When Hardly Working Is Classy

Working hard is not nearly as classy as being a “hard worker”.

Probably every teacher has seen a writing assignment where a kid has written the same phrase or sentence over and over in order to make his writing look longer. A shorter, better-written response is much more valuable. We have seen the student who writes numbers all over a math assignment, but clearly the kid has no idea what to do with them. These kids may be working hard, but what would be better is listening to instruction, studying, and following directions. Yes, it is harder to take fifteen minutes and really figure out a difficult problem.

You have to be a hard worker to want to do this. If you put on a show of toiling, but everything that you are doing is wrong or low-quality, you will end up working harder in the long run.

I have been using Google tools for a few years, but this year Google Forms has transformed my teaching. I feel like I had been the one working hard, and my teaching has turned into the classy hard worker for me. Through Google classroom I assign “quizzes” that I create in Google Forms. It took a little fooling around to get the forms just right, but some of my most recent quizzes have graded student work automatically, provided students with scores and explanations (I populated the quiz with these), inspired self reflection, and even taught data analysis. Let me explain the last two concepts: I have my quizzes programmed to allow students to see other students’ responses. When a kid finishes taking his quiz and “submits” it, he clicks on “see previous responses”. This provides pie graphs for each multiple choice question displaying the percentage of students’ choices. Also, it shows every written response, minus any names. In this way, students can weigh what they wrote against what they see their peers producing. This has greatly benefited all of my students. The hard workers are going crazy to outshine each other, and the struggling writers are reading exceptional paragraphs produced by peers. Parents can see all of this, too. They can assess their child’s standing in writing ability.

This principle can be applied to classroom management, also. Kids that work hard to impress the teacher, but goof around when they can get away with it are not classy. The kids whom the teacher can count on; the ones that may not work extra at getting attention, but do everything exceptionally; they’re the classy ones. More than quantity, quality has class. Would you rather half the class making shushing sounds to help quiet the class, or two kids who communicate to the rest that the faster they all quiet down the quicker they can get to recess. The hard workers don’t have to work hard. Their “hardly working” shows class.

“An Open Door to Class” 

When I first began teaching, I experienced a paradox of parental push and pull that almost killed my career. Teachers in the previous grade had allowed parents of my students to visit their classrooms almost daily to help with centers, management, and classroom activities. To make a long, painful story incredibly short, these parents were unhappy with how little I had them come in. They pushed me to have parties when I did not want to; Then visibly and audibly bad-mouthed me right inside my own classroom!

The next year, I did not do what you might have guessed. I went ahead and told my new parents that I was going to have an “Open-Door Policy”. One of the main complaints the year before was that parents felt like they did not know what was happening in the classroom. Now they would have as much access as they wanted. One of my families had moved to the school from out of state and really appreciated being able to walk in whenever she wanted to check on her daughter. I tried not to let on, but this was not a comfortable experience all of the time. I used joking and banter to shake off the nerves. 

A school shooting brought more and tighter security limiting my classroom’s “open door” on the following year. When parents were already in the building, helping with other classrooms, though, they would pop into my room to say “hi”. This has persisted, and I have grown to love the feeling of excitement that comes from the unexpected visits. It keeps me on my toes.

Looking back at that early time of my teaching, when I wrestled with having parents visit my classroom, I can admit that part of my reason for not wanting the visits was my insecurity. I was afraid the students would not listen to me. When I told my parents the next year that they could visit any time they pleased, I was telling myself, “this class better behave.” I was holding myself accountable. Each time a parent was in my room and it was a positive experience, it made me feel more and more secure in my behavior management. I came to realize that kids will not always behave perfectly when parents are around, but if I showed strength, understanding, and leadership it exuded security that parents and students alike respected.

IMG_6330

Today is a new era in “Open-Door-Ness”: Video Conferencing. Many teachers are video taping their lessons in order to flip their classrooms. What if, in addition to that, we live-streamed our rooms? Put a link on the classroom website for a Google Hangout that anyone who logs into the school district’s Google account can use to access a stream to the classroom. If a kid is sick, he/she can still be part of the class. That student can leave comments in Google docs, slideshows, and Google classroom. I have done this when I am out of school, sick for a day. When I assign an online activity, I can watch my students complete it and comment on their progress. They feel like I am there and love it.

This is more than just breaking down the walls; It is spreading the light of education into nooks and crannies.

Classy is Impressive

You tell a group of students that you want them to be “Classy.” What is this elusive character trait, and how can a teacher easily communicate it to kids?

Listening GIF-downsized_large
There is getting into line, and then there is…

My school district uses a standards-based grading system of one through four when it comes to communicating conceptual understanding. This is how I explain it to my students: If you do exactly what I ask on an assignment, just right, you get a three. This means you have completed the task satisfactorily. If there were some mistakes or the work makes it seem like you don’t fully understand the concept, you get a two. This means that there is room for improvement, which is okay, as long as you step it up and work at getting better. A one is when there are so many errors that it is obvious you are lost or not trying. You see that when the work screams, “Whoa! I need serious help and attention over here.” And then, there are fours. These are the gems that students earn when they have exceeded expectations. When a student follows the parameters of an assignment, and then some. I am not looking for a sixth paragraph tacked onto a five-paragraph essay. A four would be awarded to a student who included a quote from a notable expert on the topic and referenced the site where it was found.IMG_6173

Fine, Mr. Weimann, but what does this have to do with classroom management? Well, this rubric can be applied to every aspect of the students’ activity at school. In the same way that I will use these principles to grade an assignment, I can use them to grade the way in which a student completes the assignment.

Here is how I communicate what that fourth level of behavior looks like. Students have all played with playdough or clay before. What happens when you push a penny or any other object down onto some playdough? “It makes an indent,” a student answers. “Correct,” I reply, “But, what is that indent called? What is a vocabulary word for that; something synonymous?” There are some thoughtful ideas. With only the sound of “im-” several students complete the word, “impression”. The object makes an impression of itself onto the soft material.

Mrs. Hulmes teaches first grade at my school. When Mrs. Hulmes’s line of students exit their classroom they not only walk in a straight line without talking or touching, but they hold their hands behind their backs. Not one or two of the students, but every single one of them. And, not once in a while, but every single time they are in line, they do this. When there is a substitute for Mrs. Hulmes, her class lines up and moves from location to location this way. You can probably picture it in your head, while reading this text, but if you saw it in person, it would leave an impression on your mind that you would never forget. I have never seen a nicer looking line in my life. It is so classy.IMG_6178

To be classy is to be impressive. Students can sit on the carpet and listen to me while I explain this, and that might be a three. The students that are sitting up straight, making eye contact with me when possible, smiling, and raising their hands to either share connections or ask pertinent questions to deepen their’s and their peers’ understanding are impressing me. This is four behavior. That is classy, and I am their captain.

IMG_9986
“International Talk Like a Pirate Day” is Sept. 19th

From “Control” to Classy

Positive behavior management is the opposite of trying to keep your classroom “under control.” Attempting to rein in student misbehavior is more managerial than visionary. I think of the Stephen Covey’s story from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”: A manager is the person organizing groups of people cutting down trees in a forest. This person has flow charts and graphs. He has incentive programs and awards the hardest workers. The workers need people like this to motivate and corral effort so that things get done. But, there is one person who climbs the tallest tree before it is timbered. This person gets to the top and yells down to the managers and workers, alike, “Wrong forest!” This is the visionary, the true leader, the person who should be in charge.

I see positive behavior management as creating goals for performance that is lofty, idyllic, and visionary. This vision is extremely abstract for the third graders whom I teach. For that reason, I have adapted a word for it that is both elusive, but also seemingly tangible: “classy”. At the beginning of every year I discuss the school rules and classroom expectations with my students, just like every teacher. But then, I bring them from the typical everyday behavior that all students should practice into the clouds… “That normal niceness might ensure that you don’t get into trouble, but my students are much more than that: You are classy.” While a student may not be allowed to lay his head on his desk in another classroom, my classroom is filled with bodies that are sitting up straight, with shoulders back and heads up, because they are proud to be there, excited to learn, and


FFC00894-BBAA-4944-88FA-0EBCBFD89DCD.jpg

 hard-working, listening students. That is classy. The best part about this philosophy is that it isn’t hard. Also, most teachers are and model classy behavior. Why not expect it from students? Why don’t teachers touch the walls, running their fingers along the tiles and lockers as they walk down the halls? Not because the principal told them not to; Not even because they don’t want to catch germs/sickness from collecting the dirt onto their fingertips (this is the general rationale); It is because it is “unclassy” to touch stuff that isn’t yours, period. I make nearly everything BIG PICTURE classy. I want my students to see the world from the tippedy top of the classiest tree. Don’t just identify the fact that we are cutting down the “wrong forest”; figure out which one is correct. Where are you heading? Perhaps getting to the top of the tallest tree shows you the ocean, beyond the woods. Maybe, you can finally view the moon and stars.

Covey, S. (2013). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (25th Anniversary Edition). Place of publication not identified: RosettaBooks.

Putting “Class” into Classrooms

It was my first real teaching assignment; I was long term subbing for a second grade teacher out on maternity leave. She had the typical “traffic light” behavior management system; When a child misbehaves/breaks the rules, he/she “moves his/her stick” from green to yellow, and then from yellow to red, with subsequent consequences. With this system nothing happens as long as the kid is NOT breaking the rules, but the moment he/she messes up, alarms go off.

While I wanted to keep things as similar to the way students had started the year as possible, I also needed to make my management work for me. With the traffic light system, student behavior is only addressed when something goes wrong. I wanted a more positive atmosphere. I wanted my students to be motivated to practice good behavior intrinsically, because they wanted to; not because they were afraid of “moving their stick”.

F07B29C9-9B46-4D31-902D-8E5713076EDF.jpgI introduced the word “classy”. It stuck, and all year we discussed the ways we could be classy. The kids loved it, and it has defined my methodology ever since. It was and is admittedly cheesy, but that is a big part of its appeal. And, since its conception, seven years ago, the idea of exhibiting class in teaching has come to mean more than just a behavior management system.

It seems education is being blamed for all kinds of ills. My aim, through teaching my group of students, and now with the creation of this blog, is to bring “Class” to the institution that lies at the foundation of our society: the classroom.