Opinion
Teaching Opinion

Why I’ve ‘Softened’ My Classroom-Management Style

By Joanna Schimizzi — November 18, 2015 4 min read
Illustration of students and a teacher.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

On a Monday, it was a student in the back of the room on her cell phone. On another day, it was a student with his head down. And in that same week, a third student was dancing while hearing imaginary music. Throughout this year and last, when students were off-task or acting inappropriately, I found myself becoming very upset … at myself.

I constantly felt there was more that I needed to be doing to motivate them, engage them, and support them in making good decisions. All three instances resulted in the students having a “time out” in the hall to reflect, a follow-up discussion with me, and lunch detention. And while I was seeing incremental improvements in my students’ behaviors, I kept thinking ... Wasn’t I supposed to be using more forceful strategies to get quicker results? Shouldn’t I be raising my voice to make a point? Calling security to have them removed? Writing a referral for not following the rules?

So now I keep wondering ... When did I become a softie?

Regular feedback from my students also makes me think about this situation. I often have them write me letters of reflection so I can gain insight into how they feel class is going for them. Several students have told me they think I should throw more students out of class because of their disruptive behaviors. And I keep wondering ... Is having a phone out disruptive enough to remove you from class? When you are removed from class, what do you gain that day?

Definitely not any knowledge on a topic like DNA transcription that we were learning in class during the time you were gone. So you probably can’t do the homework. And when you come in the next day, you might be able to copy the notes, but they most likely won’t make any sense. And today, we’re only reviewing transcription for about 10 minutes before we go on to translation. So now this doesn’t make any sense to you. You are now two days behind and likely to continue falling behind. You can’t stay after school because you don’t have a ride. When will you ever catch up?

Ineffective Punishments

So I guess I became a softie when I realized that the “punishments” we use in schools were not only ineffective, but also dramatically more damaging than we might realize. I think my “softness” came after a useful session with the advocacy group America Achieves. We were looking at research about the importance of holding students accountable for their actions. We want to ensure that students see the impact of their choices. What we really want to do is to help students make the right choices.

But our traditional methods are NOT working. Sending kids out of class or out of school doesn’t set them up to be successful when they return. Those “punishments” knock them further down the ladder they are trying to climb.

The America Achieves session introduced the idea of restorative justice—an approach that aims to provide accountability, community safety, and competency development. We also heard about the amazing work of Jose Huerta at James A. Garfield High School in Los Angeles, where they have shifted suspension rates and seen the student-achievement and graduation numbers climb dramatically. Huerta was featured in an NPR article, and he says “The school’s attendance rates are in the 96th percentile, the graduation rate is higher than the district as a whole.” He then adds, “We just got word ... that 27 of our students were accepted to UCLA. That’s the highest of any high school in California.” The work required to make this happen is complex, challenging, and time-intensive, but possible.

Figure 1: Implementing Restorative Justice—A Guide for Schools from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

So instead of sending a student to in-school suspension, restorative justice encourages educators to help students see how their behaviors are disruptive and damaging. This is why I chose to treat my student differently when he called out across the room. I suggested he spend some time separated from the class and then asked him to write a letter reflecting on why his behavior disturbed class. Once he felt focused enough to rejoin the class, the two of us shared a dialogue about his behavior. When I asked what he felt he should do to restore his responsibility, he suggested helping clean desks during class change.

If you need an example of why we should all be interested in restorative justice in our schools, look to the recent news. We are all closely following the situation at Spring Valley High in Columbia, S.C. While all of the details surrounding the incident have not been shared, it is shocking for many of us to see a student touched in such a manner. And what was even more shocking to me was that in one video, I saw adults standing there, allowing this to happen without any objections.

While I do not have a classroom full of robots that quietly sit and complete every assignment, I can make the following promises to my students. I will never let you be abused in my presence. I will never set up a system that makes it harder for you to be successful. I will always seek a way to help you make good decisions.

My heart may be soft, but my will to help my students succeed is strong.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Teaching Live Online Discussion Seat at the Table: How Can We Help Students Feel Connected to School?
Get strategies for your struggles with student engagement. Bring questions for our expert panel. Help students recover the joy of learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Science Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Opinion The School Year Has Ended. What Are Some Lessons to Close Out Next Year?
Before teachers know it, the 2022-23 school year will be over. Plan early on the best ways to accomplish that.
1 min read
Illustration of a young person walking into the bright horizon
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Teaching Opinion Classroom Management Starts With Student Engagement
Teachers in the know offer reams of advice about tackling one of the toughest tasks facing educators.
3 min read
Image of a teacher in a classroom full of kids.
Getty
Teaching Teaching Tips for Reaching Introverts and Extroverts
Teachers can look to technology for help in reaching big talkers and their quieter peers.
4 min read
Young boy using laptop
Courtney Hale/E+/Getty
Teaching Opinion Schools Just Let Out, But What Are the Best Ways to Begin the Coming Year?
The No. 1 piece of advice from teachers: Get to know your students.
2 min read
Photo illustration of colorful school supplies
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty Images