July 24, 2011

Five steps to a problem-free classroom

An acquaintance read my ASCD blog post, “How to stop discipline issues forever,” and she said that she was intrigued but also perplexed. “You say you eliminate control and create engaging activities,” she said, “but I don’t see exactly how you eliminate discipline issues.” After some consideration, I decided to follow up with these steps for creating a classroom that is completely free from discipline issues.

Five steps for creating a problem-free classroom
1.      Throw out all rules and consequences – stop posting “Do and Don’t” signs in your room, as these only mean that you are in control of the students, which they hate. Discuss mutual respect with your students, but don’t con them into outlining expectations; this is just assertive discipline disguised as ROLE teaching. Explain that there is no need for rules in a learning community built on mutual respect.
2.      Replace control with freedom – ignore the insignificant rules that most schools have and give students real autonomy. When Rachel says she has to use the restroom, let her. Avoid ridiculous X-hall-passes-per-quarter or remain-in-your-seat-at-all-times policies, as these are further signs of control (they are also rules, which you need to throw out). If a student asks to retrieve a book from his locker, let him. Gently emphasize how much you value his presence in the class, and locker trips will quickly dissipate. Let students choose some learning activities and some collaborative groups. Freedom is the guideline here. Students value it.
3.      Never punish – you will lose all credibility with students, the second you begin punishing them. ROLE teachers simply do not give consequences. If a student is disrespectful or disruptive, most likely you are doing something wrong. You’ve said No to a simple request, you’ve removed a freedom, or your class activity is boring. It’s really this simple. Rather than punish a student for your shortcoming, it’s always better to talk to her one-on-one and explore the problem and its solution together (see step 4).
4.      Build rapport – everything you do either builds or burns bridges with your students. Sarcasm and yelling never work. What you may think is a harmless joke may irreparably damage your relationship with a student. The “bad phone call” is also a problem. Work daily to build rapport with all students, as this will minimize even a typically-disruptive student's desire to be a problem in your class.
5.      Emphasize results-only learning – in addition to year-long projects, narrative feedback and the elimination of all other traditional teaching methods, what creates a thirst for learning is intrinsic motivation. This has to be coached all year. Remind students often that results-only learning is about intrinsic motivation. It is students choosing how they demonstrate learning and taking part in self-evaluation. This constant emphasis of the ROLE will help fan the intrinsic motivation that already exists in students, and the more they understand this, the more they’ll embrace learning and lose interest in disruption.