Thoughts on Classroom Behaviour Management

Classroom Behaviour Management.

Those skills we wish were taught in first year university, but (at least in my case), most definitely were not.

Those skills, without which a class can effectively fall apart; where unruly and sometimes violent students reign, and drive even experienced teachers to and sometimes beyond breaking point. I have witnessed this first-hand, and it happens more often than many would care to think.

I was once advised by a university lecturer to keep a journal of my first year teaching experinces; and despite being too shellshocked to write for nearly four months, my early journal entries reveal a significant, and necessary preoccupation with classroom management. In those days, it was a matter of survival.

As a relief teacher, I enter unfamiliar school and classroom environments on a regular basis. Unless you have the opportunity to develop a reputation amongst the student population, a process which takes a considerable amount of time and effort, this unfamilarity almost always translates to unruly student behaviour, and sometimes, major behaviour management challenges.

With my heady combination of inexperience, nerves and poor classroom management skills, I had my fair share of “disaster” days. I have quite literally had classes descend into total chaos, called for Admin assistance on more than one occasion, experienced the horrible piercing sound a student makes screaming their lungs out in class, and let us not forget the day I had to send seven students to buddy class (Day 2 of my teaching career).

Perhaps the most ‘memorable’ experience was the time I had a student fire pieces of paper at my head with his home-made catapult, prior to his forcible removal from the class, numerous escapes, attempts to scale the roof, and kicking me in the leg. Pity Admin didn’t warn me that this student was in the class, because with my past history of dealing with such students, I might have been able to handle the situation better. Amazingly, I managed to keep some semblence of control that day, despite the chaos going on outside.

To be honest, the collegial and administrative support I recieve as a relief teacher shapes my lasting impressions of the schools in which I work. These impressions are generally positive, and I have found most of my teaching colleagues to be extremely supportive, particularly in hard-to-staff or low-socio-economic schools.

I still remember my first day of teaching, when the teacher next door kindly introduced herself and offered her assistance if needed. A particular thankyou goes to the Year 6/7 teachers at one particular school, who supported me the day after my worst ever management disaster (last year), offering to give up their DOTT to support me if I had to face the class again. This offer was above and beyond the call of duty, and thankfully proved unnecessary. I later found out that a teacher with 30 years experience couldn’t control the class either, a most reassuring observation.

I am also grateful to those Deputy Principals who willingly lent their support in crisis situations, and didn’t judge me negatively for it. In some cases, I was afforded the opportunity to try teaching the class again; but sadly, many “disasters” meant I never returned to the school. While thankfully my relief teaching experience now enables me to deal with most problems in the class, I still regret being denied these valuable opportunities to learn from my mistakes.

In those early days, I had my good and bad days. Yes, some were really bad days, like those I described here, but I learnt so much by reflecting on my experiences, researching classroom management strategies, and frankly, asking my colleagues for help.

Herin lie several fundamental lessons, learnt from painful experience:

1) Don’t be afraid to ASK for help (when you’re drowning)
2) Engage in Professional Learning – RE: Classroom Management
3) Plan, Experiment, and Reflect on your Management Approach.

In the following series of posts, I will explore how I dealt with the significant challenges I faced trying to develop my classroom management approach, and share some key ideas and strategies which guided my reflections & skill development.

The Major Challenges of First Year Teaching

Based on my personal experiences, and discussions with graduate colleagues, I think there are three major challenges facing most first year teachers in Western Australia.

     1) Curriculum Development & Lesson Planning

     2) Classroom Behaviour Managment

     3) Assessment & Reporting

As graduates, our response to these challenges, and the avenues of support we access, frankly determines our survival in the teaching profession. It is no joke that many teachers leave within the first 5 years of teaching, and I now understand why.

Starting work as a relief teacher in February 2009, I entered the most intensely stressful period of my life. Yet, as I engaged in the PLI Graduate Teacher Modules, one of the last relief staff to be able to do so, I was reassured to know that I wasn’t alone, and indeed, some teachers were going through much worse. For a much more realistic picture of first year teaching than my university ever painted, I highly recommend Ellen Moir’s article on the Phases of First Year Teaching [pdf].

In the following series of posts, I will explore how I have dealt with my first year challenges as a very much part-time relief teacher. I hope they will provide some insights into what has been for me an incredible personal and professional transformation. 

There is one important caveat; however, as my personal situation has literally allowed me to compress several years worth of professional learning and development into an 18 month period. It has been a wild ride, and if I had my time again, I wouldn’t have moved at such a breakneck pace. Nevertheless, the results have been worthwhile, and I hope my fellow graduates and relief colleagues will learn something from my experiences. I’d love to hear your comments.

Well, here goes …

Multiliteracies in the Media

Over the years, I have collected education-related media clippings on a variety of topics. These articles below provide some insights into how multi-literacies informed teaching practice can provide real educational benefits for our students. 

Winners of the Inaugural DETWA Teacher’s Innovative Online Learning Award (2007) described the influence of ICT integration on teaching and learning in their classrooms:

Rod Blitvich, a secondary science teacher, described how his podcasting and movie-making projects led to “a wonderful transformation in discipline/motivation problems within [his] classes”.

John Atkins, teaching in Broome, Western Australia, described how Indigenous students were encouraged to use MP3 recorders and headsets to “tell their stories in a non-threatening, non-shaming way”. This practice helped teaching staff overcome long-standing barriers to assessing Indigenous students’ speaking skills.

Paul Fuller, an innovative primary school teacher, engages his students in a range of online projects, including podcasting and blogging students stories. He “was blown away by the enthusiasm, energy and quality of writing … as formerly reluctant writers became prolific authors”. (Google “Albert the Blogging Bear” for an example of his work).

DETWA (24/8/2007). ‘Paul’s students are global citizens’ and ‘Teacher’s Innovative Online Learning’ in School Matters, Issue 8.

A collaborative project between Murdoch University and Cooblellup Primary School (Western Australia) found that the use of Interactive Whiteboards to support literacy and numeracy teaching led to significant improvements in students literacy and numeracy results.

Surveys of student attitudes indicated that students became more motivated and engaged in their learning, and mathematics results were on average 2.5 times greater than expected for normal developmental growth.

[Murdoch University (May 2008). ‘Hi-tech whiteboard hits home’ in Discovery Magazine, v(2) Issue 4]

Children who use technology are ‘better writers’ – A survey finds blogging, use of social networking sites, and texting leads to improved writing outcomes for students (National Literacy Trust, UK)

A survey of 3,001 children aged nine to 16 found that 24% had their own blog and 82% sent text messages at least once a month. In addition 73% used instant messaging services to chat online with friends. However, 77% still put real pen to paper to write notes in class or do their school homework. Of the children who neither blogged nor used social network sites, 47% rated their writing as “good” or “very good”, while 61% of the bloggers and 56% of the social networkers said the same.

“Our research suggests a strong correlation between kids using technology and wider patterns of reading and writing,” Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, told BBC News. “Engagement with online technology drives their enthusiasm for writing short stories, letters, song lyrics or diaries.” Mr Douglas dismissed criticisms about the informal writing styles often adopted in online chat and “text speak”, both of which can lack grammar and dictionary-correct spelling. “Does it damage literacy? Our research results are conclusive – the more forms of communications children use the stronger their core literary skills.”

Extract from BBC News Online “Children who use technology are ‘better writers'”, by Zoe Kleinman (Thursday, 3 December 2009)

Multiliteracies – A Teachers’ Guide

I made my first forays into the field of multi-literacies several years ago, researching the topic as part of a special high-level university unit.

In writing this plain-language guide, I have attempted to explain my understandings of the multiliteracies theory, as outlined by the academics. In a later post, I will discuss how this theory informs my personal philosophy of literacy teaching, and its’ impact on my classroom practice. 

What is literacy?

In Australia and many other Western societies, our social institutions, governments, schools, and economic markets are underpinned by the use of the English language, the language which most people in our society understand and use. This makes English literacy a fundamental social practice; for literate individuals have the knowledge, skills, and power to effectively live, work and communicate in our society (Anstey & Bull, 2004; Lankshear & Knobel, 2004).

Traditional conceptions of English literacy have focussed solely on reading and writing the printed word (Walsh, 2006). While favoured by the ‘back to basics’ movement in Australia, this definition of literacy fails to reflect the increasing social, cultural and language diversity of our times; and does not recognise emerging communication technologies and electronic texts such as blogs, email, YouTube™ and Twitter™ (Cazden, et al, 1996; Kalantzis, Cope, & Harvey, 2003; Unsworth, 2001).

Multi-literacies in the Real World

As an English-speaking educator, I am able to communicate and interact using a variety of oral, written, visual, and multimodal (multimedia) mediums. For example, in the course of my work:

  • I use my oral communication skills to teach, interact with students, exert authority (for behaviour management purposes), share personal stories, encourage discussion, make phone calls, etc
  • I use computer applications and internet resources to plan units of work, develop comprehensive databases of teaching resources, and preview Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) and digital learning resources. 
  • I use Web 2.0 technologies, including wikis, weblogs (blogs) and online professional learning modules to further my understandings of effective ICT-integration in the classroom

This is not to mention how I tend to email friends, study bus-shelter advertising, deconstruct movies using film codes (a regrettable habit), read newspapers (print and online), watch DVDs, read comics, write letters, shop online, … and the list goes on. In fact, it is almost impossible to list all of the literate practices and texts I use in the course of my daily and professional life.

The Premise

We are not born with the inherent ability to communicate and interact using these diverse mediums. These texts place multi-literate demands on readers, who must simultaneously engage with words, still and moving images, and sounds to make meaning (Lankshear, et al, 1997).

To engage with the various texts and communicative practices of our society, we require different knowledge, skills, and reading practices, or different literacies, to those traditionally focussed on and learnt in schools (Anstey & Bull, 2004).

This has significant implications for literacy teaching practice. 

The Value of Relief Teaching for New Graduates

Relief teaching is a challenging, and sometimes frustrating business, but it can also be intensely rewarding. 

Relief teachers come from all walks of life. Some are retired teachers seeking to supplement their retirement incomes, there are the few career relief (one colleague has been working as full-time relief for 20 years – she taught me!), others are in-between jobs, and some are new graduates, forced to work as relief while looking for more permanent/fixed teaching positions.

I fall into the final camp. I certainly didn’t choose relief teaching as my preferred career path; rather it was a decision forced upon me by circumstances beyond my control. At first, I was intensely disappointed at my “failure” to obtain a full-time teaching position; however, with the benefit of hindsight, I now understand that this was the best possible thing that could have happened to me.

Relief teaching was a rude, and extremely stressful introduction to the true realities of teaching. As a newbie graduate, I had no conception of the planning, instructional, and behaviour management demands of the teaching profession. I was in for the greatest shock of my life.

I am so thankful, that as a part-time casual employee, I had the ability and the time to adjust, reflecting on my experiences and actively seeking to address my major professional weaknesses. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that my relief teaching experience in so many schools and classrooms has helped me grow as a person and a teaching professional. 

As I will detail in later postings, I have used my time as a relief teacher to clarify my understanding of effective curriculum planning, instructional strategies, and assessment. I have learnt how to teach from K-7, and developed professional relationships with colleagues from a diverse range of teaching backgrounds. 

These relationships have proved an invaluable professional learning resource, as my conversations with teachers about effective behaviour management, literacy organisation blocks, quality curriculum resources, and instructional strategies have significantly influenced my evolving teaching practice. I have met some incredible teachers, and I am truly grateful for their advice and support. I hope to emulate them one day.

While gaining valuable classroom experience, I have been actively preparing teaching resources and programming materials (syllabus overviews, units of work, activity planners) for teaching Years 4-7. I am confident that my curriculum resource database, which now contains well over 3000 documents, is unique for a graduate teacher, and will will significantly reduce my stress and planning workload when teaching across a range of year levels.

One day, I hope to be able to share this treasure trove with my teaching colleagues, but in the meantime, I will continue to explore ways to improve my teaching practice & curriculum understandings with the ultimate intention of supporting those “difficult”, “hard-to-teach” students I meet and work with on a regular basis.

Planning with Curriculum Organiser™

In December 2008, I was involved in a WA union trial of Curriculum Organiser, one of the most useful and inspirational pieces of software I have ever worked with. Designed for Australian educators, the software supports teacher planning across all learning areas (K-7, and now secondary learning areas).

The Curriculum Organiser™ database contains a wealth of syllabus/curriculum linked integrated themes, graphic organisers, unit planners, and subject learning activities for teachers to adapt to their own classroom situations. One of the most useful features is the database of instructional strategies (e.g. Think Pair Share, Six Hats Thinking, SWOT Analysis, Bloom’s Taxonomy) which teachers can employ to promote student engagement and higher-order thinking skills.

An individual licence costs about $200, but WA State School Teachers Union (SSTUWA) members can access it for free as part of their membership. I highly recommend the Curriculum Organiser planning software for graduate teachers, as (used effectively) it significantly reduces your planning workload across all eight learning areas, one of the hardest and most stressful tasks we face as new teachers.

My involvment in this trial ultimately led to the complete transformation of my teaching approach over the coming years, inspiring the creation of a unique electronic database of curriculum resources and enabling me to adopt a flexible ICT integrated approach to curriculum planning. More details on this later.

My Teaching Philosophy

“What students bring to class is where learning begins.

It starts there and goes places.”

Ira Shor. (1992). Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change

I believe teaching is about enriching students’ lives, forging connections with their communities, and using their questions to drive the learning process.

As a teacher, I aim to use my talents, professional knowledge and expertise to enable my students’ access to the powerful texts and multiple literacy practices of our society.

My teaching is informed by the principles of social justice, democracy and environmental sustainability. I firmly believe that no child deserves to be left behind; and I hope to help my students become the informed, empowered and innovative global citizens of the 21st Century.

As revised January 2010

Welcome & Introduction

Welcome to my “A Relief Teacher’s Journey” blog.

I am a primary school relief teacher working in the southern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. Since February 2009, I have attended 20 schools across the government and private education sectors, teaching classes from Kindergarten to Year 7, including Physical Education, Music, Art and ICT.

Despite the intense challenges and difficulties I have faced as a relief teacher, I have I have found the experience to be extremely rewarding, making me a better person and a better teacher. 

I have a keen interest in Web 2.0 and other educational technologies arising from my teaching philosophy and university studies in the field of multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996). I have a long-term aspiration to become a specialist Literacy/ICT integration teacher, supporting teachers’ meaningful integration of educational technologies to support all their students, particularly those deemed “at risk” or “failures”.

As an educator, I am on a professional learning journey. The creation and maintenance of this blog marks the achivement of two long-term professional goals; namely my desire to explore the implications of ICT technologies, and to share my experiences, ideas and evolving teaching practice as a new graduate teacher.

Recalling my immense lack of knowledge & experience as a newly graduated teacher, I hope this blog will become a relevant and informative resource for student and graduate teachers, particularly those contemplating or currently engaged in relief teaching work.