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June 13, 2019
Vol. 14
No. 29

Don't Be a Robot! Manage Your Classroom with the Four Cs

Classroom Management
Two years ago, during a presentation on K–12 STEM education, I was asked when I thought robots would replace human teachers. It looks like we are safe for the time being. According to the futurist Byron Reese, machines are hard-pressed to do jobs that require broad intelligence, creativity and empathy, and the ability to make decisions, solve problems, and manage and mentor others.
Being on the cusp of a technology revolution, however, provides a unique opportunity to rethink not only what we teach but how we teach it. Teaching through the lens of the "Four Cs"—critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity—will help us and our students stay essential in an evolving world of work. Unlike traditional workforce development, however, the four Cs can't wait until middle or high school.
At the Education Development Center, based in Bostom, Mass., my colleagues and I have instructed, mentored, reflected and dialogued with preschool and elementary teachers about STEM teaching and learning and observed it in action in their classrooms. In the process, we have observed that a teacher's ability to create a classroom culture of inquiry—an environment in which students feel consistently encouraged to share their experiences, observations, and thinking—is a key factor in fueling high-quality science teaching. An established culture of inquiry also enables teachers to infuse the four Cs into all aspects of the classroom day.
Creating this environment takes time, patience, and effort on the teacher's part. It sometimes requires them to rethink well-established, traditional routines and practices that prescribe the teacher's role (expert who delivers information and evaluates students) and the student's role (blank slate receives information and delivers it on cue) but are incompatible with 21st century teaching and learning. For an example, let's look at something that many teachers spend a great deal of time and effort on: behavior management.

Traditional Behavior Management Undermines the Four Cs

As you reflect on your own management strategies, think about what skills you want your students to develop. Chances are you want them to think before they act, solve problems independently, express their feelings appropriately, and cooperate with their peers. Now think about how you communicate these expectations to students and whether the method you use supports their critical-thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity skills. One traditional classroom management tool that persists in spite of its outdated, authoritarian approach is the classroom behavior chart.
Teachers who use this chart (or another behavior management system) publicly acknowledge "good" behavior (Good to go! Outstanding! Great choice! Superstar!) or admonish "bad" behavior (Stop and think. Reminder. Make better choices. Teacher's choice.) with generic statements that provide little information about how they expect students to behave in a given situation. This carrot-and-stick method may have prepared students for jobs and workplaces in which they did routine repetitive work, did only as they were told, and were micromanaged by a supervisor, but those skills are not the metrics by which their worth will be measured in the 21st century workplace.

Behavior Expectations That Promote the Four Cs

If behavior charts undermine a four Cs approach, how can you create classroom norms and expectations for behavior that simultaneously support your goals for a peaceful, smoothly running classroom and the four C skills? Try these alternatives to authoritarian, compliance-driven approaches to classroom management. You'll be supporting the following skills:
  • Critical thinking: Talk with students about why we need classroom rules. What is good/hard about having rules? Talk about students' rules at home. How well do they work? Invite students to coconstruct the rules. What rules will help us all feel welcome in our classroom? Frame rules positively: We talk about our feelings rather than We keep our hands to ourselves. Facilitate conversations about equity. Is it ever okay to have different rules for different students? Why or why not?
  • Collaboration: Greet each child at arrival, ideally in their home language and adopt a morning greeting ritual that includes all students. Create a "helper list": When you need help sounding out a word, look for Rayshawn. Include all students and update the list to reflect students' developing skills. Rearrange learning groups frequently so all students have opportunities to work together. Think and talk about how we are the same and different and the needs we all share for family, friends, acknowledgement, and support.
  • Communication: Facilitate frequent "turn-and-talk" and small group conversations. Ensure everyone has a partner and circulate so you can join in, too. Use a circle for group meetings so students can look at one another as they speak and listen. Talk about ways to communicate emotions appropriately. What can we do when we feel sad/mad/disgusted? Provide visible images and tangible materials when speaking so English language learners can participate actively in conversations. Encourage students to share their experiences and ideas in multiple ways including speaking, drawing, writing, role-playing, and even mime.
  • Creativity: Promote creativity during daily routines and activities. We lined up by the color of our shoes yesterday. How can we line up today? Draw out students' ideas about STEM investigations to pursue. How could we use the playground to explore how balls roll? When behavior challenges do arise, invite students to generate creative solutions. What are some ideas for helping us walk more quietly in the hallway? or How can we give quieter children the chance to share their ideas?
Integrating the four Cs into what and how you teach can fuel your students in developing the uniquely human skills that will prepare them for success in the 21st century workforce. It also provides a powerful model of how not to be a robot!

Cindy Hoisington is an early childhood science educator at Education Development Center Inc. in Waltham, Massachusetts, where she develops science curriculum for PreK and early elementary and designs and facilitates professional learning for teachers.

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