Klea Scharberg

Knowing All Our Students

In this interview for the Responsive Classroom newsletter, Caltha Crowe, educator and author of Solving Thorny Behavior Problems, discusses the importance of forming strong relationships with students early in the year. When teachers understand the needs and concerns of their students, she says, they can help them to overcome the learning challenges they face.

"The sad fact is that some children, especially those with behavior challenges, go through year after year of school without a positive relationship with a teacher," says Crowe. "We need to find what's likeable in each student, especially the ones who may be hard to like immediately, because they're the ones who need a trusting relationship the most. I watch and listen to the child closely so I can see things from that child's point of view. Relationship-building can pay big dividends in the child's improved behavior and schoolwork."

Part of building a positive classroom environment requires observing how students interact with one another and helping them to feel as though they belong, Crowe explains. She offers exercises for assisting teachers in identifying shy or reticent students who need more help in interacting socially and explains that often students act out when they feel excluded.

"All humans have a basic need to belong. So I pay attention to students' skills in forming relationships, making a place for themselves in the group. The first day of school, my students do the Human Treasure Hunt, which has them mixing and mingling, looking for classmates that fit questions like 'Who likes pizza?' and 'Who has a pet?' I notice who approaches other children, and who hangs back. During my weekly recess duty, I pay attention to who plays with whom and who's usually alone. At dismissal times, I notice who goes home with whom," says Crowe. "I can then help the shy children and the excluded children become a part of the group. Misbehavior and lack of academic success often grow from an unmet need to belong."

Managing a class of 24 to 30 personalities requires educators to understand group dynamics; focus on individuals; execute sound judgment; and most of all, inspire, engage, and motivate students to learn. ASCD Express shares teachers' best practices for organizing physical space, letting go of control, promoting collaboration, and fostering a positive classroom culture.

What is your top classroom management tip?

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