A network to share best practices for children with special needs
There is so much more to school discipline than simply punishment. School discipline begins with classroom management. Today, we know more about teaching and discipline than ever before. Did you know that teachers’ behavior in their classrooms have twice the impact on student achievement as do school policies regarding curriculum, assessment, staff collegiality and community involvement (Marzano, 2003a)? We have also learned, through valid research, that one of the classroom teachers' most important jobs is managing the classroom effectively.
A foundation for positive and effective classroom management is high-quality relationships between teachers and students. “In a recent meta-analysis of more than 100 studies (Marzano, 2003b), it was found that the quality of teacher-student relationships is the keystone for all other aspects of classroom management. In fact, the meta-analysis indicates that, on average, teachers who have high-quality relationships with their students have 31% fewer discipline problems, rule violation and related problems over a year’s time than teachers who don't have high-quality relationships with their students." In other words, rules without relationships can equal rebellion.
The bottom line is that positive and effective discipline begins with positive relationships between teacher and student. What are the ingredients for a positive relationship? Is it for the teacher to be a pushover with the student? Should they be their friend? Absolutely not! A positive student-teacher relationship is made from:
• Clear expectations and consequences: These classroom expectations must be taught by the teacher at the beginning of the year. It takes more than pointing to a list of rules and explaining what they mean. It requires modeling and practicing until each student understands exactly what behaviors are expected and specific modeling of those behaviors. For example, if the teacher expects students to raise their hands before talking, what, exactly, is the proper way students should raise their hands? May they talk while their hand is raised or not? Is it permissive to jump up and down in their seat while their hand is raised? These may seem like silly questions, but when explaining to students classroom expectations, it must be very specific!
• Clear learning goals (if your child has an IEP, those learning goals should be very specific): Does your child know and understand what goals and objectives are on his/her IEP? If not, how can they find out and become more involved in their learning? I'm a very strong advocate of involving the child in the IEP so he/she knows and understands what is expected of them, and what they need to do to achieve those goals. They take ownership and responsibility for their learning this way.
• Understanding how the child learns and teaching through those strengths: We all learn differently. It's crucial that the teacher, you and your child knows and understands your child’s strongest modalities for learning. Your child needs to be taught how he/she learns and strategies for learning through his/her strongest modality.
• Caring is the key: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care." (Madeline Hunter)
I have found, through classroom observations, that many teachers are under so much stress to increase student achievement that they don't think they have the time to get to know each student (in some cases a teacher may have 120 students) and learn some of what is going on in each child’s life. They are dismissing an important element that can increase student achievement. If your child knows his teacher cares about him/her and wants him/her to be successful, he/she will do anything not to let that teacher down. It's a win-win situation.
Parents, how can you, the parent, ensure that your child and his teacher have a positive relationship?
• Know your child's teacher: Stay in regular contact with his/her teacher. Get to know the teacher and let him/her get to know you. If the teacher does or says something that you don't agree with, please call him/her or schedule a conference. Don't make negative comments in front of your child.
• Nothing negative: If your child comes home with negative comments about something that the teacher has said or done, call the teacher or schedule an appointment to meet with him/her. I used to tell parents that I would not believe all that their child said about them if they would not believe all that their child said about me!
• Acknowledge a job well done: If you are pleased with the teacher and think she/she is doing a good job, write a note or call him/her. It's wonderful when parents realize and appreciate how hard a teacher is working for the children. Your child spends more time at school during the week than he/she does at home. Do everything you can to make sure he/she experiences success and has the feeling that he/she is liked, accepted and respected.
Teachers, how can you ensure you have a positive relationship with each child in your class, and they all know that you care about them?
• Know your students: Make a point to know something about every student in your class. For example, Mary takes piano lessons, and loves it. Ask her about her lessons, or what is her favorite song to play, or what is the hardest song she has ever played. Ask her to play for you! Every student has something in his/her life that he/she loves to do. Often, it's playing a sport. Find out what it is, and go to one of the games. Nothing speaks louder than you showing up at one of your student's games! Make sure you know what all of your students’ basic, home situation is. Johnny may be living with his grandparents, Sandy may have a new baby sister. Mary’s dad may be serving time in prison for drugs, etc. You need to know this because as much as we'd like for kids to be able to leave their problems at the school door, they cannot.
• Communicate with parents: Call parents when you have something positive to say about their child. Many parents never receive a phone call from the teacher unless it's negative.
• Praise students: Always find something positive to say to students every day. Of course, if you teach 120 students, it's difficult to say something to each individual student every day, but it's possible to say something positive to each student once a week. Some students need encouragement more than others, but they all need it! We all realize you have to try very hard some days to find something positive to say. For example, if they sat in their desk for five minutes without falling out of it, that's positive! It means more than you know.
• Laugh, laugh, laugh: Then laugh some more: Don't forget to laugh and have fun with your students. Celebrate and enjoy the special people they are every day. They will love your for it.
So, what are my thoughts on school discipline? I think that if school administrators, teachers and staff carve out the time to develop strong, positive relationships with their students (which include the ingredients that I have listed), school discipline would be only for those few students who commit serious infractions of school policy. All students, whether in high school or elementary school, want to be accepted and loved. Teachers, if you love your students, academic achievement isn't an issue. All schools will be successful, and so will the students!
As the school year continues, please keep in mind that it's the relationships that are not only the key to student achievement, but also the determinant of whether each child will experience feelings of strong self worth and acceptance as a human being.
I have attached one of my favorite sayings for teachers to keep in mind. Teachers, please print this and hang it in your classroom where you will see it first thing each morning. Parents, although it refers to teachers, you can replace the word "home" for "classroom." Both environments apply. Please take time to read it . Just go to The Decisive Element .docx. You'll be glad you did!