Choose Your Management System Carefully

Over breakfast this morning, my Flipboard journey helped me stumble upon Pernille Ripp’s (@pernilleripp) great post on giving up “traditional” classroom discipline systems.  It appears, we share similar views on leaving behind regularly implemented management systems for something more effective for our teaching styles.

For the first four years of my teaching career (sixth and seventh grade kiddos!), I was, for the most part, in situations where I had the freedom to do my own gig.  My “system” was simple:

Follow these four rules:

  1. Respect Yourself
  2. Respect Others
  3. Respect the Teachers
  4. Respect the School

We spent the first few weeks of school revisiting these guidelines regularly and constantly discussed what it meant to “respect” each of these groups.  When problems did arise, I always tried to bring it back to its respective rule.  Not gonna lie – it worked pretty well.  I had the occasional infraction that required a little more itnervention, but I loved that the rules weren’t beat into kids and they had some ownership of defining what each “rule” meant to them and their class period.  If I remember correctly, I think I eventually got rid of #3 and “covered it” in #2.

Then I moved to Elementary Land.

As I met with my new departmentalized team, we discussed what we wanted our team’s manamgment system to be.  Our building, unofficially, seemed to all use “card” systems.  We purchased overpriced mobile pocket charts, printed labels for each block, and filled them with a rainbow of slick, laminated color cards.

I have three gripes with this system.

First, it was a system – a heck of a system.  It had to be explained and maintained.  It had to be transported and documented and reset and noisily picked up in the hallway by twelve helpful kids when Steven or Alex or Mackenzie would accidently carry it upside-down!  The last thing I needed was something else to take time away from…you know…learning.

Second, the way we implemented it, once your card was “turned” (Did lightening flash and thunder just boom outside your window, too?!), it was turned for the day.  That means, because Rachel made a poor choice in the gym twenty minutes before the first bell even rang, her card was turned for the day.  At 1:55, when she walked back in the room from Specials, ready and enthusiastic to have a positive learning experience, there was that reminder up on the wall for everyone to see: Alert!  Alert!  Rachel is having a bad day!

Finally, I don’t like the message on respect that it sends.  If Eddie is sitting at his desk and looks up to see that he is “still” on green, what message does that send?  I contend that it says, “Eddie…you haven’t messed up…yet.  But when you do, there’s a yellow, red, and blue card just waiting to make an appearance for you!”  How about we trust and respect kids (or in the least, let them think we do) that they won’t “mess up”?

The first year I used this clearly defined and organized system, I had the the most discipline problems I’ve ever had.

Now, I’m sure there is lots of statistical research out there that supports the value for this type of system.  And, I’m sure it totally works for some educators and can be used to run very managed learning environments well.  What I’m saying is that it didn’t work for me.  Maybe I wasn’t implementing it correctly.  Maybe I needed more professional development on it.  Or maybe I needed a system that was more aligned to how I taught.

What happens when we spend more time preparing and implementing engaging lessons than on managing management?

Long story, short (thanks for sticking with me up till this point!), the next year I reverted back to modified version of my original management plan.  I asked the kiddos to respect three stakeholders, we revisited what that means, we practiced, we discussed, and most importantly, instead of managing and documenting complex systems, we were engaged and we learned.

I began to walk through some of the classrooms of my new building this week, exploring the walls and bulliten boards and yes, management systems.  I’m really excited to watch the school year unfold and see how teachers use some of these very creative-looking systems!

I’m not at all saying my system will work for everyone.  I’m also not at all saying the card systems don’t work.  I’m saying that as we are all preparing for the upcoming school year, choose your managment system carefully.  Make sure it reflects your beliefs about management, learning, and kids…and not necesarily in that order!
 

 

So Long, Farewell!

This summer, as I did the What-To-Chuck Walk around my classroom, my eyes kept returning to an entire bookshelf filled with giant Merriam-Webster Dictionaries.

We’re not talking five or six of them.  We’re talking an entire class set.  The collection was one of those inherited things that another teacher offered to me, and I was too much of a naive, young, greedy teacher to turn them down.  They were still in near-perfect condition, each with a $22.99 sticker stuck to the front cover.

Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/60437

Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/60437

So I began the analysis: Do my students use them? Was in because of accessibility issues?  Could I put them anywhere else?  What else could I put there?  Would something else on that shelf serve the students better?

Then I remembered one of my students from the last school year: Ellie.  I think it was during our work on books for the Young Authors’ Conference.  I remember her words and actions specifically.  She was working at her table, located near the wall of computers in my room.  She must have still been drafting or editing.  Nearby, students were typing their drafts on GoogleDocs, preparing to copy and paste into StoryJumper for publication.

Ellie came across a difficult word to spell.  She asked her neighbors, to no avail.  Then she flipped on her lightbulb and exclaimed aloud, “Let’s look it up on GoogleDocs!”  Within seconds she was leaning over a friend’s keyboard, typing her best guess and waiting for for “The Red Squiggly Line.”  With a flash of the line and a quick right click, she had her correct spelling and was back to writing.

Meanwhile, four pieces of dust fell atop the dictionaries on the bookshelf.

So during that reflection, I had my answer.  I loaded up the dictionaries on a chair with wheels and scooted my way to the storage book room.  It was tough to stack perfectly good dictionaries (and their price tags!) on a dark shelf in the corner of the book room, knowing well that they would remain their until the end of time.  But alas, it is a different time.  Ellie, and all of my students, have coping mechanisms to assist them.  [Rest assure, I’m about to right-click on my spelling of “mechanisims” instead of heading to my bookshelf for a dictionary.]

Thanks for leading the way, Ellie!