When Richard Eyster encountered Jennifer Longley at an education conference, he was delighted to learn she had entered the teaching profession. He remembered Jennifer as a bright and good-natured student in his third grade class twelve years earlier. But when they met for lunch, she opened up to him about her frustrating struggle to maintain control of her high school English class. He later found out that she left teaching to pursue a career in marketing—after only one year in the classroom.
Dismayed that generations of students would miss out on Jennifer’s ability to engender creative expression and enthusiasm for literature, Eyster set out to offer teachers practical techniques for addressing challenges, engaging students, and fostering a productive and fulfilling school year. He teamed up with fellow education expert Christine Martin to write Successful Classroom Management (Sourcebooks), a comprehensive, insightful and inspirational survival guide for teachers.
Successful Classroom Management covers everything from preparing for the school year to dealing with bullying to forging relationships with administrators. Below is a list of my ten favorite insights from the book. I had the opportunity to speak with Richard Eyster this week and gain a deeper understanding of his perceptions and strategies.
1.) Effective classroom management is based on a learnable set of skills.
New teachers, like Jennifer Longley, often buy into the myth that the ability to manage a classroom is an inherent trait. Eyster maintains that teachers can acquire the skills necessary to successfully manage a classroom.
Students are hardwired to test their teacher, but they want the teacher to pass the test, according Eyster. Successful Classroom Management offers methods for preemptively establishing order and expectations, addressing transgressions, enlisting parental support, and using the disciplinary hierarchy. Eyster’s focus on creating a positive tone and his multi-step approach to discipline are designed to avoid or resolve issues before a punishment—such as detention or suspension—is warranted.
“If the teacher has built a positive reputation for the child, and if the child senses the teacher believes in them, and then the teacher is disappointed in them, that can be jarring,” Eyster says.
2.) Establish a positive relationship with the class.
Expect that some students will test you by misbehaving. When they do, Eyster recommends isolating the tester, not yourself. It’s important to stay united with the rest of the class.
“Often unconsciously teachers will say, ‘You kids are out of control today,’ when it may be a very small number of them are actually out of control, and a significant number of them want to get work done,” Eyster says.
“It’s so easy for beginning teachers to feel it’s us against them,” he says, noting that this attitude is the leading cause of dissatisfaction among new teachers.
3.) Praise is a powerful tool.
Praise can be used to transform a student’s image, uplift the entire class, and reinforce the values you seek to promote in your classroom or school community.
When praising students, it’s important to be specific, Eyster says, and encourage behavior that’s repeatable. “If you praise a child for coming up with a great quote in an English paper, and you do it personally to them in writing at the bottom of the paper, or personally privately, or publicly in front of the class, that child is never going to turn in a paper again without being conscious of choosing a good quote,” Eyster says. “It creates a template for their own behavior moving forward.”
4.) Welcome feedback from your students.
Eliciting feedback can entail asking a simple question such as, “So how was the homework last night?” Or it can involve handing out a survey posing questions such as, “What do I do well that works for you?” and “What do I need to know about your learning style to teach you more effectively?”
Requesting feedback from students can be “invaluable for professional development,” Eyster says. He suggests distributing individual, written surveys once or twice a year, and asking verbal questions about homework and tests to the entire class on a regular basis.
5.) Create a safe learning environment.
Establish a classroom culture in which students are required to respect one another. In Successful Classroom Management, Eyster and Martin point out that a classroom is a tiny universe, adding, “Show what kind of universe you would run, given the chance. Because you have been given the chance.”
Eyster says, “A respectful, safe environment is one in which kids are listening to each other and responding to each other.” He suggests posing open-ended questions that encourage a dialog among the students.
Most important, teachers should never tolerate mocking, cruelty, impatience or disrespect directed at a classmate.
6.) Variety is the key to engaging students.
In Successful Classroom Management, Eyster and Martin offer a comprehensive list of options teachers can incorporate into their lesson plans. Examples include lectures, small group projects, role-playing, journaling, fishbowl discussions, skits, partner discussions and debates.
“Variety adds pep and energy to a class. Beyond that, it also allows different children to shine,” Eyster says. Another plus: teachers who have been teaching the same subject or grade level for years can maintain their interest by varying their lesson plans and teaching tactics.
7.) Establish the expectation that everyone must participate in class every day.
Eyster and Martin point out that speaking is a critical life skill, and it only improves with practice.
Eyster recommends informing students early on that they will be expected to participate every day. Offering positive feedback about a student’s comment can encourage future participation, particularly among shy students.
“Praise that’s given to them when they do come forward with a thought can really make a transformative difference,” he says.
8.) Assessments should look forward, not back.
The purpose of assessments should be to redirect a teacher’s energy toward the gaps in student learning that are revealed. But often teachers record a student’s grade and move on.
“Teachers have the possibility to change the way they record information in the grade book,” Eyster says. Grade book software is available that allows teachers to note specific observations about a student’s trouble spots, allowing them to address such issues going forward.
“The simplest thing to do is to require every kid on every test to correct every problem,” Eyster notes.
9.) Parents have two main expectations of teachers:
* Are you a professional?
* Do you care about my child?
To convey professionalism, stay organized. “The disorganized teacher will say they’re going to send something home Thursday and forget, or they’ll leave off a page on the homework.”
Before interacting with parents, “Make sure you do your homework and know the child,” Eyster says.
In addition, calling or writing a parent to give them positive feedback about their child demonstrates you care about their child and you’re a professional. “One of the most powerful things you can do is recognize the power of praise,” Eyster says.
10.) Indicate to parents the potential for growth in their child.
When parents defend and excuse their child’s unacceptable behavior, express a positive view of the child.
“You can change the tenor of the conversation with the parent,” Eyster says, offering the following example: “When I think of your son or daughter, I don’t think of a mean-spirited kid. I think of somebody who’s able to make people feel good about themselves.”
Indeed, teachers have the ability to positively influence a child’s personal growth. According to Eyster, “One of the most important things we can do as teachers it do develop, communicate and preserve positive reputations for our students.”