Monday, August 27, 2007


Part III: Creating Change in the Classrrom

Taking risks in the classroom is an intimidating prospect. Even when things are not working, it is difficult to let go of a routine and try something new. During Jennifer’s last year of teaching she was struggling with behavior problems in the classroom: her fourth grade students were constantly fighting with each other and it was significantly disrupting her instruction. Jennifer was intent on improving the dynamic in her classroom and knew she had to take some drastic measures in order to do so.

She mulled over the situation for some time until she realized that she needed to change the culture of her classroom in order to change student behavior. One weekend in February she went into school and set about changing the physical space of her room. “I tore down everything – all the posters, all the rules. And then I changed the seats to a circle instead of lines,” Jennifer recalled. Jennifer knew that changing something as fundamental as the physical space was the foundation for where she wanted to go with her classroom.

When her students came to class on Monday they were greeted by a transformed space and a rejuvenated teacher. Jennifer initiated a conversation about the problems her students were having in the classroom and the issues they faced in school. She did not reprimand or punish them; instead she asked them what made them upset, what motivated them, what they wanted to work on, and what goals they had for the year. They placed these guidelines and goals on the classroom walls and thus began refashioning the classroom to represent their individual and collective voices.

Immediately Jennifer noticed that giving her students a voice in creating the culture, structure, and focus of the classroom resulted in increased engagement and investment. She noticed that right away ‘things turned around. My students came in ready to learn and with less attitude. They liked having choices and having a say so. It was better when I was there to make things run smoothly but not to dictate the class.”

Over the next few months Jennifer continued to involve her students in making guidelines for classroom culture and directing lesson plans. She noticed that her students were getting along better with each other and she built upon this by instituting “The Mystery Star” system. She had her students write their name on a star and at the end of the day she would randomly select a ‘star of the day’ and the rest of her students clapped for the star and made positive statements about their classroom contribution that day. Activities like these fostered a culture of celebrating students and built community amongst the once divided group.

“I learned a lot from that experience. When you want to make a change in your classroom you have to step back and ask yourself what you are doing that is not working and what you can do to make it better.” While Jennifer was initially overwhelmed by the behavior problems in her classroom she was resolute that she could make a difference and did not shy away from making significant changes in order to do so. Being enthusiastic and reflective about instituting change in the classroom empowered Jennifer to create a dynamic and cohesive culture amongst her students. And being able to view her teaching techniques and classroom management as part of the problem and solution, enabled Jennifer to realize the change she desired.

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