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February 2016 Tip of the Month: Be Dependable

Posted by 
Mitch Weathers
 on 
February 15, 2016

Tip Of The Month

February 2016: Be Dependable

To help your students succeed, employ a simple starting routine in which students can be successful—and continue using it every single day of the year!

I am on my way to my English class during my senior year of high school. The classroom is at the back of the campus and the walk to that class each day is a long one for me. I hate going to English class! I am slightly dyslexic, a poor speller with nearly indiscernible handwriting, and I have a morbid fear of reading aloud. I get to class early each day and pick a seat in the back of the classroom, slump down in my chair, and pray the teacher won’t call on me.

For many students the classroom is not a comfortable space. If a student is anxious, confused, or in some fashion not at ease, she is less likely to learn and more likely to act out in an inappropriate way as a response to that uneasiness. The sooner these students are comfortable in a classroom and the sooner and more likely they are a part of the classroom community, the more time the teacher and the students will have to engage in the teaching/learning experience.

What could my English teacher have done to ease my anxiety? It is true that he could not quickly eliminate the academic issues I brought to class. However, the more he worked to decrease my unease the more likely I was to engage in class and therefore to begin making gains in overcoming these issues. Many of the barriers to student success are rooted in the students’ beliefs that they cannot succeed academically - a fixed mindset (Dweck, Mindset). I walked to English class every day convinced I could not succeed, that I was not part of the class.

Ironically, what a teacher believes about her students can strongly influence how a student performs in class and can ultimately influence what students believe about themselves. Robert Marzano (Classroom Instruction That Workssays it this way,

“A teacher’s beliefs about students’ chances of success in school influence the teacher’s actions with students, which in turn influence students’ achievement. If the teacher believes students can succeed, she tends to behave in ways that help them succeed. If the teacher believes that students cannot succeed, she unwittingly tends to behave in ways that subvert student success or at least do not facilitate student success. This is perhaps one of the most powerful hidden dynamics of teaching because it is typically an unconscious activity.”

From out of the beliefs a teacher has of his students evolves his classroom structures and routines. And it is in our routines (what I call rituals) that students find the traction to make academic gains. Doug Lemov in Teach Like a Champion says,

“One of the biggest ironies…is that many of the tools likely to yield the strongest classroom results remain essentially beneath the notice of our theories and theorists in education. Consider one unmistakable driver of students’ achievement: Carefully built and practiced routines…”

If my English teacher would have had a simple and achievable starting routine, for example, that he employed everyday in the same fashion then his classroom would have been a place that was less alienating for me. Rather than walking to his class with a growing sense of apprehension I would have walked with a bit of confidence because even though I was not the strongest English student, I would have been a part of the class from the moment the bell rang instead of hiding in the back corner hoping I would go unnoticed.

I recently watched Jesse, a newly immigrated student in my 3rd period class with very low English proficiency, enter my classroom. My seating chart is designed so that Jesse sits next to bilingual students and can ask questions of her Spanish-speaking peers as needed; however, I was not convinced this would be enough to make her feel comfortable in my classroom (and I want her to be as comfortable as possible so she will be more likely to learn). But what I observed was that Jesse entered class, picked up her Weekly Lifeline (Page B), and sat in her seat with her binder open waiting for class to begin. Jesse actually looked just like every other student in the class and therefore she, in that moment, was a student, she was part of our class community! When the bell rang I revealed the Kick-Off prompt and she, together with the rest of class, wrote the prompt and attempted to respond to it before we all went over the correct answer together.

My hope is that Jesse’s walk to my class each day is not plagued with feelings of apprehension or unease as was my walk to English, but evokes a feeling of confidence: confidence not because she knows all the content, or even comprehends all of what is being taught, but because she is part of our classroom community as the result of the dependable routines!

I believe that when our classroom routines are dependable, we become dependable adults in our students’ lives. They know what to expect from us and our class each and every day. Don’t underestimate the impact of this on your students’ academic aptitude, because you may just be the only dependable adult they interact with that day, or that week. Who knows—you might even be the only dependable adult in their life.

To help your students succeed, employ a simple starting routine in which students can be successful—and continue using it every single day of the year!

Thanks for reading and sharing,

Mitch

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