Do you work with a diverse student population? If so, are you creating an environment where all of your students can grow and succeed academically? In other words, do you differentiate your instruction? Over the years, views on effective instruction have shifted from approaches based on a “one size fits all” mentality to a perspective that focuses on the concept of differentiation.
Interestingly, while many teachers have made this instructional shift, they still, however, subscribe to a “one–size fits all” approach to classroom management. Most frequently, a set of rules and consequences is established and implemented across the board with as much consistency as possible. Little consideration is given to the individual student involved in the transgression before selecting an appropriate way to address the situation. In other words, there is no such thing as differentiated classroom management.
With the growing diversity present in today’s classrooms, the reality is that the best way to meet students’ academic, social–emotional and behavioral needs is to create a truly differentiated classroom. This means we need to view both our instruction and classroom management approaches through the lens of differentiation. Furthermore, it means that we cannot adopt the mentality that fairness is equivalent to treating every student exactly the same, academically or behaviorally. Rather, we must strive to individualize our instructional and classroom management approaches to give every student what he or she needs to be successful.
The ultimate goal of effective classroom management is the establishment of a safe, caring environment conducive to academic and social–emotional learning. To accomplish this goal, teachers are still encouraged to focus on clearly established rules and consequences. However, they are also encouraged to emphasize the development of caring relationships and to be flexible with the implementation of the consequences. If we focus on those tasks, we will create an environment where students choose to behave and engage in academic activities and will ultimately foster a positive atmosphere for academic and social emotional learning.
Building Caring Relationships
According to teacher educator Rob Marzano, effective relationships between the teacher and student are the cornerstone of effective classroom management. Students who feel cared for by their teacher are more likely to choose to behave and engage in academic activities, which contribute to the overall positive learning environment. But, it is not possible to use the same strategies to build caring relationships with all of your students. In other words, teachers must differentiate the strategies they use based on a particular student’s personality. For example:
- Acknowledge students’ growth and achievements – Recognize students for their successes and accomplishments. Whether a student improved on a math test or scored the winning goal, students will appreciate that you noticed. However, depending upon the student, is this acknowledgment best offered as public or private praise or written or verbal praise?
- Develop connections with students – Share a few of your own interests such as favorite hobbies or sports teams with students. Similarly, get to know something personal about each student. Depending upon the student, can this information be shared freely verbally or would a written interest survey serve as a more effective springboard for sharing?
- Attend extra curricular activities – Make an effort to attend the school’s extracurricular activities such as sporting events, school plays and musical performances. After the activity, would particular students be comfortable with acknowledging your presence and introducing you to their family and friends or do they prefer your quiet presence and support?
- Be sensitive to students’ moods – Notice when a particular student is “off”. Whether he or she seems angry, upset, etc., he or she will appreciate the teacher noticing. However, is this the type of student who would welcome an empathetic ear or someone who would prefer a smile and supportive pat on the back without any further discussion?
Despite engaging and differentiated instruction, well–established classroom rules and a commitment to developing caring relationships, misbehavior will sometimes arise. This offers another opportunity to differentiate one’s classroom management based on the particular student involved. Following are some practical strategies:
- Utilize verbal and nonverbal interventions – Use strategies such as “the look”, proximity, facial expressions, calling on a student or a public rule reminder to refocus students on the task at hand. However, consider how the student involved will respond to the selected intervention. Will the student be mortified by a public intervention? Is a gentle, nonverbal intervention enough to redirect the student’s behavior?
- Implement logical consequences – Select logical consequences, which means they are related, reasonable and respectful. Think about the student involved and decide if it is more effective to involve the student in selecting a logical consequence for him or herself or do you need to impose the consequence on the student.
- Design behavioral contracts – To deal with more serious or chronic misbehavior, create behavior contracts for individual students. Each student’s contract should specify the individual goals, how the particular behavior will be monitored and what type of positive reinforcement will be used. Depending on the student, each student’s contract will be individualized to meet his or her specific needs.
The bottom line is that if we begin to create a truly differentiated classroom, we will better meet our students academic, social–emotional, and behavioral needs.