Barry Schwartz has enlightened me to the side I have unknowingly been fighting on in the war on wisdom. I have had strict rules and procedures that usually allow my classes to run smoothly. I incentivize behaviors that get my kids thinking and talking about science with a great amount of rewards. These rules and procedures save me from thinking and exhausting even more my reserves for decision making throughout each day. Yet, each and every day, I find myself playing the same role that Schwartz says in his talk that the police, paramedics, doctors, social workers, and judges all played, the role of victim to rules with the all too often spoken script: “I hate to do it, but those are the rules.”
I hated to give a student a warning for just getting out of their seat to pick up a pencil for a friend. I’m was not doing myself any good, nor was I doing good for the student. Because in fact I am degrading their moral skill and reprimanding a good action from one person to another. I would not be doing myself any good either for several reasons: 1) it pains me to do it, therefore in trying to avoid thinking and decision making and brain function, I have in fact created more burden of thought by not following my heart and instinct to accept and reward moral right. 2) I would not be respecting myself or my values. 3) I would not be modeling and promoting behavior that I would want to see in my students, I would be in fact doing just the opposite!
The model of hard and fast rules, procedures, consequences, and extrinsic rewards is just as Schwartz describes it, that rules “may make things better in the short run, but create a downward spiral that leaves it worse in the long run.” Because, he goes on, “moral skill is chipped away by an overrelience on rules” that deprives us the opportunity to be flexible.
This sheds light on why the first year might be a terrible experience, yet manageable, for most teachers, and the second year is a much less terrible experience, and even sometimes enjoyable one, because in the second year we have had an opportunity to question and reformulate our ability to be flexible of our rules in our classrooms. We are no longer in a state of survival mode, unable to make the downhill spiral of death stop until June 1st. In the second year, we must realize, consciously or non that moral skill must be taught in our classrooms. I think when the second year teachers, say, “I’m going to be better this year.” or “I’m going to be more like myself this year.” what they are trying to say is that following the rules for the rules sake is not them and never was, but what they are, are flexible morally right teachers who want to inspire students to simply do the right thing. Maybe I am generalizing and attributing my feelings to others, but I would hope this is the thought process in some.
I resolve to embody moral right. I resolve to respect myself, others, and learning. I resolve to model this, myself, to my students, each day so that I am at least one figure in their lives that they can look up to as an exemplar of an ordinary moral hero.
Barry Schwartz - “Our Loss of Wisdom”:
I was so happy to attend the Mississippi Teacher Corps workshops last week on organization, dealing with administration, and the first days of school. The organization workshop stood out to me as beyond just organization into a principle that I realize I must embody in order to make it past my first year as a teacher.
“Students love to hand you things…” Something I have become acutely aware of even with the limited amount of assignments that I’ve doled out this summer, thanks for the obvious! Well, I take them and then I hold onto them and from that point on it is up to your imagination what happens to them. But what do I do with these things they hand to me? AHHH! “Only accept what you need from students…” Really? Well I suppose…That works I guess, but I will still lose said materials, “…and do not touch it, make them put it in a bin.” What??? MAKE THEM put it in a bin? So, you’re saying I can tell my students what to do? Blasphemy!…no…wait, BRILLIANT!
I’m in no way making light of this advice. This is actually, word for word, what my internal dialogue was during the first two minutes of the workshop. Needless to explain further: my mind was blown!
You’re telling me that I can actually make my students do something which I would rather not do for them? Passing out papers, taking attendance, collecting assignments, grading tests, leading a line, cleaning the room, organizing a file cabinet, etc. etc. these can be lead by a student? Wahh?
This is awesome! So, to put it into a consumable piece of advice: Make students do the work—your work, or what you think is your work. Because: students love to work.
The entire concept applies to almost everything I, as a teacher, will be doing in my classroom related to management. This means jobs and procedures that students are in charge of, act out, and are happy to do it.
However, before I start streaming netflix from my school provided smart board while my “teacher for the day” A++ student teachers my lesson on the hierarchy of the universe, there is a ton of planning and front loading on my part to do. I need to organize and command my classroom so that I am able to have students do the work. I need to create an atmosphere of efficiency that goes beyond what they do and see. I need to organize everything in my room and have a procedure for its use. After I have this procedure down pat and the students know how it works, months into the year, at that point I can elect my best and most challenging students to do the important work for me.
This concept, or maybe it’s a principal or a law that an efficient teacher uses, is hinged on the idea of managing for energy. You must think about how much energy it will take to do a specific task for one class period, 30 times, then times it by how many class periods you teach. Essentially, you’re looking at doing ONE specific task 180 or more times per day and that could be as simple as passing out papers for the day. Simply put: make a student do it.
Overall, I am going to plan for getting my students involved in my classroom environment by making them do the work for me. Students like to do work for you. When you let a student do something, that shows them that you trust them and that you believe they are capable. Again, this is a win-win: I create a classroom that is supportive of my students and values all of their abilities by ensuring my trust in them AND it saves me a load of energy and time, plus this means more instructional time and more time that I can spend helping my students learn the material, rather than passing it out and collecting it for them—I can do what I wanted to do when I wanted to become a teacher!!
Oh, by the way: See that trash can without a lid on it? You want to throw some crumpled up paper in it and pretend it’s a basketball and that you are LeBron James throwing the three pointer that will win the game, don’t you? *BOOM*(puts a lid on the top) Not anymore. Muahaha…Now, go over there and gently put your trash in it, ok, now return to your seat. :D
Always be consistent with your classroom management and know your students.
The Mississippi Teacher Corps role plays that I’ve been partaking in 2 hours a day 5 days a week have been quite helpful and quite inconvenient at the same time. Helpful because they are real situations that most likely I will encounter and the feedback is usually pretty excellent advice on how to deal with situations. Though, after a long day of teaching and just wanting get back, eat something simple and quick and get to lesson planning, all in an attempt to avoid staying up all night working, they also feel quite inconvenient. The help that they are providing me does however outweigh my negative feelings to them and am grateful for the experiences they push upon me after it is all over with.
I video taped a role play last week where essentially three students were to misbehave. Of course, I had no idea of any of these plans as I stepped into the classroom, this was just the facilitators’ plans. One student was crumpling and throwing papers into a trash can, another was persistently getting out of his seat, and finally another was a total goof ball who was bored and had no fear of authority.
As I entered the classroom I explained the directions to my made up Moon phases assignment, passed out papers, and had them working. Right away I saw one student throwing papers into the trash can, which was followed by a firm warning. Unfortunately I did not take the other two crumpled papers that were ready and waiting on his desk, for the moment I turned my back they would be airborne. As I was dealing with the paper throwing I had my back turned to a student across the room who was getting out of his seat and wandering the room. I very firmly had him return to his seat and get to work.
At this point into the video, I noticed that when I gave consequences to these students my shoulders became more broad and my voice more powerful, but when I would be roaming the room not dealing with misbehavior my shoulders would slump and I would not look as confident.
Before I was able to regain composure in my thoughts, the student throwing papers started that up yet again and I had to go further into the consequences—When I really should have just made him clear his desk of those papers and warn him if he crumpled up another paper that he would be getting a detention. At this point, I again turned my back to the antsy student at the other side of the room and he had changed seats. I told him to get back to his seat and that he has a writing assignment while I dealt with student number three who was at first very bored and seemed to want to play with items he had found near his desk.
What I realize now at this point, is that these students, all of them, were not disrupting my learning environment. They were simply acting out because they needed some alternative instruction—I needed to re-focus them on the assignment.
The bored student who had found some items started playing with them and a took them from him. The student who was getting out of his seat, antsy, was then immediately thrown out of the room to wait for a hall conference as I saw him change seat again. He was pretty sad at that point and I felt bad, because, again he was disrupting anyone at that point. Thankfully, the message got to the student throwing papers and he was focused on his work. As I was heading to the hall conference I noticed the good ball student who was bored was playing with a projector cap and was using it as a monocle. I firmly told him to put that in my hand, but he refused after three of my requests. I then wrote a referral for insubordination as I had a hallway conference with the antsy student. He had a choice of a referral or to go back to his original seat and get to work. he took option two, thankfully. And it was a cut.
I did so much wrong in this role play. I didn’t think about what they needed or why they were acting out. Instead, I jumped on them with consequences immediately and the situations were not diffused, but rather, they got much much worse.
If I were to do it again, I would have proximity with the antsy student who wanted to get out of his desk AND if he really needed to get up, allowed him to stand up in the back of the room and do some jumping or something. I would have done a seat change with the bored student. And I would have nailed the paper throwing student immediately with a warning followed by a detention (and made him walk over and throw his papers away.). Essentially, these students were only a distraction to themselves and my class as a whole. I needed to deal with them individually and rengage them, rather than punishing them up the ladder. Next time I will first think to myself, “what does that student need?” and “how can I provide that to them?”