When I first joined Teach For America, I participated in an intensive six-week teacher training institute in Houston, Texas. This six-week summer training gave us opportunities to learn about Teach For America’s approach to teaching, which includes a framework that connects teacher actions to student actions. We learned how this connection between teacher and student actions plays out in our classrooms every day. For example, if we don’t lay out clear expectations for how we want our students to complete their homework, then they will not complete the assignment in the way we have asked. Similarly, if we don’t demonstrate high and consistent behavior expectations, then our students will not know how to conduct themselves in our class. In other words, no matter what actions a teacher takes in his or her classroom, student actions will be affected. This framework has been especially invaluable to keep in mind as I enter my second year of teaching, as I often catch myself getting frustrated with my students, instead of thinking about how my actions affect their performance.
One of my early experiences with this teacher action-student action framework came in my first year of teaching. Just last year, I was working hard at creating meaningful lesson plans for my students. I would spend so much time planning, but I wouldn’t think about what I wanted my students to be doing during my lesson. I didn’t think about how I was going to give directions, or what my students were going to be doing while I was teaching. These small lapses in my thought-process ended up severely impacting my students’ achievement: for example, since I did not clarify what papers they needed to have on their desks, my students were left with piles of handouts in midst of their note-taking sheets. I would then get frustrated because they weren’t keeping up with my notes. Now, as I reflect upon my teaching practice, I realize how crucial it is that I make this expectation clear at the start of my lesson if I want significant learning to occur. Even though my students are in the seventh and eighth grades, they still benefit from receive explicit, step-by-step directions.
The way in which teacher actions affect student actions translates into more than just lesson plans. Over the course of my first year of teaching, I also learned how my attitude, behavior, and interactions influence my students as well. While this realization might seem obvious, I couldn’t believe how profoundly it affected my approach to teaching. For example, last year if my students misbehaved during class, my gut reaction was to raise my voice and blame specific individuals for causing the disturbance. As a result of my actions, my students’ misbehaviors often escalated so that they either shut down and refused to do any more work for me, or they simply responded by raising their own voices. This destructive spiral caused me and my students unnecessary stress and negatively impacted the quality of our learning time. Once I made the conscious choice to lower my voice and speak to students individually about their misbehaviors, I saw my students’ actions improve.
I am able to continue acting positively in regard to misbehaviors by adopting components of the “Love and Logic” approach, developed by Jim Fay and Foster W. Cline, M.D. This approach was developed to help give students choices, while also helping teachers stay in control. Teachers give students the opportunity to develop their own consequences, which–believe it or not–actually is effective. My friend, who teaches 5th grade, uses Love and Logic in her classroom, had a pair of fighting students give themselves lunch and recess detention as their punishment. She has done a lot to help me work through different classroom management scenarios and how Love and Logic might help me resolve such situations. If you are interested in finding out more about this approach to dealing with students, I recommend you read a few Love and Logic articles on their website.
This link will provide you with a few sample articles full of Love and Logic strategies. If these articles pique your interest further, then you can also find plenty of books on Love and Logic by Fay and Cline online. As you peruse these links, I hope you’ll better be able to see the clear connection that exists between teacher actions and student actions. The more explicit and deliberate we teachers can be in conveying our expectations to our students, the more we can impact student achievement.