Please accept my apologies – this post is a little jumpy…BUT…let me start with classroom management. I feel fortunate to report that after teaching for almost 20 years – my worst classroom management experience remains very clear, not a lot of events but that one something that continues to shape and haunt me as a teacher. One of my other defining moments with regards to classroom management also remains very close – that of a colleague from another school asking me about classroom management. To be clear, I was at an event with many other band teachers at an honor band event discussing teaching music and band (a subject that continues to be largely dominated by male teachers) when to my shock (and horror) a band teacher from another school asked me “how can you possibly manage and control your band students?” I thought the question was quite strange so I had to ask, “What do you mean?” To be even clearer you should also know about me that I am quite petite, but despite all the stereo types and opinions of others, have enjoyed a very successful career as a trumpet player. When I asked my colleague what he meant, he elaborated by telling me that I was so small and a woman…how could a woman so small with a soft voice, “control” my students? I’m not mad or bitter about it, he actually didn’t know how terrible his question sounded on the surface and I know he meant no harm, but this moment continues to be a moment I will never forget because it is also the moment where I understood more about my classroom management style and the fact that in using respect, knowing my kids and treating them the way I would want to be treated – I generally didn’t have problems with my students and most definitely NEVER had to CONTROL them.
It’s interesting because this colleague, who is no longer in the region, is about a foot and a half taller than me and he equated classroom discipline and management to the size of a person. What is funny about this, is that in all of my teaching and student teaching, and in all of my life of being a mere 153 cm tall, classroom management has never been a huge issue for me….except for once - another defining moment in my teaching career. Even teaching in inner city schools where I secretly was scared about the students I was teaching who got kicked out of their last school because of setting fires at school and stabbing a student or two, and were now sitting in my classroom – I still didn’t have big issues with classroom management. And the funniest part of my colleague’s question was the fact that I knew that my worst classroom management experience was when I was substitute teaching in an inner city school that also served the visually impaired community of the city. The student who caused me the most distress in my entire teaching career was a student who was a mere 6 years old, blind and one of the few students who I was able to tower over with my “great height.” He didn’t know me, he couldn’t see me and he didn’t care to be controlled by my great height! And so I guess classroom management means to me that teachers don’t need to control students, but instead provide students with some boundaries and treat students with the same respect, honesty and kindness that I would want to be treated with. And you know what – it is exactly the same in managing a classroom that extensively uses technology.
Providing parameters, giving strong expectations, defining what honesty, respect, responsibility and kindness (our school’s commonly held values) look like in terms of technology usage in the classroom, and creating engaging activities for students to learn from, make classroom management in a 1:1 classroom a lot easier. Support with tools like DyKnow and cloud based documents with revision histories help students understand that they need to be even more accountable to the expectations we set for technology usage and academic excellence at our school. But to be honest the old fashioned strategies of stop, look at me, put everything anyway, setting expected timelines and goals for completion of tasks and moving around the classroom to check in on what is going on, also apply to managing a 1:1 environment. The same problems occurred without the laptops – now students just get into trouble using different tools. In my time I got into trouble for passing notes, today my students get into trouble for chatting. I got into trouble for reading the latest Teen magazine, while my students get into trouble for watching a YouTube video. I wasn’t a bad kid and either are my students. We just need to keep everything in balance.
I do my best to make sure things will go right, but o be honest, sometimes I kind of like it when the students have a flop. I think schools are meant for making mistakes so that you can learn important lessons that will prevent you from making bigger mistakes later in your life. The latest, biggest flop was in one of my middle school classes and involved a google doc that went viral of sorts…in the worst way possible. The students were quite engaged in preparing a court-case revolving around the concepts of copyright and fair use. They were quite excited about preparing the debate and so I sent them off to different areas to discuss and record the ideas of their team’s discussion – from the perspective of being both defendants and prosecutors. Specifically the instructions were that one person from each of their groups was to do the typing on the google doc. The students spread out to a variety of locations and although, I thought the objectives and directions were pretty clear, apparently in the excitement and availability of the docs to everyone, things went a little crazy.
It started as anger that other groups were looking at opposing team’s ideas (even though they hadn’t been assigned roles in the debate yet), which then developed into others deleting opposing member’s comments, which developed into others retaliating with similar actions, which developed into others blocking some members from the document which developed into yelling between groups and me trying to quickly end the whole exercise. In the last 5 minutes of going from location to location to try to fix things a few gentleman let things escalate by engaging in an online chat and google doc battle – calling each other terrible names, and copying it onto the doc. Of course retaliation occurred and the names became worse and of course there was an entire audience of my class to observe. I finally ended the task, not yet knowing of how bad things had really progressed to, but as I became more aware, my students only complained about how other people were viewing their docs. It became apparent that there was a big problem with a few of the boys in the class and when I checked with them why – it was only then that I finally became aware of the inappropriate name calling that was going on in the chat and edit of the google doc. I screenshot everything and lectured the class for not following instructions. I had to spend time with our Associate Principal over the issue as some of the students involved in the name calling have committed other cyber offences and I considered the nature of the name calling and sabotage of the document quite serious. That was Friday.
On Monday our school had the pleasure of spending a professional develoopment day (and remainder of the week) with Dr. Michelle Borba regarding the school’s character education program in developing moral intelligence. Dr. Borba’s ideas really helped me to figure out how to flip my Friday’s flop into a success. Using her ideas about the bystander effect – I understood why I was so angry with my class on Friday. Although most of the class observed the cyber-bullying that occurred in our class – not a single person except for one of the victims every actually said anything.
Our next class was dedicated to cyberbullying, we didn’t use the laptops we just talked about what it would feel like and the bystander effect, the true story of Kitty Genovese, how to do the right thing when you witness some form of cyberbullying and took the cyber bullying quiz. It was interesting to consider some of the information to consider some of Dr. Borba’s work with the students.
In all our endeavors to stop peer cruelty, we are largely overlooking the most effective bully-reducing solution: mobilizing student bystanders to speak up.
The fact is, students witness 85 percent of bullying episodes and usually during times when adults aren’t around to help.
I reported to Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News that studies show that active bystanders can do far more than just watch.
The reality is that cyberbullying is not in my subject’s curriculum, but the opportunity to flip a flop presented itself and since that moment in time – my students have been even more respectful and responsible with their use of technology. I would like to think that my 1:1 classroom management style isn’t about control, but instead about doing my best to be purposeful and engaging with the content and experiences my students have in the classroom. It’s also about treating and modeling for my students the values of our school – honesty, kindness, respect and responsibility, using the new and traditional tools and techniques of keeping students accountable, but also every once in a while embracing a flop and flipping it – it’s the real-life way our students will learn and prevent future head on catastrophic collisions that involve technology, education and life.