Turbulence in relationship building

This week, the week of 10/13, marks my 6th week at my high school placement. I have not actually written a post about my experiences at my placement, mostly because my better stories were not really blogging material. Now that I’ve had enough time built up and observed for an extended amount of time, I had some musings that I wanted to share about building relationships with my students.

 

The first real relationship that I built was with a young lady that had joined the 2nd period class, 2 weeks into the semester. She will be referred from now on as ‘H’. H was not there for most of the first unit, so instead of taking the unit test, I was tasked with going over some of the earlier classwork with her. While working, she proceeded to regal me in stories about her life. This was in part because some of the classwork involved asking personal questions meant to get to know students better. The other part was that I shared some of my personal information upfront, specifically that I was a grad student at the U of R who was student teaching at the school. She asked me about why I was interested in teaching, using deficit language to describe herself and her peers when giving reasons about why I shouldn’t become a teacher in the city. I gave her as honest a response as I could, “I grew up going to the RCSD and I want to work with students like you and me because there is a need for good teachers here.” Her sentiment about me from this point on was that he cares which resulted in me being referred to as “cool”.

 

The relationship with H acted as an in with other students, specifically the crew she would sit with during lab. She told them that I was “cool” which helped eased their guards around me. This group is fond of associating my CT and me with superheroes. I have been referred to as both Robin and Batman, while my CT has been associated with Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man. Recently, the lines have blurred with some of these students as I was called an “signature wh**e” by a student who was upset that I signed her paper last. I am unsure if I had betrayed her by not signing her paper as soon as she asked, but this response was not totally unsurprising. The use of language was surprising, though.  She, ‘A’, will commonly disrespect me in a playful way. An example of this would be her telling me to “keep on stepping” when I walk by her area. I usually respond with a raised brow and A gets back in line. Nonverbal cues have been a common tool that I have used to redirect student behavior. The situation with the signatures was a different beast and she wanted nothing to do with me, but I think by Monday she will probably be totally over it.

 

Using egg cell models, a student said, “These look like testicles.” I told him that while I was happy he was making connections between the lab and his own life, he needed to wait until the reproduction unit before he could start discussing things of that nature.” I received a positive response from the students with this comment and my CT also told me that it was perfect response as well. It told the students that I heard what they said, that what they said had value, but that it wasn’t entirely appropriate.

As I further develop relationships with students, it becomes increasing difficult to make sure that the lines don’t blur and that I lose my position as an authority figure. I should not be a friend to my students, but position myself more as a caring leader. But it has been a difficult process trying to think of ways to respond to students that can help maintain the careful balance of caring, but also providing the means to keep them on task.

Straw and Brick: Classroom Management

Inspired by my UTL seminar, which is focusing on classroom management, I’ve decided to use this post as a sort of depository for classroom management ideas.

The following video hits a number of points that were stressed to me from seminar, especially the power of redirection and framing it in a positive manner.

 

The following links give tips and advice for positive behavioral supports. (As a side note, edutopia.org is a solid resource with many good ideas being shared).

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/positive-not-punitive-part-1-larry-ferlazzo

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/positive-not-punitive-part-2-larry-ferlazzo

The following is an excerpt from my classroom management inventory, concerning seating arrangement’s at my placement.

CT’s Approach

My CT sets up the desks in his room as a “t-shaped” unit, with each “t” pointing to the front of the room from its bottom. Each unit has four desks incorporated, with seven units organized around the room. The units are spaced away from each other so that my CT can freely walk around the room, between the units. The purpose of the units is so that both instructional time and group time are given the same level of importance in the classroom. During instructional time, every student has access to see my CT, especially since he is walking around the classroom too. During group time, the whole group can see each other, facilitating discussions and sharing of information.

Other Approach

Visiting physics classroom, I noticed that seating arrangement was a classic variation. The desks were separated and faced the front of the classroom. This facilitated students focusing on the front of the room (where the teacher was located) and student-teacher interaction during instructional time. It hindered student-student interaction, but having a second room allowed the teacher to control student-student interactions by transitioning into a second room. The second room has lab benches with swivel chairs that allow great mobility to see others when they are talking and to engage in the nearby space.

 

“Dead Words” was a classroom management strategy that was present in the sample classroom management plans that were handed out during my UTL seminar. I hope to implement this practice in my science classroom, in which collaboration between students is a necessary skill that requires cultivation. A poster of “Deads Words” that are rejected from my classroom environment would help in creating a safe space, one where students will feel more comfortable in sharing their ideas. Being on the wall of the classroom, positioned where it can seen by the whole class, a “Dead Words” poster reminds students of the inappropriate language that is forbidden within my classroom and helps shape the discourse of the class. While a normal “Dead Words” poster may include swears and deficit language, for a science classroom I can add terms associated with science that can often lead to misconceptions.

An enterprising student may find inspiration within the “Dead Words” poster and decide to test the limits, either by creating situations where new words get added to the poster or just by repeating what is already up. To minimize this occurrence, I may create an “Outstanding Words” poster that helps to shape discourse positively by giving those individuals alternatives in language that they wish to use. The combination of the two posters gives the students a better idea of how they can be successful in my class. The use of an “Outstanding Words” poster can also help foster positivity whereas a “Dead Words” poster is fairly negative.

A point system is another strategy that I hope to implement in my practice, especially after seeing its success at my placement. This classroom management technique was shared by Eric. I can vouch about the success of this reward system first hand as on-time attendance has increased over the span of three weeks. Another affordance about the way it is used is that students actually care about the rewards. While candy is a natural favorite used, some students actually have rejected the candy and only want to make sure that their family hears about their success in class via a phone call. The system is also designed that the students must be on-time and maintain proper behavior during class, but doesn’t take grades into account. I think this is important to note because there are a few ELs and other needy students that do not always end up with the best grades, but this point system gives them another indicator of success in the classroom.

The limitations of the point system are readily apparent when considering those students who have not yet gotten a perfect week. Without knowing the impact that a good phone call home can provide (candy is obvious not enough for everyone), these students lack the same incentive that other students have because of this difference. My CT lowers and raises the requirements of a perfect week on a class by class basis, which is a way to mitigate this limitation. You lower the barrier of entry for certain students that have more difficulty in reaching that perfect week and slowly raise the expectations. Another limitation is that students that are on-time end up with automatic perfects for the day and can only go down from there. This means that their rating can only go down from there despite possible outstanding behavior that is outside of the classroom norms. Writing a great conclusion to a lab report that acts as an exemplar to the class is an example of such behavior that instantly pops into my head. I think in my practice I may not give them a perfect for the day, but would certainly give their family a positive phone call.