No teacher is an island. I have heard this phrase many times, but had little idea what it truly meant until I found out how much teachers rely on others for ideas and support. In order to exemplify collaboration within the school (HOPE principle E2), I must be open to collaboration and be adamant in my intentions to work with others. My mentor teacher has not only been a mentor to me, but she has also helped her grade-level partner in her transition into the second grade. Previously a third-grade teacher, she relied heavily on my mentor’s ideas to help her through her first year at the new grade level. Essentially, she provided a model for me to know how critical it is to ask for help during your first year – whether it be first year at a new school, a new grade level, or even first year teaching. As I prepare to go into my own classroom, I will use the relationships I have developed at my current internship site to ask as many questions about first grade as possible. I will be going into the Kindergarten classroom to see the level at which my next-year’s students will be. I will be going to the first grade teacher to get advice on the first few weeks of school – that critical expectations-setting time that can make or break your whole school year.
In reading education blogs, I came across a great post about teacher collaboration on Edutopia by Ben Johnson. The author notes that he had a very difficult time when he was first starting out since he tried to work in isolation. It was only when a coworker approached him for collaboration that he felt comfortable sharing ideas and being open to the ideas of others. Some of his advice for teachers is to build relationships from the very first day, observe other teachers whenever you can, ask questions, and be prepared for collaboration meetings. In having deliberate collaboration, and not just hoping that the answers to our problems will just spring out of nowhere, we can improve our productivity in these meetings, both formal and informal, and be able to improve the ways in which we teach.
Johnson, B. (2011). Making the most out of teacher collaboration. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/teacher-collaboration-strategies-ben-johnson
While I often receive feedback from my mentor teacher and university coordinator, I believe the untapped source of feedback for teachers in the classroom is the students. They watch us teach every day and are the ones most impacted by our lessons. How often do we get their responses? In order to gain a better understanding of how my students feel about my teaching, I gave them a Student Perception Survey. According to Hanover Research, these surveys “can provide valuable feedback to teachers that may ultimately help to improve their effectiveness” (2013, p. 14). Using these types of surveys can help me to exemplify professionally-informed, growth-centered practice (HOPE principle E1). The results of the survey I gave opened my eyes to some areas on which I can focus.
While many of the survey responses were very positive, one or two students had a very negative outlook across the areas I surveyed. While this survey was anonymous, this data tells me that perhaps there are one or two students that feel more neglected in my teaching than others. My first step would be to ensure that I am giving adequate attention to the needs of each student. After averaging the data (See Image 2), I decided to focus attention on the area which scored lowest: “My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.” While this area did not score drastically lower than the others on average, it would still be a good starting point for fostering growth.
For a long time, I tried to stray away from the idea of dominance, as it seems like an idea akin to threatening and intimidation, but there is a certain level of control a teacher must have within their classroom. Marzano stated the idea in a more approachable way, even for someone who wants to have positive relationships with their students. He says that assertive behavior based on body language, appropriate tone of voice, and persistence can help a teacher maintain control of the classroom (2003). As I begin my first year of teaching, I will try to focus on those three things in order to be a presence that students will respect as an authority.
Hanover Research (2013). Student perception surveys and teacher assessments.
Marzano, R. J. (2003). Classroom management that works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Students are at unique places in their lives. Classroom management systems should accommodate for this, as each student has different needs that must be fulfilled. In order to honor student diversity and development (HOPE principle H1), our management strategy needs to fit each of our students where they are, as well as help them work towards where they should be. In our classroom, students know the expectations and understand why we have them, thanks to hard work on my mentor’s part at the beginning of the year. While we have students with different behavioral quirks, we use the same system with each of them, with slight modifications. This system is centered on a behavior chart (see Image 1) posted at the front of the classroom.
During lessons or transition time, my mentor teacher would ask a student to “move up your number” or “move down your number” in order to positively enforce good behavior or have students acknowledge that the teacher noticed their misbehavior. For some students, we enforce simple behaviors that they are working on, such as not shouting out and raising their hand instead. For others, who typically exhibit good behavior, the expectations are slightly higher before they are bumped up. Regardless, students who have a whole week on “Good Day” will be bumped up for the final day in order to reflect a week without serious negative behavior. This classroom management strategy is useful in that it allows the teacher to constantly reward behaviors, both positive and negative. Some students need additional motivation for positive behaviors, so a few students receive small rewards for achieving the “Great Job” status multiple times per week, such as a special pencil or notepad.
Parents get notified daily of their student’s standing. Students reflect what their standing is on their behavior chart on the back of their reading logs. Part of the daily homework is that parents acknowledge and initial their student’s standing for the day. This constant updating allows parents to express their concerns before students receive a grade on report cards or progress reports and opens the avenue of discussion about student behaviors. Additionally, the data allows my mentor teacher the ability to track behavior long-term (see Image 2). In my classroom, I will have a similar system in order to both monitor behavior and keep long-term records of changes in behavior or a student’s behavior trends. This data can help the student’s both current and future teachers understand the best way to create a learning environment with few behavioral distractions.
While many students in the classroom are at grade-level, there are bound to be students in any classroom who fall well above or below that range. In order to allow students to keep learning, we must offer an appropriate challenge in the content area (HOPE standard O2). For the higher students, this means being prepared with deeper-level thinking questions and enrichment material that will keep them engaged. For lower students, however, who are not able to complete grade-level tasks independently, we must work within their Zone of Proximal Development. Vygotsky’s theory of the Zone of Proximal Development, according to Pressley and McCormick (2007), is the cognitive space between the most challenging task a child can perform on their own and the most challenging task they can perform with help.
In our reading groups, this support comes in the form of reading prompts. While our highest-level readers read whole paragraphs and our grade-level readers tackle a sentence at a time before reflecting on the meaning of the whole paragraph, our lower readers get additional support in reading grade-level texts with prompts to aid comprehension. When asking a student to read, my mentor teacher and I prompt the reader with a question such as “About whom is this sentence going to tell us?” To which the student will respond by reading the subject of the sentence. “What did that person do?” would prompt the next student to say the verb, and so on. After reading through with prompting, students will get the chance to read the passage all the way through in order to assist in fluency. By assisting the students in breaking down the sentence into phrases and giving them prompts about how to relate the parts of speech, students are still able to read the same grade-level passages as their peers, but are not faced with a challenge too great for their current comprehension level. In my future teaching, I will gladly provide student the support they need to perform grade-level tasks with a challenge appropriate to their learning level, even if it does require extra effort on my part.
Pressley, M. & McCormick, C. B. (2007). Child and adolescent development for educators. New York, NY: Guilford Press.