Leading CT3 takes me to schools across the country. Many teachers tell me that despite having a degree or background in education, they felt unprepared to tackle the challenges of managing a classroom, or they’re struggling with student behaviors in their current classroom. No matter where you are in your teaching career, the reality is that situations may arise when you will need support from your administrator. Getting this support can be uncomfortable for some teachers, as they may believe that messaging from administrators suggests teachers need to handle their own student discipline. But, as a former administrator, I’ve seen that many teachers may not know how to go about gaining their administrator’s support.
Remember, your administrator was once in your shoes. And like you, in their current position, they face many challenges. Working with your administrator and investing them in your classroom culture can make your year much easier and productive for you, your students, and for your leaders.
In some schools, administrators may overtly or covertly send the message to teachers: If you are competent, you should be able to handle all issues with student behavior on your own, within the four walls of your classroom. In other words, many teachers may feel dissuaded from referring students to the office or seeking support from their leaders, regardless of how disruptive the behavior is, as long as it’s not violent. Teachers have told me that the result of such perceptions is that they feel unsupported and disempowered in their ability to effectively address certain students whose behaviors they find challenging. Teachers who feel this way may use their administrator’s messaging as a rationale as to why they have off-task behaviors in the classroom. This creates a disempowered environment for the teacher and for the student.
Before working to gain your administrator’s support, be sure you are using the No-Nonsense Nurturer Four-Step Model. Then, use the steps below to partner with your leader for support with students whose behavior you find challenging.
Step 1: Feel empowered to deal with small disruptions before asking for assistance.
A major reason many administrators may communicate that they don’t want students referred to them is that they may have experienced too many teachers “dumping” students on them without first attempting to build relationships with the student or deal with the behavior on their own. If you want to get assistance from your leader, you must first consistently use each step of the No-Nonsense Nurturer Four-Step Model. The more your administrator knows exactly how you deal with student behavior, the more likely s/he will be to support you, so share your classroom management plan and accountability hierarchy. Make sure your leader understands how your plan works to support students with precise directions, positive narration, consequences, incentives and the relationship-building strategies you have used to support student success. Be sure to address any questions or concerns your administrator may have. Be open to their suggestions and try to incorporate them. Providing evidence of your practice will not only impress them but invest them in your success.
Step 2: Document all your actions.
The more your administrator believes you’ve done all you can, the more likely s/he will be to give you assistance. Keep documentation of every incentive or consequence you provide to students as well as logs of positive calls to students’ families, descriptions of how you have attempted to build relationships, etc. This can make the difference in getting administrative support.
Step 3: Recognize that you need back-up for the sake of your students.
No-Nonsense Nurturers do not perceive needing back-up as a shortcoming in their professional competence. Rather, they understand the limits of their ability to motivate some students and they approach administrators because they care about their students’ success. They recognize that everyone on the school team needs to pull together to help some students make the most of their educational experience.
When you approach your administrator, do not present yourself from a place of weakness:
I’m sorry, I just can’t handle Justin.
Instead, approach your administrator from a place of caring for your students:
We need to work together to help Justin improve his behavior so that he does better in my class and is not disruptive to his learning or his classmates.
Step 4: Establish a collaborative partnership.
All too often, a student’s extremely disruptive behavior becomes either the teacher’s problem or the administrator’s. For the sake of all involved, students who need additional support need to be on everyone’s radar. While speaking with your leader, use language that emphasizes the collaborative nature of the relationship needed to help the student:
Justin is struggling with his behaviors in my class and I am struggling with supporting him. I know if we work together, he will be much more successful.
Despite your efforts, there may be some administrators that still may not give you the support you’re looking for to motivate the students whose behavior you find most challenging. In this circumstance, No-Nonsense Nurturers take it upon themselves to build a support system:
Set aside times during recess, lunch, or after school to meet with students who are struggling. In all likelihood, this will be a time you use to build deeper relationships with the students who need it the most! Focus this time with the student to understand where their misbehaviors stem from. While unconscious for some students, many are conscious of their misbehaviors. They use their actions in the classroom to communicate that they feel silenced or dehumanized. This might not be specific to you, but to what they have experienced over their educational careers. Taking time to understand why students chose certain behaviors will support you in building a deeper relationship with them, and in the end, change their behaviors.
Collaborate with peers.
Another effective strategy you can use is to work with your fellow teachers, counselors, and/or educational assistants. Establish a plan to send students to a colleague’s classroom or get support from a counselor or educational support team member. Meet with one another to get/give critical feedback on how you are dealing with student behaviors. Be honest in these groups, role play, and give critical feedback to support one another on messaging and relationship building strategies with students.
Work with families of students.
Often the best disciplinary resource available to you is a student’s family. Whether your administrator is on board with you or not, family members are an important part of the solution when trying to support any student. Which family member is the most meaningful to the student? Establishing communication with that person is more likely to change the behavior of the student so s/he can be more successful. Check in with the family member when the student is progressing and achieving as well as when s/he is not meeting behavioral or academic expectations. Remember that family members need good news about their children. They shouldn’t just be called upon when their child is struggling.
I understand and respect the fact that managing a classroom of students is likely not why you became an educator. It certainly wasn’t on my radar when I chose to become a teacher! As educators, we spend six to eight hours a day with students during formative hours and years in their youth. This means we are a part of raising them. It is up to us to partner with the families of our students, our teammates at school, and our administrators to ensure all our students’ success – academically, behaviorally and emotionally.
By Kristyn Klei Borrero, Co-Founder and CEO of CT3
Click here to read A Note to Educators: Pedagogy Surpasses Curriculum, a series on our blog by Kristyn and our Program Specialist, Carrie Lupoli. In it, they discuss the power of pedagogy over curriculum and high-leverage pedagogical strategies that make up any effective lesson.