Saturday, October 23, 2010

Reflecting on my Classroom Culture

I am currently reading the book Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov.  I love what I have read so far and am slowly implementing techniques as I can.  I've been going over chapter 5 a lot in my mind because I'm having trouble with creating a strong classroom culture.  I want to take a moment to reflect on the five principles of classroom culture and how they are playing out with my students.

According to Lemov, these five principles are discipline, management, control, influence, and engagement.  They all work together to create a strong classroom culture, but many teachers focus on one or two instead of all five.  I am guilty of this as well, which is why I need this reflection.

Discipline is often thought of as something we do to students, but it is actually something we should teach students.  Lemov defines it as "teaching students the right and successful way to do things."  It took me a while to understand that even the simplest things like how stand quietly in a line needed to be taught.  I have finally come to terms that EVERYTHING in my room needs to be taught, not just curriculum but procedures, communicating with peers, and staying organized as well.  I'm getting better at teaching these things, but I wish I had known this beforehand because now I finally understand what the first six weeks of school should have looked like so I wouldn't have to take the instructional time to do it now.  I've also noticed that my students are quite visual so I need to have posters and pictures of all these things as well.

I found out that management is really what I thought discipline was, "the process of reinforcing behavior by consequences and rewards".  I was focusing heavily on this at the beginning of the year through the use of a color chart to serve consequences and stickers & prize box to serve as rewards.  I have since learned that I cannot rely on those alone, that the other four principles need to be in place as well.  I'm trying not to overuse them, but I'm still worried that my students will become desensitized and start thinking they don't have to behave unless a reward is attached.  I was against this type of system in the beginning, but my students weren't responding to just logical consequences and redirection so I finally caved in.  The other day I was praising my students for walking in the hallway so quietly and one said, "so where's our sticker?"  This is exactly what I was afraid of, but I explained to her that I was still rewarding her by giving her verbal praise.  I explained to the class that they won't get stickers every time they do something right because that's not how it works in real life and the expectation is that they behave well because it is the right thing to do, not because they are getting a reward.  I'd like to continue building up the other four principles so I'm not relying as much on my consequences and rewards to manage them.

I'm still trying to understand exactly what Lemov means in his description of control.  He's right that it is the kind of word that puts people on edge, including me.  I tend to think of myself as a teacher who has started out trying to control my kids.  I've been told by my coaches that I need to relax a little bit, so that's what I've been working on....not trying to control every single thing and every single behavior.  It's hard because there are still moments of chaos and students not on task, which is really difficult for me to witness, but I've also noticed that I'm less stressed when I'm not trying to control every situation.  Lemov also talks about the power of language and relationships.  I've improved  my tone of voice a lot where it is much more firm and deep so the kids know I'm serious.  I'm still building relationships by having lunch with them, but I noticed this week that I'm not showing them enough love.  I see other teachers love them up like mothers and I haven't reached that stage yet.  I don't think I can be that maternal because I don't have kids of my own, but I know I can show them I care about them more.

I've never thought about influence before, and I have a lot of work to do in this area.  I don't think I'm inspiring enough, and I'm not quite sure how to get there.  I can tell them they can do it, but many of my kids have already experienced so much failure in their lives that they still don't believe it.  I do have some students that already have the intrinsic motivation to behave well and do their work, but I haven't reached them all yet.  I think I should come up with some key phrases and challenge myself to use them a certain number of times throughout the day.  I will also need to research what other teachers do to influence their students.

This is also an area that I have found some difficulty with.  I've been talking with my literacy coach for ideas on how to make my lessons more engaging, so I'm trying those this week.  I'm looking at using more games for math (in my lessons, not just center time), and am thinking about administering a multiple intelligence survey to the class (if I could just find one that's easy enough for 3rd graders to understand).  I'm also hoping that when the Promethean board  gets installed in my classroom, I will have an easier time with incorporating technology into my reading, writing, and math lessons.

I still have so much work to do in order to have the kind of classroom culture I require.  It's definitely going to take me all year, but I know in the end I will be a better teacher for it.  


  1. Deena,

    I respect your drive towards creating a positive and collaborative learning culture in your classroom. When I first started teaching, I regret not reading professional texts to help me define my teaching approach and establish a learning culture. I commend you for that.

    Throughout the years I have changed from different teaching settings (from second grade, to Spanish, and now to Gifted), but have noticed that my approach remains the same when it comes to management and relating to my students. I think I have come to the point where my students respect me and can be themselves around me, but also know when we mean business. Instead of punishing negative behaviors, I have them reflect on those behaviors and realize why they are not welcomed in our classroom. Of course, I have consequences and my rewards are associated with roles in the class (like being the leader for the day or month). Students like being recognized for positive behavior and good choices, so assigning them with a responsibility like class leader is an honor. I also make sure to celebrate these roles by including their names in the class newsletter.

    I can also relate to your comment about not being a mother. I don't have any children either but know that my students feel safe and can rely on me. I feel almost like their auntie. They see me for a little during the week (not everyday) but know that they can count on me when they need it.

    I look forward to reading more about your journey with classroom management. I know lots of new teachers can benefit from this discussion. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Un abrazo,


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