Several months ago I read a professional text on the recommendation of our music teacher. She really liked the book and thought I would, too. But, just teachers sometimes recommend a book to a student and it fall flat, this happened with this book. I really, really, really didn’t like it, even though I really, really, really wanted to. (And because I try to focus on the positive side of things on my blog, I don’t think I ever even wrote a review of it.) So then a little while after, our music teacher and I were talking about classroom management practices and ideas we could try out with my class and she recommended another book to me. I was actually very glad she did; it can be tempting to give up on suggesting books when the first attempt fails.
The book she suggested was one that she read in college. It was Teaching with Love and Logic by Jim Fay and David Funk.
The first thing I noticed about this book was that it was 20 years old. I wasn’t going to discount it just because of that, of course, but it was something I felt worth noting as I read. The second thing I noticed was that the authors referred to their education consulting firm, the Love and Logic Institute and their trademarked strategy, Love and Logic a lot, to the point that it was rather irritating. That being said, I wasn’t going to set aside the book just because it was old and the authors talked about their company a lot. After all, if the music teacher felt that there were useful ideas in this book, I wanted to read to find out why!
The majority of Teaching with Love and Logic focuses on the focus of control in classroom management. Is the teacher in control, are the students in control, or is the control shared by both parties? The authors present the argument that many teachers, in an effort to maintain absolute control, actually turn control over to the students, primarily by taking the bait to engage in power struggles. This is something I have found myself observing many times: whenever an adult enters into a power struggle with a child, the adult has already lost. It is that simple. If you try to wrest control of the power, then you are letting the student focus all of your time and energy on them, telling them that they are the ones in control. However, if you stay calm, state simple, clear expectations, and then walk away, the student is unable to argue.
An important caveat: many of the of the strategies suggested in this book are for dealing with the 80%. The typical disruption in the classroom that can and should be quickly and easily handled within the classroom. They are not talking about the student who had a severe emotionally traumatic experience who throws desks across the room while screaming profanities when something triggers an emotional outburst. They aren’t talking about the students who have a diagnosed emotional/behavioural disorder that requires specific strategies to help them deescalate the situation. However, I would suggest that some of the Love and Logic strategies would help even these students, especially the need to stay calm, be clear and direct, and allow the student to make a decision based on limited, appropriate options.
Reading Teaching with Love and Logic didn’t actually give me any specific new ideas or strategies to try using in my own classroom. However, I appreciated the ideas in the book and I am grateful to our music teacher for suggesting it to me. Why? Because it was a good reminder of good practices in education. The biggest focus of Love and Logic is just that: making sure your students know that they are loved for the young people they are and using logic when setting outcomes. So often, when we talk about consequences we discuss them in terms of the negative outcome of poor choices. But the positive outcome of good choices us just as much a part of consequences.
A favourite classroom management book of mine is Setting Limits in the Classroom by Robert J. Mackenzie, Ed.D. Just like Jim Fay and David Funk, Dr. Mackenzie emphasises the need of teachers to set realistic limits in the classroom. Know what your own limits are and know what the limits for your students should be. Don’t pick fights over things that are inconsequential. Don’t make rules just for the sake of having rules. Include students in the decision-making process in a way that is age-appropriate. For example, my fourth graders have all been in school long enough to know that some of the basic expectations in a classroom setting include being safe, being responsible, and being respectful. So at the start of the year, I have them tell me what those things should look like, sound like, and feel like in our classroom. By letting them express the expectations, I know what they expect each other to do and what they expect me to expect of them. (And yes, I am of course a part of this conversation!) This practice is supported by the authors of both of these books.
One great take-away from Teaching with Love and Logic was this short vignette about rules:
There was a school that had a lot of rules for their students. In fact, the school handbook had 324 rules that students, teachers, and families were expected to know and follow. One day, a book in a teacher’s class threw a dead fish at a girl in his class. The teacher began to chastise him and he said, “But teacher, there’s no rule against it!” He was right: there was no rule that said, “Students may not throw fish at each other.”
The author suggested having just one simple rule for any classroom: “You can do anything you want in this class, provided it doesn’t cause a problem for anyone else.” I like this rule. It seems vague, but really, it encompasses everything we expect students and teachers to do when they are in a classroom. In fact, it is really just another way of saying the Gold Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I am going to try it out with my class this coming year. We will still have our classroom expectations and we will still do all of the other things we have done in the past to ensure ours is a safe, positive learning environment, but I want to see what happens if we use this one rule as the foundation for our classroom culture, instead of having it be one of teacher-directed behaviour.
July 5, 2015 | Categories: Fourth Grade | Tags: Book Reviews, Fourth Grade, Personal Reflection, Philosophy, Professional Development, Reading, Social & Emotional Learning, Summer, Teachers' Secrets | 2 Comments
Way back in the early 1980s, social workers recognised the need for family engagement in the treatment process. By the 1990s, this focus on family engagement had expanded to the field of education. Teachers and administrators have worked tirelessly to find ways to cross cultural barriers and bring families into the schools and into the work of educating children. Of course, there have always been parents who have understood their role in teaching their children at home, but the idea of connecting home and schools in a partnership has been relatively recent in the grand scheme of things. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has been active in advocating for increased family engagement. And just a few days ago, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education for the United States of America, announced an initiative to promote family engagement with the development of a Family and Community Engagement website that builds on last year’s Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships. At 1:30 pm ET today (July 1), Secretary Duncan will be hosting a Twitter chat about parent involvement using #PTChat. Clearly, involving families in student learning is becoming an increasingly important component of public education.
With this in mind, it should not be surprising that I was really excited to get a chance to read and review Empowering Families: Practical Ways to Involve Parents in Boosting Literacy, Grades Pre-K-5 by Judy Bradbury and Susan E. Busch. Written from the experiences of two veteran teachers, this book is the most useful guide in promoting student literacy at home that I have ever come across. It starts with an overview of why schools should be seeking to empower families, followed by a step-by-step guide to leading staff development sessions to help teachers learn how best to work with students’ families to establish a strong home-school connection. At the end of the staff development section, there is a checklist for home engagement activities for school leaders to consider when planning activities.
The bulk of this book, however, is the Parent/Caregiver Literacy Booster series. Many schools, especially those that receive federal Title I grant money, are expected to host a series of family nights each year. As a teacher who has served on family night planning committees for several years, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to coordinate these events and come up with ideas that will engage families in partnering with our school. The Literacy Booster series outlined by Bradbury and Busch have taken care of the lion’s share of this work. With sessions focused on the theme of “Why should I read to my child (and how, when, and where)?, the authors provide detailed plans for leading three 90-minute sessions for getting started, reading with older children, and having everyday literacy discussions (with a special focus on poetry).
For those who feel like they have the fundamentals of family engagement down, there are a series of additional ideas, including boosting executive functioning skills and avoiding the homework hassle, finding gifts that both entertain and support learning, celebrating cultural heritages, and, a personal favourite for me, ways to specifically break traditional gender stereotypes by involving male role models in the learning process.
Empowering Families ends with suggestions for end-of-the-year celebrations with ideas for reducing the “summer slide.” The entire book is full of reproducible handouts and resource packets that can be copied from the book or downloaded for free from the authors’ website. And, of course, there are pages and pages of age-appropriate book recommendations for all students! I am looking forward to implementing the suggestions in this book as my school engagement team plans family nights in the coming year and encourage parents and teachers alike to use this guide as they find ways to work together to improve students’ literacy skills.