Friday, September 16, 2011

Supporting Teachers' Classroom Management Decisions

One of the more stressful parts of teaching is classroom management.  This is particularly true with newer teachers.  As a school leader, you may be called upon to not only handle the student in question, but to also support the teacher involved.

School leaders sometimes fall into the trap of dealing with the incident and moving on.  Doing so leaves out one important piece to handling a difficult situation - making sure the teacher is ready to go back in the class and teach that group again.  In order to best support the teacher, school leaders need to take time shortly after the incident to follow up with the teacher.  This follow up meeting is very similar to a post observation meeting during a cycle of clinical supervision, but in the case of a classroom management issue, the leader did not observe the action.

Here are a few tips on how to hold such a meeting.

Establish trust

Classroom management issues are often emotionally charged.  Passionate teachers may feel hurt by the student's actions.  Without trust, the teacher is not going to feel free to fully share what happened.

State up front YOUR purpose for the meeting


Your purpose is important because it may differ from the teacher's.  Stating up front why YOU need this time establishes up front where you are and eliminates the "guess work" on the part of the teacher.  You may want to say something like this,
Thank you for taking some time to meet with me concerning the recent incident in your class.  Let me state up front that this time is very important to me.  It is important NOT because I am looking to critique your decision or micro-manage your class.  It IS important because one of my most important roles is in supporting your work.  Taking time to review what happened will allow me to better serve your needs.  I view this meeting as an opportunity for me to support you better. 

Give the teacher an opportunity to add to the meeting's purpose


Once you have established why you need this meeting, give the teacher a chance to add to the purpose.  Sometimes, teachers have related challenges that they can now bring to your attention.  Be sensitive to these needs and allow them to surface.  If additional time is needed to address those issues, make it part of your follow up plan (see below).

Begin at the beginning


Sometimes, classroom management issues begin the moment a student walks in the room.  Teachers may not realize this because they become focused on the actual incident that occurred later.  Asking teachers to describe the class from the very beginning may provide some clarity.  The beginning of class is not when the teacher begin talking, it is the moment the student walks in.  Beginning at the beginning may help formulate a good plan for how to move on.

Ask questions


As much as possible, explore the details of what happened.  This may require a number of questions.  Asking questions helps fill in the gaps as well as sends the message that you are genuinely interested in supporting the teacher.

Recap what you heard

Once you listen and ask questions, retell the events as you understand them.  Ask if you got it right.  If there are parts that do not line up, clarify them.  If the teacher agrees that you understand, ask once more if there is anything else that just came to mind.

Discuss what is needed to move forward

Ask the teacher what support they need to move forward (go back in that class and teach that student again).  If the teacher gives you a specific answer, take time to reflect on those needs.  Share with the teacher your suggestions for how to move forward


Establish a follow up plan

Before the meeting ends, work out a plan for following up.  The follow up should take place a few weeks after the plan to move forward begins.  This allows the plan to gain momentum and for the parties involved to get accustomed to the new arrangement.  Part of the follow up should also include keeping the door open" to revising the plan or setting a schedule to examine whether the plan needs to be continued.

Check in periodically

Finally, with any situation, frequent and informal check ins are a great way to support the teacher.  These demonstrate your commitment to helping and also sends the message that you are personally invested in the success of the teacher's classroom management.

If you have either needed to support a teacher or if you have been a teacher needing support, feel free to leave a comment below to share your wisdom with other readers.
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