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Teaching classroom management skills [Letter]

We write to assure teachers that effective tools for managing students are available. This is important news since it seems that such tools are a bit of a secret ("Teachers colleges need to emphasize classroom management techniques, report finds," Jan 7).

Those interested in classroom management tools that work can find them at safeandcivilschools.com, and might be interested in training offered by the International Institute for Restorative Practices (iirp.edu). Closer to home, the Baltimore Curriculum Project (baltimorecp.org), trains teachers for the schools it operates (City Springs School, Hampstead Hill Academy and Wolfe Street Academy) in the techniques offered by Safe and Civil Schools and by IIRP.

Effective management tools do not shame students. A student who has been shamed withdraws and is not available to learn. Also, when an adult focuses on what a student is doing wrong he or she is not teaching anybody anything because there are countless ways to not do what has been criticized but many of those options are no better than the mistake that the adult is highlighting. How much more effective for the adult to single out a student who is doing the right thing. That fortunate student enjoys a moment of praise, and every other student is offered a model of how to do what needs to be done.

Consider the common admonitions to students to "pay attention" or "listen to me when I am talking to you." It would not occur to the vast majority of inexperienced teachers that a student would not understand what "pay attention," or "listen to me when I am talking to you" means. Yet our classrooms have more than one Nathan. Nathan is a bright, active 4-year-old who is in school for the first time. He and his older and younger brothers and sisters have little verbal interaction with adults outside of school.

Nathan is accustomed to actively taking what he can find that he wants from his environment. He is not used to passively receiving what happens to come his way from adults. Nathan needs teachers who take the time to demonstrate to him what "pay attention" means, and praise him when he gets this behavior right (behavior that to him is at first awkward and uncomfortable).

For Nathan's teachers, the tasks of unraveling expectations that they take for granted is time-consuming. Once the expectations are laid out, there remains the challenging task of developing clear, unambiguous language to teach the behavior. The teachers then must be sure to use only the language that they have taught, not to substitute in synonyms that mean nothing to Nathan.

The task of effective behavior management is yet more complicated since Nathan interacts with more than one adult in school. He will be more successful in doing what those adults would like him to do if all the adults are consistent in their expectations of him and in the language that they use to express those expectations.

The Baltimore Curriculum Project helps teachers design and teach useful expectations, and so positively guide their students to behavior conducive to learning. Baltimore Curriculum Project trainers also help schools develop consistent school-wide codes of conduct with consistent language to help every student succeed.

Experienced educators know that good behavior management is what helps shape school culture. Strong, positive school cultures are the cornerstones for learning, just as strong and effective behavior guidance and management are the building blocks, along with content knowledge and instructional expertise, for excellent teaching.

Muriel Berkeley, Laura Doherty and Jon McGill

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To respond to this letter, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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