Lifelong Learner & Reflective Practitioner

Lifelong Learner & Reflective Practitioner

Let's Transform Our Schools Into TRUE Professional Learning Communities

Let's Transform Our Schools Into TRUE Professional Learning Communities
In Your School- Do all stakeholders subscribe to the belief that EVERYONE has something to learn and EVERYONE has something to teach? This blog can help you gain insight on how to facilitate this transformative mindset with your faculty!

Apr 10, 2010

Mentoring New Teachers

There is a new teacher at my school who was in need of assistance in the area of behavior management. She came to me asking for help so I analyzed the teacher’s discipline referrals for a period of four weeks. I observed this teacher in class. I had a conference with the teacher after observing. The following is a summary of the recommendations I gave to this teacher and the process of modeling and collaboration that took place among the two of us.

The second grade teacher that I worked with is someone with whom I had already established a relationship, and I was confident that I had earned some credibility and referent power with her. The first thing that I did was sit down with her and assure her that I was there in more of a supportive role than an evaluative one. I assured her that I would not be reporting to the principal her mistakes. I explained that because I had to get permission from the principal to clear my schedule to work with her, I was required to share with the principal what I had done to assist her. I made it very clear to the teacher that I would use “I statements” when informing the principal of any details. For example, I told her that I might report to the principal statements such as this: “I modeled how to conduct center transitions, I worked with her to create a behavior management card pulling system, I developed an individual behavior contract form to use with challenging students, etc.” It was very important to me that she didn’t view me as a nark that would go tattling back to the principal.

We agreed that I would devote three days to working with the teacher. The first day would be to observe. On the second day, I taught this teacher’s class, and I modeled various strategies while she took notes. On the third day, I observed the teacher again and made notes of her attempts to implement the modeled strategies. We conferred each afternoon.

The first day was extremely difficult for me because the situation was very chaotic, and I wanted desperately to intervene. I concluded that this teacher had not established routines and procedures in her classroom. There were no set procedures for things like turning in homework, transitioning from desks to carpet, sharpening pencils, going to the restroom, etc. It was obvious that this teacher had four or five students who were completely out of control. They cursed, “shot bird fingers” behind her back when she was reading a book to the class, left the room without permission, and refused to join the group on the carpet. It was also obvious that there was way too much “down time” and that the teacher seemed frantic as she tried to think of things to do off the top of her head. I knew that I was going to have to be very explicit when explaining and showing her how to effectively plan. That afternoon, I explained to her my sincere belief that ALL of her most challenging students could be successfully managed by developing a bond and showing them consistently that she cares for them. I also explained to her that if “she failed to plan, she could most surely plan to fail.” I took her step-by-step through the planning process for the next day. I used the Tennessee Standard Performance Indicators to plan some rigorous and engaging activities that fit in with her current unit of study (ocean habitat). She expressed concern that the students would not be able to accomplish what I was expecting. I explained to her the methods for differentiation I had planned (small group, peer tutoring, etc.).

On the second day, I stood at the door as each student entered and said “Good morning” to each child as they came in the room. I inquired about how they were feeling, I made comments about how nice they looked, and I explained that they were going to have fun today. I instructed every child sit on the carpet, and I explained to them that we were going to have “a talk”. I had used industrial tape to write each child’s name on and placed these tape strips on specific places on the carpet. They were instructed to sit on their name. I explained to them that it was very important that they keep their hands to themselves. I then shared with them a trick that I "use to help remind myself to keep my hands to myself." “Open and shut them, open and shut them, give your hands a clap, clap, clap. Open and shut them, open and shut them. Put your hands right in your lap.” I told them that they could then whisper to the person next to them, “AND KEEP UM THERE!!!!” We practiced doing this several times. After this, I explained to the class that I was a lazy teacher, and I really liked classes where the kids did the talking and working instead of me having to do it all. I asked them if they thought they could help me out with this. I went on to explain that there would be times when they were talking and working and I might need to get their attention. I told them that during these times I would simply say, “Hands on your head!” I told them this was their prompt to stop what they were doing, put their hands on their head so that I could see that they were listening, and to be absolutely silent. I informed them that they would have to pull a card from the behavior chart if they failed to do this (three cards for the day and each card represented a loss of five minutes of recess). Then I explained that since I was SO nice I would even be willing to give them an extra five seconds to get it together. We practiced talking in groups (about anything they wanted to talk about), and then I would say. “Hands on your head, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.” Sometimes I would say things like “Touch your nose. Give yourself a hug. Pat your Glutious Maximus.” The first time I said this kids did not know what to do. I explained to them that this was their bottom. Because I anticipated that they would get excited, I whispered it in a very animated way. I tried to constantly utilize the strategy of calling the kids to come in close and WHISPER something if it was really important. I thought this was important since the teacher that I was working with was “a yeller”. I desperately wanted to prove to her that kids would listen more if you did not yell at them. After we had practiced this attention signal over and over, I explained that we needed to have a serious talk. I have always been a user of the “preacher-style” method of teaching. There is tons of research that indicates that this is very effective for getting and maintaining the attention of students who are users of African American Vernacular English. I explained to the students, in my preacher-style, that things were "gettin ready to change." I said something like this, “You all know that you’ve been buck wild these first few weeks of school, don’t you? Well, guess what friends? Those days are over. That’s right. It’s a new day, and you are about to turn over a new leaf. All that craziness ends TODAY! You better turn and tell somebody what I just said.” Every child then turned to the person next to him or her and repeated what I said in the same style and manner in which I had said it. I went over the expectations that they had developed with their teacher a few weeks before. Then, I went over the assignment for the day. We created our own mural of the Great Barrier Reef, and each child got to create a character to put on the reef. Some were marine biologists, some were professional divers, there were lifeguards, bathing suit models, teachers on field trips, and one student was a rapper taping his newest video at the Great Barrier Reef. We found Australia on the globe, and students shared their own prior knowledge about Australia (where the crocodile hunter lives, where Alexander wanted to go in the Horrible No Good Very Bad Day book, where dingos and kangaroos live, etc.) For language arts, they wrote biographies about their characters. For science, we went to the science lab and examined coral and documented what we saw in our science journals. For social studies, I read a book to the class about a Project that Green Peace was undergoing at the reef. I constantly paused and had the kids “turn and talk” to one another about specific things in the books and share any personal connections they may have had. I really wanted to let this teacher see the social benefits of discussion, as well as the ways in which this would improve the students’ comprehension levels and keep kids from becoming disengaged and acting out. I facilitated a Socratic Seminar about personal responsibility. We looked at an article from Time for Kids entitled Oceans: What Can You Do? What Will You Do? Throughout the day, I used various active learning strategies such as clock buddies, inner circle outer circle, and placemat to encourage students to have meaningful conversations. At the end of the day, I talked with the teacher, and she expressed that she was very surprised at how well the students behaved. I asked her if she noticed how much affection and attention I gave to the most challenging students? I really wanted her to see that, in most cases, the students that are causing the serious problems just need some extra attention and sensitivity.

The next day, I observed the teacher. She utilized the “hands on your head” and the “open and shut them” strategies constantly throughout the day. She only used the “turn and talk” strategy once. She did not use any of the specific active learning strategies that I had modeled. She still yelled, but it was not as frequent. We talked at the end of the day, and the teacher told me that she was not at all comfortable with using the “preacher-style” approach. She said something that actually made me very sad, "They can learn to talk slang at home. I think my job is to expose them to 'proper grammar'." I guess this upset me because, although I agree that it is important to model Standard English, I know that we must also appreciate the rich and expressive venacular our students already have. I also think it's so important to make connections with students and explain things to them in a way that is meaningful. I do, however, totally respect her right not to do something that is uncomfortable or unnatural to her. I guess I was just hopeful that she would recognize that "Standard English" isn't always the most natural or comfortable for them. She went on to explain that she believed that the kids were more cooperative with me because they viewed me as an administrator. I listened to her, and then I praised her for taking some risks. I let her know that I would be coming back at least once a week to read to the kids and check in on them. I offered to facilitate a Socratic Seminar anytime she wanted me to do so.

As I reflect on this experience, I realize that I learned some valuable lessons from it. I learned that change has to be taken on a bit at a time. I learned that I am very persistent when trying to get others to “see it my way.” If I could do this again, I would probably try to work it out where I could spend at least a week with the teacher. I think she was excited about what she saw at first, but then she became completely overwhelmed.

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