This week’s pillar to developing a culture of achievement is to support students who have fallen behind. We need to work to keep them from getting farther behind, becoming frustrated or losing motivation. We need to teach like it’s never too late to learn. We should not be telling our students that it’s too late for them to make up any of their work or that failure is the only option for them. If students do not have a chance to pass their classes, what motivation will they have to continue learning? Schools need to create a plan to help students be successful and support them when they fail.
At my school, failure is real and a regular option. We must assess students throughout the year on their proficiency in learning the grade level content. We can use a rubric when grading or simple points to percentages, but it doesn’t make too much of a difference. They can receive a 1 out of 4 on a rubric or they can receive below a 70% on a test, but they know when they have failed. We have to have a set grading system within our classes because report cards are mandatory. With our new report cards, students are labeled with either “expected growth” or “needs improvement” two times throughout the year. These phrases are better than the typical A, B, C, or D grades students used to receive. However, they do receive these grades at the end of the year and within their classrooms on assessments. I believe these phrases are an attempt to lift the negativity that can be associated with a letter grade, but most parents interpret the “needs improvement” grades as failing.
I am very careful when discussing grades with students. I never associate good grades with being smart. I always tell students they can do better on tests if they try a little harder or ask for help. I tell them I am available to support them if they need it. However, students come into my class already having an understanding that if they receive a D or F on a test that they are not doing well. I ask students to get all their tests signed by their parents so parents know how their children are doing, and students can be embarrassed to show their parents their tests. I’ve noticed it is the parents, not the students, who are more upset about the failing grades. The blame then ends up on teachers. With the new common core standards, parents get even more upset because they don’t understand the new ways of teaching and become frustrated that they cannot help. These are the problems my school faces with failing grades. It’s not that the students necessarily give up or don’t care, but the parents get upset at the grading and in turn the students see that they are not doing well.
With the pressure to get through all the content in a school year, teachers feel pressured to continue moving through the curriculum even when students are not doing well. This makes it difficult for students to reach competency and it can establish the mentality of “it’s too late to learn” in some classrooms. For example, if ten students fail the first math test, I fear that teachers write down the students’ grades, and begin teaching the second chapter because they think those students are too far behind and won’t catch up. I remember my first year of teaching and grading the first math tests. I went to my colleagues and told them how poorly some of my students did and asked how I could help them. I remember being told that if those students don’t get it now, they won’t get it, so we just have to move on to the next topic. I believe this comes mainly from the pressure to get through the content, but something should be done for students who are not reaching competency in certain areas.
As a school leader, I would establish either before or after school programs to help support students in the areas where they are struggling. The problem is, at our school, we have a large majority of students who are not reaching competency. I would make sure that all teachers are including interventions in their daily lessons to help support students. Students need to have an opportunity to reach competency and discussing the pillar “It’s Not Too Late to Learn” with my staff would be the first step to moving away from a negative mentality. I would also love to establish a competency based system, but with the expectations coming down from the district and state level with report cards, I’m not sure that is a plausible goal.
Within my classroom I do everything I can to create a recovery plan for students who are failing. I teach my classes using a rotation model. I assess the students prior to beginning a new chapter to see what students know about the upcoming chapter. I then split my class into three groups depending on what they need. One group of students who need extra support receive two days of intervention and support on background knowledge needed for the upcoming lessons of the new chapter. This is a recovery plan for these students for the previously learned material that was not mastered. Another group of students who need extra support, but not as much as the first group, get one day of intervention and support. The last group of students are the students who are ready for the new chapter because they have mastered the previous content. I then teach each group their individualize lesson once a day at their current levels. The students that do not need extra support get to begin the new chapter and are challenged. The students who need extra support get the specific support they need before beginning the chapter so they are better prepared to learn the new material. This provides individualized instruction for all students and is a recovery plan for students who did not understand the content the first time we went through it. I also always make sure I have good relationships with my students and never give up on them. This is my way of establishing a mentality of “It’s Never Too Late to Learn.”
Here are 5 things I am willing to do this semester that will make my school increase learning opportunities:
The power of words is incredible. You can say something once and if it affects the person who you said it to, it can remain in the forefront of their mind for a long time. This week’s pillar has to do with choosing your words carefully when speaking to others, especially students, and fostering a growth mindset in students. Teachers have an incredible impact in student’s lives. No matter how a child acts, they hear everything teachers say about them and internalize it. Choosing your words when speaking to children, and even adults, needs to be positive and supportive, even when dealing with a negative situation. You should never make comments towards or about students inferring they cannot change. It is possible for everyone to change and we need to instill this mindset in students. Unfortunately, I see teachers not choosing their words wisely quite often. Sarcasm, negativity, and mean-spirited remarks are directed at students and it is wrong. I am extremely careful with how I speak to my students and I do not feed into conversations that involve negative comments about students.
When it comes to the concept of Do No Harm, I believe that students need to have a safe learning environment, so creating that type of classroom culture is essential. Teachers need to do this by establishing a culture in which students know the expectations and then supporting students when they violate the expectations. Students need to learn that they should not harm themselves, others or the environment. Using the “Do No Harm” mantra would be a great way to start the school year when explaining expectations. It is short and simple. Then, once students begin violating the expectations, teachers need to help students learn alternative ways to behave. Simply punishing a student for talking while the teacher is talking will not be effective. Instead, a teacher should tell the student they should stop talking because it’s important that they listen to the lesson to be successful.
I have three rules in my classroom: Be a Peacebuilder (our behavioral support plan at our school), Be safe and Be productive. As a class we discuss what each of these means and I have all the students sign the rules we explained as a promise that they will try to follow these rules. These three go perfectly with the Do No Harm concept. I know the theory states that rules do not support students, but if students know what they should do instead of what they shouldn’t do, I think it is more effective. As a school leader, I would develop school-wide rules that embody the Do No Harm concept. The three I use in my classroom would be a good start. I would then ask teachers to complete lessons on behavioral support throughout the school year to help students learn alternative ways to behave when they feel they need to violate an expectation. Having a behavior support curriculum would open up students to learning instead of relying on consequences to stop their behavior. Simply punishing a student for misbehaving will not always be effective. Instead, teachers need to support students and make sure the student knows how to behave the next time the situation presents itself. Therefore, having a curriculum that teaches students how to behave in certain situations will support students. There is a lot of pressure on teachers to improve student achievement and get through a lot of material in a school year. Having an expectation that teachers will set aside time to teach students about behavior will demonstrate the importance of this support. It should not be optional for students to learn how to behave. It should be a regular scheduled part of learning.
Right now we have a Peacebuilder behavior program at our school. Each class recites the Peacebuilder pledge every morning and we have Peacebuilder assemblies once a month in which students who exemplify good behavior get awards. It is then suggested that teachers go over the monthly character trait that students should be working on. Many teachers do not do this. I think it would be great to have lessons for teachers to complete each week to help support students. As a school leader I would take the time to either ask teachers to develop lessons (during professional development time) to share or find an outside curriculum that they can use. I would make sure that teachers were motivated and eager to use these lessons to support student behavior to ensure that it would be implemented. During these lessons, time can be taken to discuss things that happened that week (without confronting specific students) and how they can do better in the future. Integrating behavioral support lessons into the curriculum will support students who need extra practice on making better choices. This would hopefully reduce referrals and suspensions if students had a program that supported behavior.
Everything I am learning in this master’s program to take and use in my classroom is also important to use in my learning experience as a student in this program. In my interactions with my peers I need to remember that I am a student and I need to follow the Do No Harm concept. I will not harm myself, others or the learning environment. This means being respectful of other’s time and effort. It can be difficult in an online learning environment to behave the same as we do in real life, but I always remember to be respectful during class and listen to the professor.
To be honest, this pillar was difficult for me to fully endorse. There are a lot of things that I do for behavior management that do not line up with restorative practices. However, I am not the teacher that is punishing students for talking during class that is described in the book. I do not punish a student for being late to class or for not having a pencil. Instead, I tell the student they need to wake up a little earlier for school to be on time or to ask a partner to borrow a pencil. I started reading The Restorative Practices Handbook and some suggested ways to talk to students about their behavior is not something I agree with. I do not want to use my emotions when talking to a student about their behavior. I will ask the student to stop the behavior and explain what they should do instead to be ready to learn, but I will not tell them how it makes me sad that they aren’t listening. I think teachers should be stable, logical leaders that are consistent. This will allow students to trust them and feel safe. Emotions are volatile and using emotions when discussing behavior will make a child feel like they should behave to make me happy. I don’t want students to behave to make me happy, I want them to behave so they can learn and be successful. Therefore, I believe supporting student behavior by explaining how to do it better next time is a great concept, but some of the specific ways that are suggested to do this are going to be different for me. However, I will still work on creating a positive restorative learning environment in my classroom. My methods will just be slightly different.
Here are the 5 things I am willing to do this semester that will make my school a more positive restorative place:
It should be every school’s goal to make their site a welcoming place for all stakeholders: parents, teachers, students, members of the community and visitors. Establishing this type of culture at a school site is one of the first steps to creating a larger culture of achievement. This culture of achievement is one in which students choose to engage and learn. It is a choice for students to engage and we want to provide the best school culture to allow students to choose this path. With the variety of cultures that each stakeholder brings to the school, we need to establish a larger culture that provides the best learning environment.
My school’s mission statement states:
“Our school strives to stimulate a strong mind and body, concentrating on the total child. Our mission is that all children have the opportunity to improve themselves intellectually, physically, and emotionally in a safe, challenging, and inclusive environment. Through a strong focus on academics, as well as physical fitness and wellness, students are encouraged to reach their full educational and social potential. Our school atmosphere is one that is warm, child-centered, safe, and orderly. Our desire is to encourage our students to become confident, compassionate, and responsible citizens. Parents are an integral part of our program, and we encourage and appreciate parent involvement. We seek to develop common goals with home and community to better prepare our students to lead active and productive lives through a commitment to lifelong fitness and well-being.”
The underlined portions of the mission statement explain the school’s outlined mission to make stakeholders feel welcomed at our school. It states that we will provide a warm environment for students to help them grow, we will encourage parental involvement and will make efforts to develop relationships with others in the community. Therefore, having it explicitly stated in our mission statement to provide a welcoming school is the first step to creating a culture of achievement.
There are a few stakeholder groups that could be more effectively welcomed at my site. I thought about how little parental involvement we have on a daily basis at my site and how we have many students who transfer in and out of our school every year. These two stakeholder groups are the two that I would like to make feel more welcomed if I were the school leader. Often times at back to school night or open house, we have about half to two-thirds of our students’ parents that attend. These two nights would be a wonderful time to make parents feel more welcomed. Instead of making the parents feel as if attending is a chore, we should make it more welcoming and ask what they would like to learn about during these times. We can send home a survey asking what they would like to learn or do on back to school night and integrate that into our plans. If we value their opinions, they will feel more welcomed and will be more likely to attend.
In our grade level last year, we had eleven students who ended the school year with us, but did not begin the school year with us. These eleven students started some time after the beginning of the year and they need to feel welcomed and valued even though they were not there on the first days of school. If I were the school leader, I think it would be helpful to provide these students with a tour of the campus, observe what some of the classrooms are like and have a time to get to know their class and teacher before they are thrown into the first full day of lessons with new peers and teachers. If we take the time to show these students our school culture, they are more likely to engage and participate as new members of our school.
Even though I am not the school leader, I can still welcome these groups by implementing these strategies at my site in my grade level, which is within my current sphere of influence. I can send home a survey asking parents what they would like to learn about on back to school night and integrate it into my plans. I can also designate certain students to support and mentor our new students who start during the middle of the year. This will make parents and new students feel more welcomed and will begin to develop a culture of achievement in my grade level.
Here are five things I am willing to commit to do this semester to make my school a more welcoming place: