Stories and insights on excellent education.
Getting the Learning Environment Right — From the Start
Success Academy – September 2, 2021
The first weeks of school at Success Academy are always intensely focused on creating an outstanding learning environment, and that means a lot of time spent on routines and expectations in the classroom. This focus tends to spur many questions from both families and teachers: Why spend so much time on teaching scholars routines and what we call “the classroom management plan”? Aren’t you wasting valuable learning time? Aren’t you creating an overly rigid environment by insisting on a set way of doing things?
At New Teacher Training, a number of our new teachers had questions about classroom management for our founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz. We’re sharing some of their questions and her answers here, to help the SA community understand why establishing a great learning environment is so important at the start of the year.
How did you create the classroom management design for Success?
Classroom management is not something SA invented! It is foundational in the classroom of every great teacher. First-year teachers in most district schools get no training on classroom management and they essentially spend their first year (often their second and third as well!) trying to figure it out on their own. When classrooms are chaotic, teaching is truly miserable and learning can’t take place. I know because I attended a chaotic school as a child: Kids threw chairs and there were daily food fights in the lunchroom. When I founded Success Academy, I knew that I wanted to create schools where teaching and learning were protected from that kind of disorder.
In our early years, we had a wonderful veteran teacher — he had taught for decades in NYC district schools — who coached our teachers and was a master at classroom management. We modeled our systems based on what we learned from him. Our approach has evolved. Michael Linsin — who wrote The Classroom Management Secret, a book all of our teachers read — most perfectly and succinctly captures what we are going for in our learning environment and the teacher moves that get us there.
To sum up his philosophy, great classroom management consists of two parts: creating and teaching your scholars a classroom management plan (expectations and consequences) that you stick to with utter fidelity, and making your classroom and lessons incredibly engaging so that your students absolutely love being part of your class.
As an educator, what do you think is the best approach to correcting student misbehavior?
It is critically important that corrections are not punitive and don’t feel punitive — they should be absolutely neutral and transactional. When educators teach scholars their classroom management plan and stick to it with absolute consistency — they uphold the expectations and mete out the established consequences with transparency and neutrality — there is not a lot of emotion involved because everyone knows the plan ahead of time and understands that the teacher is simply following it. Kids are acutely attuned to the concept of fairness and they respond incredibly well in classrooms where their teacher consistently sticks to a plan that has been communicated and taught to them clearly and thoroughly.
How do you strike a balance between discipline and making sure teachers are not policing students?
With classroom management, less is more — and when you observe strong teaching, the teacher’s classroom management is invisible. Managing a class should never be about policing students — rather, it’s about establishing a plan and adhering to it with utter consistency. When this is done right, scholars take ownership over their behavior and teachers are just the referees. New teachers at SA receive a lot of coaching and help in their first weeks to ensure they master these skills early on because they are so critical to ensuring they and their scholars have an enjoyable and productive year. Ultimately, the goal is to unleash our scholars’ intellects, and this can only happen in an environment that is orderly, respectful, and predictable.
What classroom management tips do you offer for teachers?
Re-read, and re-read again The Classroom Management Secret and stick to the classroom management plan! It is also critically important for teachers to do some self-examination. If they have philosophical hesitations about classroom management — if they think it is mean or disempowering to scholars to be in charge of the classroom — they will not be successful. Of course, the teacher is in charge, but when done well, classroom management is actually empowering to scholars because they know the rules of the road. And managing your classroom should never mean that you don’t treat your scholars lovingly, empathetically, and with respect.
Classroom management is not an end in itself — it is a means for creating a classroom environment where deep, creative thinking and learning can take place.
Classroom management is not an end in itself — it is a means for creating a classroom environment where deep, creative thinking and learning can take place. So it is essential that teachers embrace their role as classroom managers and believe in its importance as a necessary precondition to great teaching and learning.
Isn’t creating inclusive classrooms at odds with classroom management?
In fact, it’s the opposite. An inclusive classroom is one where kids feel their authentic selves are valued and respected by their teachers and peers; where kids have a truly safe space to think, explore, and make mistakes. This is not possible in classrooms that are chaotic, where kids disrespect each other or simply check out when their peers are speaking. In well-managed classrooms, scholars are able to really listen to and learn from each other’s ideas. Scholars feel incredibly valued and empowered when they feel listened to and believe that their ideas have weight.
At SA, we fervently believe in protecting teachers’ right to teach, and scholars’ right to learn so that deep, creative and unfettered thinking and exploration can take place every day, in every classroom. As counterintuitive as it may seem, it is by establishing a great learning environment at the start of the year through clear systems and routines that scholars and teachers are liberated to have these experiences. To learn more about this feature of our school design, take a moment to hear from SA Harlem 5 Assistant Principal Monica Buress in this video.
Pictured above: Bibi Tran sets the stage for learning at SA Harlem 4