Teaching is ALL about the relationship. Students will do anything and endure frustration when they feel their teachers treat them with dignity and care about them. Classroom rules, policies, and reactions need to be run through the “respect filter.”
1) Homework – Homework magnifies the effects of disparate home lives. The stress on families caused by poverty, abuse, neglect, and addictions already puts students at a disadvantage. When academic success hinges upon the completion of work at home,
students whose lives include high amounts of chaos face a significant and unjustifiable hurdle to their academic achievement.
2) Punishing Boredom – Considering the amount of time high school students are asked to sit compliantly and silently in a chair throughout the day, is it any wonder that students look for an “escape” through their technology, friendships, outbursts, or sleep? The typical classroom doesn’t respect that the minds of our students are inside of bodies that crave movement and expression. When these behaviors appear, it should serve as an opportunity to re-evaluate the delivery and practice happening in the classroom.
3) Grading Events & Not Learning – Tests, projects, and homework all take place at a specific time. Beyond not respecting the reality that students learn differently and at different paces, when products demonstrating learning are time-bound, external factors (stress, illness, tragedy, learning differences, family obligations, time management skills, etc.) distort the story of the level of knowledge and skill acquisition.
4) Punishing the Accidental Cell Phone Ring – The message sent by the teacher and received by the class is that in this classroom, there is no room for error or mistakes. If a student already is embarrassed by interrupting with their “Boom Boom Pow” ringtone and will never do it again, what benefit is there to further punishment? Instead, model patience and understanding. This goes for all accidental digression from the rules and policies.
5) Extra Credit – Extra credit makes learning optional. If a student is struggling with a concept and their grade is suffering, extra credit might seem like a viable solution. However, when a student completes extra credit in place of doing something else, that “something else” doesn’t get learned, but the final grade makes it look like it was. Alternatively, consider allowing student to do a targeted, rigorous and valid alternative assessment to replace a poor performance on an assessment. It is important to ensure the alternative assessment is reporting the same amount and level of learning as the original expectation.
6) Completion Points – The common argument for grading on completion is that on “formative” assignments, the practice is more important than the correct answer. First, if you believe (as I do) that the final grade should represent what a student knows and is able to do, where does “practice” fall into that summative reporting? Second, if you do decide that “practice” belongs in the final grade, this policy gives credit to students who are willing to cheat and punishes those who aren’t. How many students “share” their assignments in the class before it is due? How many students are feverishly copying down the answers their friends copied off someone else just before the bell rings? Completion points also feed into the notion that learning is about “just doing” and not about “accomplishing.” Consider no points for homework. Consider no homework at all!
7) Bathroom “Privilege” – There is nothing more frustrating than the student who comes racing right after lunch saying, “Can I go to the bathroom?” Any answer other than, “yes” is wrong. In fact, at anytime any answer other than, “yes” is wrong. Students deserve to feel comfortable – and will learn better if they are. This isn’t to say we don’t hold students accountable for addressing their physical needs at more appropriate times. Consider responding to the student who runs to you right after lunch with, “Yes, but next time it’ll be considered a tardy.” How come a tardy? Because being present means both “there” and “ready to learn.” (Additionally, requiring students to “buy” their way to the bathroom with academic points or “earned coupons” disrespects physical needs and distorts academic grades.)
8) Group Grades – Group work rarely results in equal work. A group grade makes the hardest workers feel slighted while the “coasters” get a distorted report of their learning. Use group work to teach collaboration and encourage cooperation. Assess individual learning after the co-learning event has taken place.
9) Rubrics that Give Weight to Neatness – Assessment of projects and papers should be based solely on the content. Students have a lot of time requirements – spending time coloring or beautifying a product isn’t a fair request to make. This isn’t to say that a project not done with care needs to be accepted. If it doesn’t meet quality standards, don’t accept the project until it meets the standard – but then only report the learning demonstrated, not the aesthetics.
10) Getting on the Emotional Roller Coaster – When we are stressed or angry, our IQ drops. Teenagers are developmentally experiencing stress – let alone a student who has a difficult home life or is dealing with mental illness. A student who lashes out in a flash of anger is likely not operating with their highest amount logical brain power. Adults need to model calm and rational problem solving. We need to understand that in the midst of a stressful situation (like a teenager melt-down) we also aren’t operating at our highest potential and may need to engage in delaying a reaction. Diffusing situations isn’t the same as ignoring them. Saying to a student, “I understand you’re upset and I want to talk this whole situation through because this isn’t the way I expect my classroom to run – but now is not the time.” Buys you the opportunity to rationally react while maintaining high expectations for behavior with the rest of the students. It also isn’t immediately assigning blame exclusively on the student.
11) Whole Class Punishment – 3 or 4 students can derail a class of 30 in a heartbeat. When a teacher punishes an entire class, the students who were on the verge of joining in get the message that it doesn’t matter whether they behave or not because they are going to endure the punishment regardless. Employing positive peer pressure and making a connection with the ring leaders goes a long way to improving the culture of a class. Employ the same “wait and respond” with an entire class as you do with individuals.
12) Surprise Assessments – Pop quizzes unnecessarily cause anxiety for students. Reasons given for utilizing surprise assessments include wanting to ensure students are consistently prepared and to prevent the cramming phenomenon before tests. The first reason disrespects the complexity of students’ lives. The second is only required if the assessment isn’t valid or reliable. Quality assessments measure abilities to apply, evaluate, and synthesize – these skills can’t be crammed for.
13) Gate keeping Assessments – Policies that prevent students from being eligible to take an assessment before completing a review packet or having all homework done are policies that don’t respect that students learn differently. If it is agreed that not all students learn the same, how is it argued that all students must do the same thing? If there are a few students struggling and this process seems like the best for that individual, consider using it as a intervention strategy that is “scaffolded” away over time.
14) Using the word, “apathetic” – Students don’t come to school to fail. No student wants failure. It is the teacher’s job to not label a student but figure out what the root cause of their behavior is and work to make it better. Consider these words by Dr. Ross Greene in his article, Kids Do Well If They Can,
“Kids with behavioral challenges are not attention-seeking, manipulative, limit-testing, coercive, or unmotivated. But they do lack the skills to behave appropriately. Adults can help by recognizing what causes their difficult behaviors and teaching kids the skills they need.”
15) Late Work Grade Penalties – Low grades don’t motivate students. They do the opposite – choosing this policy runs the risk of further demoralizing an already struggling student. Meeting deadlines is a behavior that must be taught to students; however, tying it to their academic grade makes a student think on future assignments, “Why should I work so hard to get a D or C?” Late work penalties legitimize lateness. Addressing the behavior with logical interventions is the only way to expect punctuality.
16) Hidden Homework – Any work a student is required to do outside of the classroom to be successful inside the classroom is by definition, “homework.” Beyond the worksheets, papers, and projects, any time required to study, relearn, or be tutored is a tax on students’ time. If there isn’t enough time during the class period to properly introduce, practice, and assess the content – there is too much content and/or inefficient delivery. Hidden homework should be exception used as an intervention, not the rule used for preparing most students.
17) Rules are Rules – No matter how positive a classroom environment or the quality of relationships with students, rules will be broken and policies won’t be followed. Teachers need to be dispassionate in their response while simultaneously compassionate in their punishment. It is accepted that students are not complete in their knowledge base and teachers need to teach knowledge. The same is true about responsibility: students are not complete in their responsibility base and teachers need to teach responsibility. Keep in mind that teaching is not the same as expecting.
Consider taking the “self-audit” to see how your beliefs line up with your policies.