Above all else at a public school, the first priority of teachers and administrators must always be ensuring children's safety. Interestingly, it is the safety consideration that is central in elevating social and academic learning. Seasoned teachers and successful principals know that structured classrooms not only promote safety, but they form the basis for a stimulating and dynamic social and academic learning environment. But, this structure does not occur by accident. A teacher creates this space inside four rectangular walls with consistent and efficient daily routines in conjunction with equitable effective classroom management.
This lengthy blog (the second part (P2) in proactive principal management) focuses on the importance of creating and maintaining high functioning classroom environments. The process is an important administrative function each school year, but unfortunately, it is a task that is frequently overlooked by far too many Title 1 elementary principals. An effective and successful Title 1 elementary principal must be a proactive manager to avoid addressing a myriad of student disciplinary issues during the school year.
The major obstacle in creating a learning environment in the classrooms is that teachers are guiding and persuading a group of human beings - albeit, small ones - that rules and their associated consequences are in fact, good for them. Students test boundaries. Of course, the boundaries in this case are set by classroom rules and teacher expectations, but children will frequently press as close to the fence as possible. Inevitably, students explore classroom limits to ascertain what actions are acceptable and what are not, and occasionally, they jump over the fence. However, in many respects, inappropriate student conduct is often a rite of passage of the maturation process - learning there are consequences for personal choices.
The Classroom Teacher Cannot be Stranded on an Island - Without Rescue in Sight
When I was an assistant principal at Cox Elementary in Leander ISD outside Austin, my principal offered an insightful perspective to student conduct, "When a school administrator does not want to deal with student discipline issues any longer, they need to get out of the game."
She was coaching me to understand that teachers needed support with creating effective and efficient classroom routines as well as direct assistance with challenging students and situations. In effect, a principal's days of classroom and student management were not over; they were just beginning. A teacher must have confidence that if support is needed in the classroom, the campus administration is a viable partner in the process.
During the professional development sessions in August, the proactive principal must convey specific guidelines for establishing a classroom learning environmental standard that provides a common foundation for social and academic learning in all classrooms. As with well managed classrooms, establishing school wide behavioral expectations does not happen by accident. The principal must be proactive in not only stating and describing expectations with specificity, but he or she must follow-up to ensure teachers establish and maintain these systems after the first day of the school. Of course, the follow-up is the difficult part. However, the proactive principal must be hands-on, consistent and supportive of the plight of the teachers in their classrooms. If this is not done, academic achievement results at the end of the school year will most certainly be depressed.
The Importance of Common Structure in Elevating Social and Academic Performance
The bullet point list below is not a new and unique list of items that principals should cover at the beginning of each school year. Much to the contrary, it is a well-publicized list. Ironically, what is interesting that despite its paramount importance, is that many principals do NOT cover these topics with an emphasized priority. Consequently, in not addressing these bulleted items during their August professional development, principals miss the following four salient management opportunities:
1.) A common and collective standard to the faculty on the importance of establishing a safe, learning environment in all classrooms that build social and academic learning. The opportunity to establish an overall organizational structure for a school with many, many moving parts is lost.
2.) An opportunity to collectively define and establish campus core culture with regard to student behavior. See Related Blog: "School Culture - What does it Really Mean?" at The New 3Rs Education Consulting
3.) An unambiguous statement on the principal's beliefs in student safety and its implicit importance in elevating students' social and academic performance. In short, teachers are aware of the administrations' value in efficient and effective classroom structures and respond accordingly.
4.) The principal does not proactively communicate a set of appropriate student behavioral expectations and conduct for both school wide common areas and campus' classrooms. Ultimately, the administration will need to handle more student disruptions retroactively.
Proactive Administrators Set the Common, Minimum Standards for ALL Classrooms
Each teacher must set-up their classroom in accordance with their individual teaching style. Allowing that individuality is the only way to ensure that each teacher is successful in the classrooms. However, there must be an umbrella of expectations from the principal, so classroom teachers are aware of administrative expectations for orderly, safe learning environments - and ultimately, teachers prepare all campus' classrooms for both social and academic student success. That is the explicit and implicit administrative goal for addressing these management areas listed below each school year during the faculty professional development.
Recommend that a maximum of 3 to 5 posted classroom rules that are consistently and fairly applied. See Related Blog: ‘Classroom Rules - Why, How Many and Which Ones?’ for more information at The New 3Rs Education Consulting
The faculty embraces a student empowerment philosophy through personal choice. Hence, the student is in full command of their day with the choices they make – and the associated consequences of poorly made choices. Teachers are constantly guiding students that it is their choice. For example, during math class and without permission, a student can choose to stand atop their desk and sing, “God Bless America.” However, there is an appropriate and consistent consequence for a student choosing that disruptive action. See Related Blog: ‘Student Choice – Empowerment but with Personal Responsibility’ for more information at The New 3Rs Education Consulting The student is making the choice to act appropriately or not. They are choosing to follow or to not follow the rules. The teacher must apply consequences fairly and consistently in a calm, unemotional voice.
Classroom structure and well established classroom routines are required. For example, a posted daily class schedule is required and followed in each classroom that establishes a predictable and consistent daily routine.
Consistent routines established for entering and exiting the classroom – specific hallway stop points to school common areas – with student behavior expectations clearly communicated.
Early finisher expectations are clearly defined to prevent student disruptions to other students still engaged on the class lesson/assignment.
Simple and effective signals to quickly focus student attention. For example, teacher must establish a consistent and effective signal employed at the beginning of a lesson or a whistle to efficiently gather students on the playground. See Related Blog: ‘Class, Do I have Your Attention?’ for more information at The New 3Rs Education Consulting
Well planned, sequential and structured lessons to eliminate student ‘down time' and lack of engagement. See Related Blog: ‘When 15 Minutes is lost, It is expensive!" for more information at The New 3Rs Education Consulting.
Students’ desks are arranged with instructional purpose and allow efficient traffic patterns – including classroom seating arrangements for specific students, as needed.
Stress that classroom movements and activities should be dynamically managed with specific learning intentions to maximize student learning minutes.
All classroom physical environment tools (e.g. posters and anchors of supports) must be neat and communicate instructional purpose. The anchors of supports must be positioned on the classroom walls to afford students visual access.
Relationship building is time dependent and critical to social and academic student success – a teacher must be consistent and equitable with all students and sets the social tone and environment for all students - encouraging students and praising successes. The first day of school teachers must begin building positive relationship with their students.
Student redirections that are short and to the point are most effective – refrain from long conversations with elementary students – most children stop listening after only 30 seconds. See Related Blog: ‘Student Management Redirection – Shorter is Better’ for more information at The New 3Rs Education Consulting.
Coach teachers to keep minor distractions – minor by calmly recognizing and de-escalating challenging situations.
Stress that teachers should stay calm and not become emotional and act inappropriately based on a child’s poor choices of behavior. The principal cannot defend the indefensible – no self-inflicted wounds in teacher behavior.
Teachers should be proactive thinkers in the classroom with regard to student interactions. For example, two students that have conflict and heightened disagreements may be strategically positioned in the same classroom and come in contact only when the teacher is nearby.
Phone calls are cheap and principals loathe surprises. Teachers need to communicate to the administration if there is a problem and not attempt to conceal it. In turn, principals need to be responsive when a teacher is requesting assistance with challenging student situations or maintaining their classroom systems. Both parties share a common student goal - make students socially confident and academically successful.
What is the End Result of these Collective Efforts?
Teachers and principals are consistently equitable in actions, consequences and emotional tenor. Shared campus culture is established for heightening social and academic student achievement. Additionally, a positive relationship forms between the teacher/principal and students. A common purpose is slowly but surely established by all stakeholders on the collective work undertaken at the school. A safe environment foments a trustful relationship that promotes every school's reason for existence - social and academic learning.
Finally, a young elementary student's understanding of this process is oblivious, but children feel a sense of comfort and safety around their teacher and principal. They implicitly understand one monumentally important realization: The teacher and principal care about me, and they are trying to help me.