Becoming an Effective Teacher

Effective Teacher







I recently read an article by Jonathan J. Doll, a PhD level teacher, about his experience in the classroom. This article was actually a confession (Confession of an Ineffective Teacher, Huffington Post 10/7/2015) that he felt that he was ineffective as a teacher early in his career. His journey is not unusual. In fact he talks about his observation that so many teachers struggle and face hardship in the first five years of their teaching career and how too many promising teachers give up on the profession.

Dr. Doll credits his transition from those early days of being a self-assessed ineffective teacher to becoming a master teacher to the help he received along the way from some of the principals he worked for. He also offers the following tips to other teachers on that journey:

Find mentors from among the best teachers in your community.

Record your lessons. This is about doing an honest assessment of your performance in the              classroom. You need to know what you are doing to change it.

Garner feedback from colleagues and your students.

Maintain a journal. This can help you see your progress over time.

Take responsibility for your success of failure in the classroom. You cannot get better unless you      take responsibility for your performance.

Dream big. Set your personal and professional goals high.

Take responsibility for your own professional development. Work on your weaknesses as a              teacher.

It is also interesting that he talks about the importance of classroom management skills. He references both Harry Wong’s book  “The First Day of School “ and  “Preventing Classroom Discipline Problems “ by Dr. Howard Seaman as essential to his transition to becoming a better teacher. This goes to my message that the first step to becoming an effective teacher is mastering your classroom.  To be an effective teacher you must first prepare your classroom and your students to be taught.


The Four “R’s”

The 4 -R's-

I was listening to the radio the other day and happened upon an interview with a Donna Jones on the Focus on the Family radio program. After s few short minutes I was hooked. Donna is the author of a book by the title of Raising Kids with Good Manners. An interesting enough topic for us parents and grandparents. However, it was her approach to teaching that caught my interest.

Donna spoke about the 4 “R’s” and how she uses this to not only teach manners but to reinforce and instill manners in her students. These are not the “R’s” we normally associate with teaching as in reading, writing and arithmetic.

The first “R” that she talked about is rehearsal. In the beginning you're trying to teach your students a behavior that they are currently not doing so you have to show them with that behavior is. Whether it's not blurting out in class; not paying attention or not following directions, the first step is to model that behavior and show them what it is you want them to do.

The second “R” is to remind them. When I am putting Theme Contest* on or writing NFD on the chalkboard I start by telling them what it is that I expect them to do. This is my reminder to my students that I expect a certain behavior. I am putting them on notice.

The next “R” is for reinforcement. Reinforcing a behavior can be either in the form of a positive reinforcement or a negative reinforcement. An example of a negative reinforcement is to let them know when they haven't lived up to the expected behavior and as a result they need to fill out a Reflection Sheet or walk laps at recess. Conversely if they are modeling the behavior that we want them to take we want to give them positive reinforcement i.e. praise for a job well done.

Those are the first three “R's”. The last R is reflection. This is sort of a postmortem review of their performance. Did they meet our expectations or not. We want them to understand what they are to do and why.

And that's it. It's very simple but also very effective. If you implement these four steps or stages in the training of your students in any desired behavior you are sure to see progress

 * Theme Contest trains students not to blurt out in class.

Is Classroom Management the Key?

Teacher with students

“We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”
Dr. Martin Luther King


We have previously discussed the role of classroom management in teacher effectiveness and job satisfaction. A lack of classroom management skills and training has been cited as a contributing factor in the high turnover rates for new teachers. It should not be a surprise that if you are struggling with controlling your classroom you are not making the kind of impact you would like as a teacher. As a teacher, your control of the classroom is essential. Learning does not thrive in a chaotic or undisciplined environment.

But classroom management is not just about controlling what goes on in the classroom. In fact, if that is your goal, I believe you have already failed. To me, I look at classroom management as a goal to achieve and the means to that goal is teaching students to manage themselves. In other words, I want to achieve classroom management by teaching my students to manage themselves.

I am writing this after completing the first week of the new school year. I have a classroom full of eager young students entering the 3rd grade and I have high expectations for them. However, I know that the quickest path to their academic success is for them to develop the character traits that will help them be successful in everything they do. That’s why I start the year with self-control exercises and teaching them about credibility, responsibility and work ethic. It is this character development that helps them learn to manage themselves and as a result my classroom is a safe learning environment where teaching can take place.

The Meaning of Management

Iteacher and students read another article recently about Classroom Management. The author in this article was actually critical of Classroom Management because they thought that in some cases it was being used not to provide a safe and secure environment for teaching but to control students. This author’s description of Classroom Management portrayed it as a system of coercion and restraint or just a means to control students. This is not Classroom Management as I perceive or practice it.

The title of our book is “The Self-Managed Classroom”. Yes, it is about Classroom Management but the emphasis is on “Self”. Our focus is on teaching students to manage themselves so that they can participate in an environment where the students are free to learn unhampered by noise and chaos and lack of discipline. We start with the little things like teaching students how to control their blurting out in class. We then focus on teaching cause and effect or actions and consequences with an emphasis on who caused the effect or consequence. We teach the meaning of accountability, responsibility and credibility. And we teach work ethic. This is obviously an oversimplification of what we do but its purpose is to teach students that they can control themselves and the benefit of self-control is freedom from other control. In other words, if you can manage yourself, you don’t need a manager.

What we strive to teach is not just a tool for teachers to help them become more effective. We are also teaching students life skills that will help them succeed in and out of the classroom.

Punishment V. Discipline

We have talked about the difference between punishment and instructional discipline before. The following is a guest post by Amy Baker:

"Parents and teachers both face the reality of trying to encourage the best from the children they are responsible for. Parents have an advantage simply because they know their child so well and, let's face it, not even the Duggars face 20+ children each morning. As a teacher, your situation is more challenging. How do you maintain a positive, results-focused environment while maintaining order among a large group of kids who are roughly the same age yet are all in widely ranging developmental stages?

One helpful concept is to focus on the difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment can be described as a penalty paid for poor behavior. The focus is on past behavior and the goal is to make the wrong-doer acutely aware that he has done wrong. Discipline, on the other hand, is training that corrects or strengthens character. If you focus on discipline, you are focusing on what a child can learn to do correctly in the future rather than dwelling on the past.

A classroom is never going to work if you try to run it like a democracy. However, there is much to be said for having your class help set some of the class rules. While you are working on the rules, have a discussion about the difference between punishment and discipline. Talk about the negative connotations/feelings that result from punishment. In contrast, discuss how discipline and logical consequences can help all of you grow and learn and thrive. Talk about what your class thinks a logical consequence might be in different scenarios.

The advantage of using discipline instead of punishment on a daily basis is that your class will trust you to be in control of yourself and the room and compassionate towards them. If you approach every difficulty with punishment, it can end up making you look as if you are desperate to maintain order or, worse, as if you are constantly angry. Punishment can easily backfire on you. Children who need to be corrected on a regular basis may, if routinely punished, take your punishments as a personal challenge. Their defiance can be contagious.

Make time every day to catch your students doing something right – and make sure they know you saw them! Constantly evaluate your methods of discipline to see what is working and with which kids the method is working. If something isn't working – get rid of it. Brainstorm with other teachers and parents you admire. You will never hit on a system that works 100%, but with a constant focus on the future, you will see results."

A job well done!

A job well done!

The Real Cost of Teacher Turnover

I just finished reading an article in Education Week by Walt Gardner, a veteran teacher and lecturer. In that article he states that “nearly half of new teachers are bailing out within their first five years in the classroom.” My first impression was that this is way too high. Unfortunately I found another article by Liz Riggs in the Atlantic that reinforced this claim. She cited statistics that “anywhere between 40 and 50 percent of teachers will leave the classroom within their first five years (that includes the nine and a half percent that leave before the end of their first year.)” This is astounding and truly reflects a problem in the teaching profession today.

So, why do we have such a problem? These same articles cite a number of reasons including low pay, stress, poor student engagement, and lack of parent and administrative support. This seems like an insurmountable problem. However, the Atlantic article cites a survey that found a correlation between the level of support and training provided to new teachers and their likelihood of leaving after the first year. In other words, new teachers need additional training and support to survive those crucial first years if they are going to have a full career in teaching. This sounds like a course of action that could stem the tide of this massive turnover problem.

One of the areas that perhaps does not get enough attention in teacher training programs is classroom management. If you are a regular reader of my blog you know that my philosophy is that if you can get your classroom in order, everything else will fall into place. That’s why I emphasize classroom management from the first day of class and incorporate techniques to teach students how to manage themselves. A managed classroom is a safe learning environment. A managed classroom leads to student engagement and better academic performance. A managed classroom results in better parental relationships. And a managed classroom leads to a less stressed and happier teachers.

All professions have turnover but turnover in teaching is estimated to be about four percent higher than other professions. In that same Atlantic article the author states that “the cost of teacher turnover nationwide is about $7.34 billion a year.” While this is an enormous cost, the real cost is in how this effects America’s students.

If we can reduce the turnover rate by even four percent by providing just a little bit of additional training and support, wouldn’t it be worth it? We think so. That’s why we have created a membership site that not only gives members access to our “Creating the Self-Managed Classroom” training program (a $249.00 value) but also provides weekly updates with additional training, interviews with experienced teachers and other resources to help educate and motivate teachers. The best news is that you can try us out for $1. We are offering a 30 day trial to all new members for one dollar. If you like what you see you can continue your membership for only $29.95 per month. If not, you can cancel your membership at any time.

The Quality of Education

“The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.”

A recent article in the British newspaper The Guardian by Jack Marwood deals with the connection between good teachers and a good educational outcome. This just seems to be common sense. However, the author claims that the currently popular view in Britain that exceptional teachers are the path to better results is wrong headed. The reason he gives is that in his opinion, teachers are not directly responsible for learning in schools. He doesn’t contest that good or great teachers can make a difference. The point he is trying to make is that there are other factors at play, including the disposition of the students themselves to learning. He contends that if the students are not motivated to learn, even good teachers will fail to instill learning.

Although I don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Marwood, he is saying the although teachers need to take responsibility for providing the best circumstances in which to learn, the students are the ones that actually have to do the learning. In his words, “while teachers teach, children are ultimately responsible for what they learn.”

My own opinion is that part of being a good or great teacher is the ability to motivate your students to learn. A comment from a reader of this Guardian article makes my point. This mother said “that when (she) moved her child from a school where teaching was poor and classes disrupted by bad behavior to a school where the teaching was good and the children well behaved, the effect was transformative. In the first school, she’d got to the point where she was no longer interested in learning. In the second school, her enthusiasm for learning returned in spades.” She concluded her comment by saying “part of being a good teacher lies in making children want to learn.”

Yes, there are bad teachers but I believe they are a very small minority. There is a much larger number of teachers that truly want to make a difference in the lives of their students but don’t have the skills necessary to create an environment that will make that possible. I think the key to educational success in this country is to empower this group of teachers to become the kind of teachers that can make a difference. This means giving them training to be better classroom managers and motivators. I discovered early in my teaching career that if you can teach your students to take responsibility for managing themselves it has a far ranging impact on the whole educational experience. I have been teaching and preaching this ever since.

I also believe the solution has to start in the early grades. If students are getting into middle and high school without learning how to manage themselves or without learning the concepts of responsibility, accountability and work ethic, it is very difficult to reach them. Will we be able to reach every student? No, there are a lot of other factors that impact student that are beyond our control. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try. If we can get them on the right path early, it is much easier to keep them on that path.


“The best index to a person's character is how he treats people who can't do him any good, and how he treats people who can't fight back.”
― Abigail Van Buren

At Classroom Management Specialists we focus on more than just academics. We also teach and instill character development to improve the moral intelligence of our students. Some of the traits and values I place particular focus on are self-control, fairness, and integrity, to name a few. It is my belief that by teaching kids these values early on in their lives they will grow up to be strong, independent, responsible and respectful adults. After all, isn't that what all parents want for their children?

As a teacher, I find great benefit in focusing not just on the academics but the character development of the child. If you can get your students to accept responsibility, show self control, and treat their peers with kindness and respect, it will make your life as a teacher so much easier. More importantly, you are helping to give your students the skills they need to be productive and successful members of society.


The Intangibles

I just read a Washington Post article about Susan B. Barber, a Georgia high school teacher, who wrote a letter to her new State School Superintendent about the impact that an emphasis on testing has on her ability to do the job of teaching her students. While she is not opposed to testing, she believes that it does not measure some of the important “intangibles”. In the letter she says “Testing does not measure a student’s growth in his or her love for learning or the development of grit. Testing does not measure a student’s thought process or style of writing. Testing does not measure the ability to apply knowledge or creative problem solving. I would like to think that these are some of the most important skills students learn in school today, yet they count for nothing in regard to my evaluation or my school’s performance.”

If you are a regular follower of my Blog you know that I am all about the intangibles. In fact, I know that focusing on those intangibles will actually lead to improved academic performance. One of my favorite quotes is by Ann Landers:

“In the final analysis, it is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”

And this is why I start off every year with the goal of teaching my student how to manage themselves. I know that if I can teach my students to have credibility, responsibility, accountability and work-ethic, I can teach them to manage themselves. I have a number of routines and “mini-lessons” that reinforce these concepts. I also tell them at the beginning of the year that unless they learn to manage themselves, someone else will need to manage them. And then I give them opportunities to show me that they can be “in charge of themselves”.

This approach works. And it makes your life as a teacher so much easier. But the real benefit is in what it does for your students when they begin to understand the benefits of self-control. You are not only teaching them, you are giving them the skills they will need to be successful in life. As a great philosopher once said:

“No one is free who is not master of himself.” - Epictetus






I come from a Military family and when I was about 10 years old, my father took my two brothers and I to a few little shops in the nearby village where we were stationed in England. It was Christmas time, and my little brother really wanted a small plastic toy Santa Claus he found on one of the shelves in the store and proceeded to ask my father to buy it for him. My father told him no, not this time, and he was asked to place the Santa back on the shelf as we ready to leave the shop and head home.

Later that afternoon when we got home I noticed my little brother playing with the very same toy Santa that he was told to put back on the shelf. Realizing that my little brother had stolen the toy, I was faced with a moral dilemma. Do I tell on my little brother or do I stay silent and let him get away with his theft? After a few moments of quiet deliberation, I decided it was best to tell my father so that he could deal with the situation.

To my amazement, instead of yelling at my little brother, my father sat him down and had a quiet discussion with him about doing the right thing. After their talk, they both put their coats back on, and left the house. It was only later that I found out they had gone back to the store so that my little brother could apologize to the sales clerk for taking the toy Santa and return the item. This was a very valuable lesson my father taught my brother that day, and one that he still remembers to this day.