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September 1, 2018
Vol. 76
No. 1

Reader's Guide / Beyond Discipline

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Classroom Management
A few years ago, I asked Harry Wong, the coauthor of the much-thumbed teaching handbook The First Days of School, why he thought so many teachers struggled with classroom management. He said the primary reason is that they tend to equate classroom management with discipline. This puts them in a reactive, defensive position—when, in fact, effective classroom management is all about being proactive.
I thought of Wong's response when I was reading teacher Bret Turner's lovely article in this issue of Educational Leadership. Turner recalls a wise professor in his teacher-prep program telling him, apropos of classroom management, that "discipline is a backup plan." For Turner, this maxim has been borne out by experience. Early in his career as a 1st grade teacher, he discovered that the best way for him to build a constructive classroom environment for his young students was through storytelling—arguably the pedagogical opposite of punitive discipline.

Building Relationships

Turner's method is out of the ordinary—I'm not sure if it's exactly the kind of thing Harry Wong would vouch for. But it strikes me as a useful metaphor for thinking about this issue as a whole. All of the authors featured in it seek to look at classroom management through a more creative lens than is commonly used, prioritizing relationship building, reflective planning, and nuance over "assumed authority," one-size-fits-all systems, or arbitrary rules-enforcement. A recurrent message is that today's students, especially those struggling with behavior issues, are most in need of support and connection, not punishment or stigmatization.
If Turner's piece offers a guiding metaphor for the issue, Lee Ann Jung and Dominque Smith's provides the rallying cry. Jung and Smith make a powerful case against the use of behavior charts and similar reward-and-punishment approaches to classrooms management. They argue that such methods ultimately create systems of student shaming and arbitrary compliance without helping students develop the social-emotional skills they need to thrive. A more constructive approach, Jung and Smith advise, involves working intentionally to build strong, responsive relationships with students. "Let's stop 'managing behaviors' and instead guide and support engagement, persistence, and positive interactions," they write.
Other authors echo and expand on Jung and Smith's points in different contexts. Gabriel Benn, for example, urges educators to work toward developing rapport with students and to avoid settling into the defensive posturing that can often lead to classroom conflicts. Mike Anderson, meanwhile, offers detailed advice on using consequences for misbehavior more intentionally, within a coherent system of support, so that they guide positive behavior rather than create a "façade of accountability" or—worse—a model for bullying.

Deliberate Practice

In its emphasis on coherence, Anderson's article touches on an important subtheme of this issue: The critical, though often under-recognized, role of deliberate planning and coordination in the development of effective, humane classroom management systems. Disjointed, ad hoc approaches, our authors suggest, only sow confusion.
Thus, Randy Sprick and Jim Knight discuss the importance of involving teachers in the development of schoolwide behavior policies—and in giving them consistent support to integrate those policies into their classrooms. Vanessa Scanfeld and her colleagues at Harlem Academy explain how students and teachers at the school have benefitted from the use of a common language around behavior expectations and character development. And Amy Murphy and Brian Van Brunt outline systemic, schoolwide approaches—including instructional-climate and de-escalation strategies—for responding to and addressing the causes of difficult behavior.
As our new columnist Jill Harrison Berg writes, there's "no secret formula" for effective classroom management. But we hope this issue provides a wealth of ideas and inspiration to help teachers and school leaders break free of reactive, discipline-oriented ruts and "create policies that leverage their unique perspectives and solutions that work for the students in their shared care."

Guiding Questions for Select Articles in this Issue

"Tear Down Your Behavior Chart" by Lee Ann Jung and Dominque Smith
    › How does your approach for addressing student behavior issues square with your personal answer to the question Jung and Smith propose: "Why do you continue to be an educator?" Does how you deal with "problem" students fit your central purpose?
    › What challenges might you or your school face in adopting Jung and Smith's three strategies for teaching positive behavior? What steps could you take to address those challenges?
    › Do you agree that teachers often struggle with decisions about consequences for student misbehavior more than they struggle with decisions about curriculum and academics?
    › Share with others in your school your experiences with choosing and implementing consequences for problematic behavior: Is this often a struggle for you?
    › Anderson says that while our decisions about consequences feel "private," they are also "public" because they impact other people in the school—so teachers should consider how their discipline decisions might affect the broader school community. Do you coordinate with colleagues as you decide on rules and consequences for students? How, practically, might you coordinate more?
"You Don't Know Me Like That" by Gabriel "Asheru" Benn
    › Do you agree that a teacher's authority is no longer assumed, but has to be earned? What implications does this have for classroom management?
    › Have you ever made a sarcastic or off-the-cuff comment to a student that was taken out of context? If so, what could you have done differently?
    › What practices do you use to build rapport with students, both collectively as a class and individually?
    › How can being more attuned to social and cultural cues help prevent interactions with your students from getting "lost in translation?"
    › Is assigning group work a norm across your school? If not, how can you scaffold students' collaboration skills?
    › Can implementing Pahomov's strategies help reduce conflict or misunderstandings during group work? Which ones are you willing—or unwilling—to adapt for your own classroom?
    › When conflict inevitably does arise, what steps can you take to guide groups toward their own resolution? What role will you play during those discussions?
    › Do you set aside time after a group project for students to reflect on their individual contributions, as well as how the group, as a whole, succeeded or fell short? What prompts could you provide to facilitate a discussion or written reflection?
End Notes

1 Rebora, A. (2013, October 14). "Harry and Rosemary Wong: Following Up on First Days," Education Week Teacher.

Anthony Rebora is the editor in chief of Educational Leadership.

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