main areas of improvement: class routines and transitions, and ensuring behaviour expectations are met.
I have made some progress in managing the class routines and transitions due to this meeting. One important change that I have successfully implemented in Math 9 in Semester 2 is distributing and collecting prime time task (PTT) sheets. Because I collect these for marks, students are much more likely now to start the PTT when the bell rings without my prompting, and to give a good effort to complete it before we review it with the class. Another improvement has been in transitions; I have been focusing on giving the class notice before a transition will take place — especially one from working to listening — and making the transition smoother with a visual and oral countdown, usually from five to zero. This allows students to quickly wrap up their conversations and me to start the next activity directly instead of waiting for students to transition on their own time.
I feel that I have made less progress in managing misbehaviour. As decided in my semester 2 plan, I am giving students “strikes” for disruptive behaviour and asking them to temporarily leave the classroom if they reach three strikes. This has been effective in some cases, but has not changed the long-term behaviour of certain students, who I have sent to the hallway repeatedly. I have been less consistent in following up with these students, either with further consequences, parent contact or behaviour contracts. In addition, students who are motivated to learn and participate fully in class are frustrated by disruptions, both by students and my responses. One student, after a particularly rough ten minutes, asked if she could work outside, saying “I can’t concentrate here when it’s always ‘strike 1,’ ‘strike 2’.” I have been trying to figure out ways to make my interventions more effective and less intrusive into learning time, but have not had much success.
I think that underlying these issues, however, is the culture of learning. It is one of my main goals, expressed in my welcome handout linked above, to create a strong culture of learning where students will be internally motivated and not require in-class interventions due to disruptive or apathetic behaviour. This desire is probably one thing holding me back from assigning more consequences to misbehaviour: I don’t want to run a fear- and consequence-based classroom. However, for many reasons my classes do not always meet my expectations as learning communities, and I am still approaching that standard as a teacher.
Some of these reasons are outside my control. For instance, many students are socialized early in their schooling to dislike or misunderstand mathematics, and many students, especially in our school community, are very grades-motivated and do not learn for learning’s sake. These are especially true of many of my non-honours math students, and really affect their buy-in to the class. I do not know what as a single teacher I can do to combat these trends.
Other factors in learning culture are somewhat within my control. Our math curriculum and the provided resources (i.e. student workbooks) are well-designed, but they necessitate covering a lot of ground fairly quickly. This has a varied effect on students: some understand quickly and are bored with a surface-level treatment of the material, and some fail to understand and are frustrated that the class is moving faster than they can keep up with. I have seen both of these situations arise in the same class period, and they both give rise to behaviour issues. To respond, I have worked on creating interesting unit projects, differentiating some instruction and assessment, and offering extra help for struggling students; however I still see shortcomings in my instruction which affect classroom management. I will explore this in Domain 3.
I am not actually pessimistic about the culture of my classroom! Indeed, it is an environment of respect and rapport, and with the large majority of students I have no behavioural issues. Among the things I do to help create a culture of learning in my class are:
- expressing enthusiasm about math in general and about current topics,
- giving feedback and marks to students quickly, usually within a week after hand-in,
- being available for students before and after school,
- using humour to liven up discussions of dry math topics, and
- emphasizing that students have primary responsibility for their learning.
Overall, I feel that I am approaching the high standard that ASFM expects in classroom environment and management. While I can improve in establishing and enforcing behavioural expectations in the classroom, and bending my students toward a culture of learning, I think I have a good rapport and mutual respect with my students which serves me well in the classroom.