School Staff

DQ2– What is the importance of building relationships with all school personnel (i.e. custodians, school secretary, librarian, support staff, etc.)?

A school is a VERY cramped environment.  Like a ship, everybody works in tight quarters and is forced together in cooperation regularly.  While teachers spend their days in relative isolation, they are nonetheless connected to the other site personnel.  To function optimally, a teacher needs all the other staff on her side.  Each member of the site team holds keys to smooth success, from lending a screwdriver to working out a snafu with books to navigating an arcane district form.  They also have the power to make things easy or hard.  They are human and consciously or unconsciously respond to how they perceive they are treated.  On a less practical more emotional note, working in a friendly environment beats the alternative by a mile.  The best way to work towards a friendly environment is to be preemptively friendly.  Finally and most importantly, I believe that students learn from our behavior and treating other adults with respect and friendship models not only how they might treat their peers but also how they should behave when they become adults.

Rules in Schools

The idea that if a rule does not merit a major consequence, it does not merit being a rule applies in schools too.  Establishing rules that are not enforced or, worse, are only infrequently enforced is more than a waste of energy.  It’s actually counterproductive, accommodating a certain lawlessness that is ultimately corrosive.

I see this in the “Raise your hand” rule too.  It seems to me that students should not be allowed to shout out answers, except in chorus.  It is much too difficult and takes too much management to allow shouting out of answers sometimes but not other times.  However, rare is the teacher who consistently enforces this rule and, therefore, rare is the classroom where shouting out is absent.

In my classroom, non-verbal symbols will be followed with rigor.  Likewise, shouting out will not be tolerated, rewarded, or even occasionally condoned.  The central rule in my classroom will be respect and major violations of that principle will receive quick, firm intervention.  Minor departures from the principle of respect will not be treated as rules violations.  Rather, they will be treated as teaching moments or ignored, as the case may be. 

What will not happen in my classroom is the proclamation and subsequent ongoing violation of rules.  Any rule discovered to be unworthy of consistent enforcement, will be considered unworthy to be a rule.

Ask the Students!

Reviewing the success of lessons is a critical element of improving as a teacher.  In the end, if the lessons are effective and entertaining, learning and learning retention will be high and discipline problems will be few.

One of the things I have learned along the way in this class it to involve the students in how they are taught.  This is a little tricky.  Students cannot have control over standards and objectives.  Nevertheless, they can have major input into how those standards and objectives are achieved.

It seems logical that getting their feedback on lessons would also be a good idea.  It would be useful to know what they liked and where they struggled.  Different students would most likely have different preferences as well.  Those preferences would reveal learning modalities and help broaden and focus pedagogical choices going forward.

The classroom culture would need to be setup appropriately to support those conversations.  Nevertheless, in an atmosphere where the respective roles are clear and respect underlies every interaction, it could work very well.

Respect, Again

What are some easy or simple things that you can do as the leader or boss that can set the tone for a respectful and positive learning environment?

Respect will be the foundational concept of my classroom.

I believe that all too often the love and importance of learning is lost in the rush for both students and teacher to achieve their narrow survival-based goals.  Respect for the learning, respect for the process, and respect for the subject matter will keep the focus on the importance and joy of learning.

I believe a teacher’s respect for students is all too often at least occasionally lost to the frustration of unmet behavioral and/or learning expectations.  However, it is the adult’s job to be the adult.  The students are children and entitled to their native behaviors.  Managing and evolving those native behaviors is one of the teacher’s responsibilities.  The uneven development of improved behavioral patterns must not be allowed to break affinity with the students or lead to disrespectful behavior by the teacher.

Students in my classroom will behave with respect towards each other.  There is no room in my heart for hurtful, isolating behaviors in the classroom or elsewhere.  Disagreements will be resolved through communications.  Each child’s personality will be cherished as a unique expression of humanity.  There will be no requirement of friendship, but there will be an inviolable requirement of respect.

In all these regards, the teacher is the example for the students and the protector of the behavioral code.  To have any reasonable hope of a respectful classroom society, the teacher needs to consistently model respectful behavior.  This includes behavior towards the material, towards the craft and discipline of teaching, towards the students, and towards peers, parents, and all others.  I believe children recognize and prefer the decency and safety of a respectful environment.  For respect to become the operating principle, they simply need come to trust that all will be held to that standard.  A teacher who models respect and strictly protects that fragile code of behavior will earn that trust.


The first step in establishing a cohesive, productive group is to establish a common framework of behavior and expectations.  In my case, this means a framework of mutual respect.  Respect is a sound basis for a classroom for many reasons.  First, it creates a healthy, cooperative relationship between teacher and students.  Second, it covers the major frictions and playground quirks of elementary school.  It covers name calling, exclusivity, cliques, criticism, prejudice and much more.  It also covers self-respect and, thus, achievement.  Finally, it wraps the classroom in a set of behaviors that are civilized and calming.

The second step is to establish clear goals for class as a whole and to make clear that each student will be fully supported in reaching those goals.  Under the mantle of respect, each student will be expected to support their fellow students fully in their path to meeting expectations.  Under the mantle of respect, group work would be caring and cooperative.  With respect, social interactions are cordial and cooperative, even under difficult circumstances.  Respect provides a clear framework for resolving disputes.  With clear goals for individual lessons, units and the year as a whole, the students understand expectations and can find safety in that clarity.