• Aaron Daffern

Take CHARGE of the Classroom #1: Introduction


This is post #1 in a 20-post series designed to disrupt outdated behavior management models and help you create the classroom culture of your dreams. This post contains excerpts from my book Take CHARGE of the Classroom.


Let me paint a picture for you. Think about what you’re going to read with two simple questions in mind: Does this describe your classroom? If not, would you like it to?


As you walk into the room, you see students in groups or pairs engaged in various activities. They aren’t working silently but are instead talking and laughing in a subdued but energetic manner. You look over the shoulder of a pair of students, wondering what could be so interesting. You see a problem that they are collaborating on. The students are not only working to answer the question, they are discussing which representation would best prove their work. After a short debate, they decide to use two representations, one for each of them.


You move on to a group of three students and ask what they are working on. One student pipes up and articulately responds with a learning statement spoken in the first person. Thinking that she might just be reading off a posted objective, you ask follow up questions to see if she really understands what she’s doing and why. Her answers, and the rigor of the task, show that the students are not only fully aware of what they are learning but are also able to give descriptions of how far along they are on the learning continuum.


Looking up, you try to spot the teacher. Sitting at the back table with two students, you notice the teacher working with manipulatives on some type of intervention lesson. That winds down and, as you watch, the two students get up, push in their chairs, and move to join their classmates in the activities they are already engaged in. The teacher silently gets up, glances at a list on her clipboard, and kneels down next to a few other students. They join her at the back table and a new small group lesson begins.


As you take one final look around the room, you see an environment rich in print and content. Students are actively working on tasks, many of which seem self-selected, and do not need behavioral directions or verbal cues. You theorize that if, for some strange reason, the teacher were to leave the classroom, everything would continue without missing a beat.


That vision is not some distant utopia. It can happen in a virtual, face-to-face, or blended classroom. If you desperately want the previous scenario to be a description of your classroom, then you are in the right place.


The central themes of taking charge of your classroom emerge from research, experiences, best practices, and good old common sense. It’s not a program or a kit that you can order from Teachers Pay Teachers. It’s not a separate curriculum that will compete with whatever mandate or initiative that your district happens to be pushing at the moment.


Instead, taking charge is a framework, a series of principles that are loose enough for personalization and can be applied in any context, grade level, and zip code. Yet it’s structured enough that it doesn’t take a doctoral student to figure out how to make it work in your classroom tomorrow.


Influences

This book is simply pulled from my imagination. No, the foundation of this book and the Take CHARGE model rests on the shoulders of educators and researchers that are much smarter than me.


I draw from the growing wealth of knowledge found in the field of social-emotional learning and how it applies to classroom wellness. For decades educators have used basic classroom management principles that focus on procedures, which also influenced my thinking.


For too long we’ve ignored the importance of race and cultural literacy. Work from that field is included, as is neuroscience, what we know about the physical structures of the brain, and its implications for teaching and learning. Even parenting books hold some truths for us since educators often act as de facto parental figures for students.


Finally, behavioral therapists and psychologists have developed treatments and principles that have proven to curb or eliminate maladaptive behaviors. Truths from that field are woven together with research on memory and growing executive skills.


True solutions do not come from focusing on a single source or theory but weaving together threads from multiple sources, all of which contribute to a tapestry that gives us hope.

Hope for a better future for our students. Hope for rekindling the joy of teaching. Hope for humanity.



Take charge

To that end, taking charge of the classroom can be thought of in six large sections or strands.


Confident. Taking charge begins within educators themselves, not with students or environments. Teachers learn to enter the classroom confidently when they are grounded in their purpose, choose positivity, and understand that their primary role is to protect students. Learning brains are safe brains.


Heart – The heart of teaching is students, not content. Relationships form the basis of everything else that happens in the classroom. These relationships are strengthened when teachers respect students, both their potential and the cultural strengths they bring with them, rather than holding a deficit view. Finally, the heart of teaching is releasing control, honoring students’ autonomy and building their agency.


Anticipate – Veteran classroom teachers, if asked for classroom management advice, will typically say, “Procedures, procedures, procedures.” They know that one (but not the only) key to successful classrooms is the implementation and maintenance of procedures. Additionally, good teachers maximize productivity to reduce down-time and take care to plan their lessons carefully. By doing these things, they can anticipate problems and usually avoid them altogether.


Reinforce – This truth will be the hardest for some teachers to hear but is the one that will most likely get them over the final behavioral hurdle. What you focus on in the classroom, you get more of. By constantly nagging students and chiding them for minor infractions, you only guarantee that you’ll get more of the same. Behavioral therapy has proven that the most efficient and long-lasting way to change behavior is to reinforce positive actions and ignore negative ones. By using the power of their attention, teachers can increase actions and attitudes that meet their expectations without shaming students for their poor choices.

The heart of teaching is students, not content.


Grow – Trying to stop poor behaviors is not the same as teaching students good ones. In the grow strand, teachers explicitly teach and help students grow interpersonal, intrapersonal, and intellectual skills to help them succeed. While teachers do want students to stop calling out or hitting others, that merely inhibits poor behaviors. More than that, they can teach their students about resilience, growth mindsets, and curiosity, to name just a few beneficial traits.


Engage – The most well-behaved class will be primed for learning but not guaranteed to achieve unless academics are addressed. After implementing the first five parts of the Take CHARGE model, the final step is to fully engage students with powerful teaching practices. First, students are motivated by a combination of five facets and instruction that leverages these will be far more captivating. Second, students make meaning by processing new information and tying it to prior knowledge, not sitting and getting. Finally, new work on memory and retrieval practice shows simple tips for greatly improving retention and achievement.


To read more posts in this series, click here.

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