During a recent Friday at school, the students were at home and the teachers were in class. We were learning about “Bringing out the Best in Students and Teachers” from Grace Dearborn, a Mentor Teacher/Consultant. With over 15 years of teaching students ranging in age from kindergarten through high school aged children, Grace was a master storyteller, easily conveying tried and useful information to the FMS teaching staff.
Starting with some of the basics, like “The two pillars of effective classroom management are structure and safety.” The more clearly the structure of the classroom is laid out for the students the easier it is for them to follow the procedures in the classroom. For example, in the primary classrooms, we show students how to roll up a mat so that it is evenly rolled up and tightly done. In the course of the day, if a child haphazardly rolls up a mat and then puts it away, they have not internalized the structure of “how to roll up a mat.” Hopefully, a teacher will see this and gently ask the child to try again, thus giving them a pattern of rolling up a mat that is in compliance with the structure of the classroom.
In an elementary classroom, students might be shown how to do a word sort where they are handed a list of words and are asked to divide up the list according to the specific categories. If the student follows the procedure and separates the list according to the categories, then the child begins to learn the words effectively and this process reinforces their knowledge. On the other hand, if they don’t sort correctly, a teacher would see the opportunity to reteach the process and reinforce the structure of sorting according to an effective standard.
As each child is able to move and operate in the classroom, successfully navigating the rules and expectations within the room, the smoother the classroom runs. Children naturally test the boundaries laid out by teachers (and parents) and most of the time, they are just testing to see how trustworthy the teacher is. The first time they push a limit and a teacher is able to meet the child with “positive love and regard” while redirecting the student to making a better choice, the student’s sense of safety is reinforced. They begin to relax because they know that the teacher is directing the room from a position of strength and awareness.
Naturally teachers are motivated to convey content to their students; the “important information”, like facts and concepts. Yet, an equally important component of teaching is modeling appropriate behavior. In fact, as was reinforced in our training; children come into a classroom wanting to learn appropriate behavior. It is the teacher’s duty to clearly lay out the procedures for appropriate behavior, redirecting a child to better choices when they are testing the limits, and to implement clear consequences for the choices being offered. As children learn to conduct themselves within the framework of the classroom, they begin to develop the skills to effectively be in groups. Since most of our lives are spent working in groups, this is a fundamental skill that requires the attention it deserves.