Achieving Classroom Management through Student Engagement

Recently I passed along an article to my school community about how best to intervene when individual students behave inappropriately. I liked the article because of the analogy made between responding on the fly to behavioural problems and emergency room doctors and nurses responding to emergency situations – during a crisis we are only working to stabilize the situation, we are not working on long-term solutions. During a crisis situation we are only working to ‘stop things from getting worse’.

To view this article go here: Classroom Management: The Intervention Two-Step

Then came the more important question: “What to do when a group of students (5 or 6 – not just 1 or 2) are out of control – engaging in inappropriate physical or verbal behaviours that are disrupting or unsafe to other students in the class?”

My short answer to this is – engagement.

Sounds simple – but it may take some rethinking of our traditional practices to grasp … and a great deal of ‘letting go’. The cool part is that once you are there, planning  becomes less daunting (the kids do that part), setting up the learning environment, reflecting on student learning, and responding becomes the work.

Here’s the thing. Kids are junkies for novelty, control, excitement, and fun. If our classrooms don’t provide this they will get it from somewhere. If the learning doesn’t provide them with the adrenaline rush they need, they will find it through social interactions (positive… negative…). The trick is to make the learning where they get their adrenaline rush from.

What do you remember about what you learned at school. For me (and I think most of  us) it was the projects that I could ‘sink my teeth into’ and have some ownership over. I did one about Hummingbirds, one about Earwigs, and another about Flying Fish. I also remember an entire Unit a teacher created for us about Ancient Egypt. Common feature – I had ownership over the learning – and I was excited about the learning. They involved elements of choice and control over the learning. I remember these projects, I don’t remember the seat-work activities from my day-to-day classroom experience.

I also remember the teachers who made learning fun – who had a sense of humour. For a great article about this go here: Using Humour in the Classroom. One important consideration: “Just remember, above all, that sarcasm has no place in the school. Only “no hurt” humor is acceptable.”

Learning is what our brains are built to do – and kids are at the best stage to do it. I get worried in education that we take the stance that we can “lead the horse to water but we can’t make it drink”. While I agree to a point with this statement, if the water is tepid, stale, or even stagnant, ought we still insist they drink it?

As educators, creating engaging learning environments is our task. It is our task to inspire our students to become life-long learners. Our lessons should not be the bitter pill they need to take, but rather the elixer that inspires them to become life-long learners.

How can we do this? Start here: Ten Tips for Classroom Management.

This ten tips this article provides support for are:

    • Build Community:
    • Design a Safe, Friendly, and  Well-Managed Classroom Environment
    • Include Students in Creating Rules, Norms, Routines and Consequences
    • Creating a Variety of Communication Channels
    • Always be Calm, Fair, and Consistence
    • Know the Students you Teach
    • Address Conflict Quickly and Wisely
    • Integrate Positive Classroom Rituals
    • Keep it Real
    • Partner and Parents and Guardians

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
― Socrates

Rethinking WHY I Blog

A few weeks ago many of Coquitlam’s Principals and Vice-Principals attended our annual conference. This year’s topic was the power of educational leaders using social media. I was inspired by the thought provoking message George Couros sent about carefully considering the WHY behind educational leaders using social media. While I have been blogging at this address since 2007, I have been quiet since I became a vice-principal. I told myself that I wasn’t posting because I was in a different phase in my new role – a learning phase – I would save posting for when I had learned enough to feel confident about sharing what I had learned.

George’s presentation pushed my thinking on this – I realized I was missing one of the key reasons WHY being engaged in social media matters. I was seeing my blog as a place where I would publish what I had learned – something rather summative in nature. What George helped me understand is that my blog could do so much more for me as a learner if I used it as a place to document my learning during the process of learning. A place where I can post my thinking and play with my ideas. A place where I could invite input and push-back from others. I realized that as the name of my blog “Playing with Ideas” implies – it should be a place where I am tinkering, experimenting, risk-taking. The very things I want the learners I work with to do. This is a subtle but powerful shift for me.

If I use my blog as a place where I am documenting my learning, I will be putting my ideas out there before they are fully formed with the intention of inviting conversation and push-back. This to me seems a bit scary but when I reflect on my history as a learner it has been key moments of push-back that have been the most instructive and have changed the way I do things. Here are two examples of push-back that have inspired self-reflection and have had a direct impact on my thinking and my actions:

  • Face to face push-back: A parent who shared with me what other parents were saying about me as a kindergarten teacher – “great teacher but unapproachable”. By nature I am a reserved person – I hadn’t realized how my natural social cautiousness was perceived by others. This comment inspired me to design my master’s project around reaching out to parents more actively and openly in order to build a stronger classroom community – this push-back shifted my thinking and altered the path of my career.
  • Blogging push-back: Heidi Hass-Gable provided me with some push-back that helped clarify my thinking around the dialogue we have with our school community regarding WHY we need to do things differently in education. You can read about that conversation on my other blog “Connectedness” and her comment on that post.

These examples of push-back (along with many others…) have caused me to reflect and reshape my thinking as a learner and educator. One of the quotes George Couros shared during his presentation was: “If self-reflection seems difficult, acceptance of failure will feel nearly impossible.” (Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership by John Hamm). I realized that if I use my blog as a place to document my learning, I will be taking the time to stop, reflect on my thoughts and actions, and I will open myself up to the guidance and input of fellow learners. I know that one of the things that keeps me from posting is the possibility that I will be displaying my ignorance in some way. I need to remember that the times my thinking has been challenged has not defeated me, rather, it has helped me rethink and refine my ideas. It has made me a better and a stronger learner and person. Exactly what I want for all the learners I work with.

Another aha moment I had at the conference was when I began to relate documenting my learning through my blog to the conversation kindergarten teachers have been having about shifting their assessment practices to the documentation of early learning. Increasingly they are involving the children and their families in this process. You can read more about documentation of early learning in a series of posts by Brian Kuhn: Shift to the Future: Documentation. Since the conference documentation of learning also came up in conversations about rethinking Graduation Requirements at the Provincial Level. Some of us were thinking that blogging would be a good way for our high school students to reflect on and play with their ideas in a cross-curricular way. Bryan Jackson’s Talons students are already doing this type of reflective documentation of their learning – I love this example: Talons Grade 10 Introductions. I believe that blogging as a way to document learning has transformative potential for our learners.

This brings me back to another of my take-aways from George’s presentation – another reason WHY I should be blogging. By involving ourselves in meaningful and reflective use of social media, we become models of thoughtful and reflective learning, and of digital citizenship. We know that most of our kids will be involved in publicly documenting their life experiences through the use of social media with or without us. Without models our children are navigating the digital world – with all of its inherent dangers – alone. Simply providing them with lessons and lectures about the dangers and about digital citizenship has limited effectiveness. Engaging alongside them will have a far more powerful impact.

In his post “It’s not optional anymore” George Couros writes:

“There can no longer be an “opt out” clause when dealing with technology in our schools, especially from our administrators. We need to prepare our kids to live in this world now and in the future. Change may feel hard, but it is part of learning.  We expect it from our kids, we need to expect it from ourselves.”

Chris Kennedy echos this in his post Principals as Blog Leaders:

“We often talk about the many changes happening in education and how we, as leaders, need to model the change.  We want students to take the risks, own their learning, be ready to make mistakes but to learn from them as well,  and to create content for the digital world.  We can help by modelling all of this.”

We now have access to digital tools that make us increasingly able to provide powerful learning opportunities that can meet the needs of ALL learners. The learners we work with need us, as they always have, to mentor and guide them in becoming self-regulating learners, in developing meta-cognitive skills, and in developing social consciousness. The context of today’s learning is vastly different then the context we grew up in. To fully understand it we need to engage in it – the learning opportunities are endless.

This is a very challenging but also very exciting time to be a learner and an educator. George implores us to JUMP:

In my next post I will post links to some examples of inspiring blog posts written by School Administrators who have already jumped…


Learning through Games

Games can be a very effective and very engaging method for learning for a wide range of learners but as teachers it is our job to choose wisely. The learning should not be contrived. I was asked recently to evaluate a math game to determine if it would be good for use in our classrooms. I believe the object of the game was to explore a fantasy village (though I was never quite sure what the object actually was…). Occasionally I came upon a road block and had to complete a math challenge in order to continue exploring the village. The math challenge was irrelevant to the game, it was just the chore I had to do before I could get back to the fun. Teachers must carefully consider the message this is sending about math!! There are probably thousands of games online for most math concepts. Choose carefully!!

Warning: Choose games carefully!

One of the other concerns I have with computer-based games for learning is that we need to ensure that the objective of the game is a worthy objective, that it fits with what we value as teachers. One example: I don’t use worksheets in my classroom to teach phonics. I don’t believe that teaching phonemic awareness in isolation through worksheets has any positive impact on their reading skills – and can be detrimental because they are generally so mindless (I sure don’t like filling out forms – why would my students???). While computer games designed to improve phonics or phonemic awareness skills may be far more engaging than worksheets, they are just dressed up worksheets. While the kids may learn the isolated skills few kids actually apply these skills to reading.

But they love it…

I find it surprising to see teachers who would never give their Kindergarten students a phonics worksheet, but will sit them down in front of a computer screen doing a glitzy version of the same. They justify this by explaining how much the kids LOVE the activities which always makes me laugh. My two kids LOVE chocolate, potato chips, candy etc. and would be thrilled if I offered these things for dinner each night. I don’t because I know it is not the best thing for them. They also LOVE TV… need I go on?

Playing to Learn Math

This post was inspired by the following fantastic presentation Playing to Learn Math created by Maria Andersen about the use of games to teach math skills. It makes many fantastic points about how and why games can be great learning activities when selected carefully. I need to take some time to play some of the games she recommends to brush up on my Algebra skills!

I will post games as I find them. If you have any recommendations for games, or any comments about games as educational tools please add your ideas in a comment on this post.

Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds

This is a must watch video for all educators. It is ridiculous that our education system tends to want all kids to conform, that we tend to be focused on everyone doing things the same way, that we focus on the individual, that we don’t value “all kinds of minds”. Temple Grandin highlights the value of all kinds of minds to our society. As a society we desperately need schools and teachers that understand this. We know as adults that if we are able to work effectively within a cooperative group we can achieve more than what we would if each individual worked in isolation. We can achieve synergy. As educators we need our students to experience this. We need to build learning environments that foster cooperative learning so that our students understand and benefit from the true value of diverse thinkers and learners.

UDL-Sunshine Coast-February 19, 2010

Here is an updated version with some added links for this presentation. All of the links are live so you can view the resources referred to.

View more presentations from astrang.

I really enjoyed my time on the Sunshine Coast. What a beautiful place – wishing I had stayed longer… perhaps forever… Hoping to hear more from Sweet Cascadia soon!! 

Please add a comment, question, story … below and join the conversation. It is all about collaboration!!

UDL Planning For Inclusion & Differentiation

The break-out session following my Keynote address for the UDL Conference on the Sunshine Coast on February 19th went a completely different direction than I planned based on the interests of the participants. I am loading up the slides I had planned to go through because I think they are still useful and really did not require a presentation to follow their intent.

Sunshine Coast UDL Presentation

Here are the slides from my UDL Presentation on the Sunshine Coast. The links within the presentation are live – enjoy exploring!

To download the slides as a PDF file go to:

If you have any comments or questions, please add a them as a comment to this post.

North Vancouver – January 6, 2010

Here are the slides from the UDL presentation I did in North Vancouver at Balmoral Jr. Secondary School on January 6th, 2009:

View more presentations from astrang.

If you click on the “full screen icon at the bottom of this slide show it will be more readable. The links within the presentation are live – click on them to view the site refered to in the slide. Please post any comments or questions as responses to this blog post.

If you would like to download the hand-out for this presentation please go to:

Horizons 2009 ~ CUE BC Presentation ~ What is UDL?

CUE BC 2009 - UDL_1

We had five “learning intentions” for participants in this presentation.

  1. To gain an understanding of UDL
  2. To understand why it is important that we understand and embrace UDL in our classrooms now as we are eager to meet the needs of increasingly diverse student populations, and as we need to make decisions about the types of technology we purchase and the pedagogy that drives it’s use.
  3. That UDL is not about the technology.
  4. That UDL is a subtle shift in paradigm that is having a profound impact on learners
  5. That creating Universally Designed schools and classrooms is a journey into which we have taken our first steps with a long way to go…

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