Friday, January 31, 2014

Twenty Ways to Help Students Learn to Be Accountable

                   If you are like most educators at this time of the year, you are probably more than ready for your students to assume more responsibility for their own success. To be more self-disciplined. To learn to hold themselves accountable for their work and behavior. Unfortunately, our students do not learn accountability quickly or with a few easy strategies or even very predictably. Instead helping students learn to be accountable is an ongoing process that involves consistent effort on our parts. Hang in there. The end result is well worth the effort. Here are twenty things to consider as you move your students forward.
           1.        Involve parents or guardians as often as it takes for you to create an effective team of caring adults who want to help a child succeed.

                  2.        Teach your students how to do their work. Students should be taught the study skills they need to reach the standards you have for them.

                  3.        Call on every student every day. Allow no student to be invisible in your classroom.

                  4.        Return graded papers promptly so that students know what they should do to improve.

                  5.        Make sure your comments on assignments are geared to helping students correct their errors and improve their performance.

                  6.        Foster responsibility through the daily routines and procedures you establish for your students. Involve them in routine classroom-management tasks.

                  7.        Teach your students to pace themselves by paying attention to the time it takes for them to complete various types of assignments. Teach them how to estimate the amount of time it will take to complete assignments and how to time themselves.

                  8.        Keep your interactions with individual students brief enough so that your attention can stay focused on the rest of the class as well. Don’t allow your time to be monopolized by one attention-seeking student at the expense of the others in the class.

                  9.        Make sure your students know that you pay attention to them. Students who know their teacher is paying attention to their behavior are not going to misbehave as readily as those students who believe they can get away with bad behavior.

                10.      Hold your students to the same behavior standards for substitute teachers that you expect when you are in the room. Discuss this with them in advance of the time when you will be absent; you will find that your students behave much better than if you adopt a “kids will be kids” attitude.

                11.      Refuse to allow your students to sleep or to do homework for other classes in your class. They should be doing your work in your class.

                12.      Make it a point that you expect 100% accuracy in student work. Some students will aim to just get by with a minimum of work unless you encourage them to do otherwise.

                13.      Have students edit or double-check each other’s work before turning it in. Peer editing works best if you provide students with a checklist of standards to follow while proofreading.

                14.      Instead of having all of your students shout out answers in an oral activity, ask them to write their responses first and then answer when you call on them. This will force everyone to think before responding.

                15.      Plan the procedures you want your students to follow in case they don’t have their materials or textbooks in class. Don’t allow students to get away with not working because they don’t have their materials.

                16.      When you are moving around the room to monitor activity, ask your students to underline the answers they think are correct and circle the ones that puzzle them so that you can work together to make sure they understand how to do all of their work well.

                17.      If you find that some of your students are reluctant to accomplish their work on schedule, contact their parents or guardians. If students know that their progress is being monitored at home as well as in class, they usually perform better.

                18.      If you see that students have trouble grasping an assignment, reteach the material. Don’t allow students to rest on their ignorance.

                19.      When students miss the answer to a question, ask them to write the correct answer on their papers. Students should be held accountable for correcting their papers.

                20.      Make neatness an important component of the work in your classroom. You don’t have to be a perfectionist, but you should expect your students to turn in neat work.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Overcoming a Negative School Climate

In the movies, whenever there is a "tough" school, it's obvious. Lots of graffiti, big really mean looking kids, uncaring teachers, metal detectors, armed guards patrolling the hallways, and a pervasive sense of doom.

In reality, lots of schools can have a negative school climate without all of the cinematic trappings. Just low test scores and the struggle to help students overcome the obstacles to success can take a toll on any school. And that would be just the beginning.

In Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher, I offered some small suggestions for those teachers who want to take a constructive stance toward the despair that permeates a building with a negative climate.

The most important thing to remember, though, is that any climate can be changed if enough people work together to make it happen. Start small, but start.

"Despite our best intentions of providing a positive, productive classroom environment for every student, when the schoolwide climate is negative, we struggle to teach and our students struggle to succeed. Contrary to what many people may believe, schools with a negative environment are not confined to the inner city or to impoverished rural areas. Any school can have a negative climate.

 Although there are many influences that can have a negative bearing on the climate of a school, there are some that are obvious: an unsafe location, a history of low academic success, a strong gang presence, a physical plant that is in need of cleaning and repair, a lack of effective procedures and policies, and a lack of administrative support for teachers, just to name a few.

 Unfortunately, schools with a negative climate are easy to identify. At these schools students tend to

• Focus on other activities instead of academics

• Report that they do not feel safe

• Experience little academic success

• Have poor attendance

• Experience problems with their peers as well as with their teachers

• See very little purpose for an education

• Flaunt school rules

• Report that their morale or school spirit is low

• Experience class disruptions due to violence and threats of violence

• Have a high percentage of discipline referrals

   If you teach in a school where the environment is not always constructive, there is a great deal that you can do to make a positive difference in the lives of your students. More than other teachers, the effectual educators in a school where the environment is not positive tend to direct their students toward the future. They help students establish goals and develop skills that will lead to a productive and happy life ahead.

 In order to manage this, though, your attitude should be one of realistic optimism. Teachers who are effective in schools with negative climates are not unmindful of the daily challenges that they and their students face. Instead, they acknowledge their problems and then find ways to solve or at least manage them so that students can be successful.

 Along with a sense of realistic optimism, successful teachers in a school where the climate is not positive tend to acknowledge the big picture of the school and not just focus on the problem areas. This perspective will allow you to acknowledge the problems you encounter at school and then move forward to help students find success.

 Finally, these teachers also tend to believe that change is possible and that they are the agents of that change. With this attitude firmly in place, teachers have been known to inspire entire classes to reach unprecedented and unanticipated success.

 With this attitude, you will have a much greater chance of successfully managing your daily challenges than if you spend your days bemoaning your school’s problems. In addition to these productive attitudes, there are several strategies that you can use to cope with the negative elements of your school’s climate.

• Start small. Keep your classroom clean and organized so that students have an orderly place for learning.

• Focus on the positive elements in your school and work to strengthen them. Become a band booster, football team fan, or sponsor of a student club.

• You should involve as many people as you can to make positive changes at your school. Enlist support and help from student organizations, community groups, the parents and families of your students, and your colleagues.

• Do what you can to strengthen your students’ literacy and math skills. In secondary schools, many of the problems that began when students were younger impede their ability to learn independently.