Teaching Chat

Managing Difficult Classrooms

According to a recent survey by MetLife Inc., nearly half of all teachers say their students’ learning abilities are so varied that they can’t teach effectively. What tools and skills do teachers need to improve classroom management in diverse settings?

Chat: Managing Difficult Classrooms

Sponsored by:
LanSchool Technologies

Tuesday, October 13, 4 p.m. Eastern time

According to a recent survey by MetLife Inc., nearly half of all teachers say students’ learning abilities in their classes are so varied that they can’t teach effectively. The survey also indicates that, for many teachers, student-discipline issues can take up a substantial portion of classroom time. Ms. Weaver spotted these trends at her racially diverse, high-poverty school and suspected they accounted for an over-identification of students in need of special education. She responded by successfully implementing a school-wide program to give teachers the skills and collaboration time needed to identify and address student behavior problems. She shared the tools and skills teachers need to improve classroom management in diverse settings.

Related Story:

Robin Weaver, principal, Harmony Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md.; co-author of Reducing Behavior Problems in Elementary School Classrooms
Anthony Rebora, managing editor, teachermagazine.org, moderated this chat.

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Chat: Managing Difficult Classrooms(10/13/2009)


3:30 Edweek Producer: Jennifer: Today’s chat, Managing Difficult Classrooms, which is sponsored by: LanSchool Technologies, is open for questions. Please start submitting your questions now. The chat will begin at 4 p.m. Eastern. Thank you for joining us.


Anthony Rebora: Hello Everyone. Welcome to our chat on Managing Difficult Classrooms. I’m Anthony Rebora, managing editor of teachermagazine.org and the Teacher Professional Development Sourcebook.

We have a an interesting discussion planned. Our guest today is Robin Weaver, principal of Harmony Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md. I first heard about Ms. Weaver in an article on classroom management that appeared a few months ago in the National Staff Development Council’s Teachers Teaching Teachers (T3) newsletter. In a nutshell, the article said that Ms. Weaver, noticing that teachers in her school, were having diffulty managing student behavioral problems and learning differences, decided to set up a school wide professional development program on classroom management--one based largely on teacher collaboration and analysis. By reports the program has had some very impressive results. I know that a lot of schools and teachers struggle in this area--classroom managment is one of the most popular search terms on our site--so I thought it would be good invite Principal Weaver to talk about what she’s doing in her school and how it works.

4:02 Anthony Rebora: Welcome, Robin.

4:02 Robin Weaver: Hello - I’m ready to go...

4:03 Anthony Rebora: Great. Let me start by asking you to tell us a little bit about your school. I understand you have a pretty diverse enrollment.

4:03 Robin Weaver: Harmony Hills ES (HHES) is a Title 1 school with 80% poverty in Maryland. We have a home school model for special education - and a large ELL population.

4:04 Anthony Rebora: And classroom management has traditionally been a big issue for your teachers?


Robin Weaver:

Many of our teachers are in their first 2-3 years of teaching. They come to our building with commitment and passion for working in our community - and yet - the challenges are great. We have found that work in TEAMS works for us.

4:06 Anthony Rebora: OK, let’s start with a very general question from Margaret in the audience

4:06 [Comment From Margaret McCormick]
Can you describe what you implemented?

4:07 Anthony Rebora: Margaret is referring the school wide staff development program in classroom management.

4:07 Robin Weaver: Our first step is to support our teachers as as they try strategies on their own with students who are struggling. The next step is to bring the case to the grade level team.

4:08 Anthony Rebora: Can you say a little more about the grade level teams? What is their role in this?


Robin Weaver:

Our professional development is primarily within the grade level team - with a classroom (general education) colleague that wants to help the students on the team.

On our grade level teams - we include an ESOL teacher and a special education teacher along with the general education teachers.

4:09 Anthony Rebora: Let’s take this one from Jo, also about the program.

4:09 [Comment From Jo Taylor]
How difficult was/is it to get buy-in from your teachers?


Robin Weaver:

The program we have (Pre-K through grade 5) is a problem solving program that is teacher driven. The buy in was not a problem - building the capacity was the challenge.

4:11 Anthony Rebora: So how did you build capacity?

4:12 Robin Weaver: We have been using our system (and refining it) for the past 4 years. Once a grade level team identifies its “coach” - we bring all the coaches together each month for specific training in problem identification, strategy development and monitoring. The general education “coach” then goes back to facilitate the team.

4:13 Anthony Rebora: We’ve got a lot of questions that raise very specific issues teachers are having. Let’s move to a few of those.

4:13 [Comment From Donna]
What suggestions can you offer new teachers who have large numbers of students with either special needs or ELLs with no resource assistance?

4:14 Anthony Rebora: While Robin’s working on that, we have time for a quick poll.


Does your school offer effective professional development in classroom management?
( 30% )

( 70% )

4:14 Robin Weaver: There are lots of resources online - check out the Behavior Guide in the What Works Clearning House. Another resource we use is the Pre-Referral Intervention Manual --- this has very specific interventions to try. The key is to identify a goal and then stick with it.

4:15 [Comment From Anne]
Do you believe out-of-school suspension is an effective policy?

4:16 Robin Weaver: I do not believe in our use suspension - unless it is weapons related. We are an elementary school - and our vision is to provide (and teach) the skills needed for problem solving.

4:16 [Comment From iris]
How do you prevent burnout when there are major dsicipline problems in your class every day and nothing you try works

4:17 Robin Weaver: Burn out brings to mind BALANCE --- how do teachers keep balance in their lives. We do a lot of CELEBRATING - of the smallest accomplishments.

4:17 [Comment From Daniel]
What should a teacher do if there are one or two very disruptive students in the class and the administration is unwilling to appropriately discipline the student(s) because they are concerned how city officials would view such a discplinary action on their school record? (Let’s assume that the school does not have a SAVE room).

4:18 Robin Weaver: This is a tough one. It sometimes help to ask an administrator for a private (1:1) consultation - it just may be a miscommunication or a relationship issue.

4:18 [Comment From Stephanie Byrne]
I am teaching an on grade level class with over 33 students in it. I live in a diverse D.C. suburb. I am really struggling with the talking, shouting out, and disrespectful behaviors. I feel like I have tried a lot of strategies, but none of them are working. Help please????


Robin Weaver:

Have you involved others to help you? Is there a colleague, a counselor or even a community member that might join you in starting a Class Meeting to get some of the issues on the table.

4:21 Anthony Rebora: How would your school deal with issues like the one Stephanie raises?

4:21 Robin Weaver: Here is another thought for Stephanie. How about dividing the class into smaller “families” and begin building relationships that way.

4:22 Anthony Rebora: Can you describe that approach a little more? What do you mean by “families”? How would a teacher go about this?

4:24 Robin Weaver: The size of the group that Stephanie described (33 students) is very large. It would be a super hero to manage that size of group without have strong relationships. One way to begin to develop those relationships is to tell personal stories first (as the teacher) and then ask for students to share. It really does have to be step #1 --- building relationships --- first in smaller groups and then morphing into the larger group.

4:25 [Comment From Christine Hopkins]
I am a second grade teacher in a diverse low income school in Portland, OR. I struggle with many disruptive behaviors that children bring due to poverty and cultural differences. I am interested in hearing about ways that your teachers work on dealing positively and proactively with these problem behaviors so that they can teach the children the skills they need to succeed.

4:27 Robin Weaver: We work on two levels at a time: 1) developing relationships with students (catching them being good - with no cost incentives) AND 2) developing the “tools” that teachers have in setting goals (only 1-3 at a time).

4:27 [Comment From M. Sliger]
What should I do when everyone in my class seems to be on a different page. It’s like they just don’t care and don’t want to be there. How do I get there attention and get them to start listening?

4:28 Robin Weaver: Do you have access to online resources? How about accessing Discovery Channel for a video on one of your topics --- giving students a common experience with the content ---- and then differentiating might work for you.

4:28 [Comment From Anne]
Has implementation of your program been very expensive? Do you have any advice (in terms of the economics of classroom management programs) for very poor districts/schools that which to improve their discipline/classroom management programs?

4:29 Anthony Rebora: Let’s try another poll


What’s the biggest classroom management problem for you?
disruptive students
( 71% )

inattentive students
( 15% )

students who fall behind in work
( 9% )

conflicts between students
( 6% )

4:29 Robin Weaver: NO COST AT ALL.... unless you call “time” a cost. We do cover our “coaches” with others in order to train them. Then the coaches faciliate the team meetings.

4:30 [Comment From Margo]
This is more of an observation, but I am very happy to see, Robin, that you school has “taken the bull by the horns,” as it were, and organized the teachers to seek solutions together. I think that a lot of the perception that “nothing works” grows out of isolation. I applaud y our efforts.

4:31 Robin Weaver: Thank you - the most critical skill school leaders (teachers and administrators) must hone = developing the master schedule to provide TIME for collaboration.

4:31 [Comment From Loray White]
What are these “tools” that your teachers use to set goals?

4:32 Robin Weaver: First - the teacher comes to his team and describes the behavior that is impacting the learning - there may be many at the outset. The team then supports the teacher in identifying the most concerning 1-2 behaviors on which to apply an intervention.

4:33 Anthony Rebora: here’s a good follow up.

4:33 [Comment From Christy Bowman]
Can we get more details on the actual problem solving process you use and how the coach for each team operates?

4:35 Robin Weaver: We ask each team to select 2 (45 min) times each month to dedicate to this team process. The problem identification is step #1 --- then the team helps to generate strategies to address the problem. The goal/strategy is in place for 4-6 weeks and monitoried throughout the time.

4:35 [Comment From Lawrence Street]
Does diversity training assist in classroom management?

4:36 Robin Weaver: I absolutely believe that it is critically important for teachers today to have specific professional development (in many, many forms) on the impact of race and culture on student performance.

4:37 [Comment From Michael]
I’m mentoring 5 new teachers this year - we’re a high poverty, very diverse urban school - are there specifics you’ve found in providing support for new teachers?

4:38 Robin Weaver: Yes --- your role is so very important. As a mentor - you will help to celebrate the small successes and guide the new teachers to resources to help the day go smoothly. Remind them that our profession is great - we always have another opportunity tomorrow --- the busses do come and go each day!

4:38 [Comment From Jonathan]
I’m interested in finding out more specifically what behavior interventions end up taking place in the classrooms. Are teachers spending more time, then addressing/teaching expected behavior and less on content (at least at the beginning of the year)?

4:40 Robin Weaver: You are right - the front-end, beginning part of the year is so important. This is the time when the students “figure out” if the teacher really cares and understands his/her needs. Once again, our most important time ---- is the time that the teachers have together planning content, talking about what’s working and with whom - and celebrating (am I sounding like a broken record on celebrating?)

4:41 [Comment From Eric]
What can teachers do to minimize disruptive behaviors from occurring in the classroom? Often times teachers state that their principal doesn’t support him/her yet isn’t it the teacher’s responsibility to establish the proper classroom climate and build relationships with the students?

4:42 Robin Weaver: We have found one really important strategy (I’m sure there are others) - but this works for us. We have all agreed that we will WELCOME all our students every day. Teachers are standing at their doors and having quiet, pleasant and personal short conversations with each of their students. It sets the tone for the day.

4:43 [Comment From Jo Taylor]
How is this different from RTI (response to intervention) protocols/processes?

4:45 Robin Weaver: Good question.... our problem solving process is a pre-curser to RTI --- it is our goal to keep our students, particularly Black and Latino, out of special education. We have had some success with this - and we hope - as our teachers continue with adding to their “tool kits” we will have fewer screening and evaluation meetings.

4:46 Anthony Rebora: This was an interesting point in the NSDC article I referred to. What has been the impact of your program on special education classifications?

4:48 Robin Weaver: We have really worked with focus and persistence to address this issue. Here are 3 ways it is working for us: 1) all special education students remain throughout the day with his/her teacher - and the resources are “plugged in” 2) our special education teachers are collaborating with our general education teachers - and two minds are better than one and 3) we support general education teachers in learning ways to “keep kids moving forward...” and in the classroom.

4:49 [Comment From Cathy Golliher]
What do you mean by “celebrating?” What does it look like?

4:51 Robin Weaver: I’ll give you an example of a celebration that results from students’ actions. Our grade 3 team agreed to have a “contract system” that was used with all 4 teachers. The students earn points and then can decide how to “spend” their points. The menu of choices for points includes: sitting in the teachers chair for the day (20 points) or having a lunch bunch with the teacher (50 points - smile). Others in the school know the system - and when I walk in a room and see a grade 3 student sitting at his/her desk in the teacher’s chair - I CELEBRATE !!

4:52 [Comment From Kim]
I would like some strategies/interventions for the student that always has to have the last word with a classmate. Students that always have to make comments on what someone else is doing which is always interrupting the teacher.

4:53 Robin Weaver: Have you tried using “random calling” --- we call those Equity Sticks. The teacher has the students’ names on tongue-depressors - and then calls the students’ names (during discussions) randomly. The students don’t know who will have the next turn -- and must wait.

4:54 [Comment From Hannah Brown]
What measures can be implemented that will motivate students to complete class activities?

4:56 Robin Weaver: We often modify or ask students to let us know what portion of the assignment they want to complete. We start with just a few and then add.

4:57 [Comment From Nikita Ganatra]
What indicators do Black and Latino students have that make them more likely to be identified/classified as Spec. Ed.?

4:57 Robin Weaver: I would pose the question a different way --- what do our middle class teachers need to know and be able to do with students who are culturally different.

4:59 [Comment From Juergen Morgenstern]
How do you involve parents when working with “difficult” kids?


Robin Weaver:

Great question! Ask Education Week for another online chat....

5:01 Anthony Rebora: Hah!. Well, we just might have to do that. This was a very popular and lively discussion--that’s for certain. But that’s about all the time we have. I want to thank Robin Weaver for taking the time to join us. Trust me: She was working very hard to get all the questions answered.

5:01 Anthony Rebora: I also want to thank all of you who submitted questions. They were great, and I’m sorry we couldn’t get to all of them.


Robin Weaver:

It was lively - and I learned from you all too,.

5:02 Edweek Producer: Jennifer: Thank you for joining us for today’s chat, Managing Difficult Classrooms, which was sponsored by: LanSchool Technologies. A transcript will be available shortly on this page.

5:02 Edweek Producer: Jennifer: Check out more of our upcoming chats at www.edweek.org/go/chat.


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