Three “Secret” Ingredients for Building Strong Classrooms

Guest post by Amber Schroering

Brownsburg East Middle School (BEMS) is a community that takes great pride in the achievements of its students and staff. For many years, BEMS has topped the rankings for academic excellence in all of the areas of the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP). In fact, many visit our school and district to learn about our “secret sauce,” or how we consistently get high achievement from our students. One of our “secret ingredients” involves a commitment from our faculty to incorporate three classroom management techniques that ensure a strong culture conducive to high levels of learning. 

Meaningful Relationships: Show Students You Care 

The first element of creating a strong classroom is establishing meaningful relationships with students. When teachers show students that they care on a personal level both in and beyond the classroom, they create an important foundation of trust with students. Students who see that their teachers care about them show more engagement in the classroom and strive to meet teacher and classroom expectations. To build meaningful relationships with our students, our teachers:

  • Welcome every student into the classroom every period possible, every day possible and make sure to be in the doorway or in the hall right outside of the classroom
  • Talk one-on-one with a student after class or during independent work time
  • Ask students questions about life outside the classroom, such as sports, activities, their family, hobbies, and interests
  • Make positive phone calls home to let parents know the positives they are seeing
  • Share concerns with parents and students, and brainstorm solutions

High Expectations and Clear Boundaries: Assume Nothing and Teach Everything 

As our teachers build meaningful relationships with students, we also work to establish high expectations and clear boundaries in their classrooms. Students perform at their best when expectations are high and boundaries are clear. Though some of our students may already understand them, our teachers explicitly teach the expectations and boundaries to students at the start of the year because we know that each student comes to our classes with different experiences. The result? When teachers carefully regulate the environment, students feel safe and secure, which paves the way for learning. To establish high expectations and clear boundaries, our teachers:

  • Write out expectations and boundaries in a formal document
  • Share the document with parents so everyone is on the same page
  • Post the expectations clearly in the classroom and give each student an individual copy for reference
  • Teach and practice the expectations regularly so that by the third or fourth week of school, the students have no question what will happen if they do A,B,C and will know our response if they do X,Y,Z
  • Monitor behavior and hold all students accountable closely so that students see us treating everyone the same way

Engaging and Rigorous Instruction: Hook Students on Learning 

When students feel safe and secure in their environment and know that we care about them, our teachers can deliver the third ingredient of strong classrooms: engaging and rigorous instruction. Without meaningful relationships, high expectations and clear boundaries, our teachers would never be able to reach a place where they can focus on instruction and learning. Now our teachers are ready to have fun with students and explore content, discover new ideas, solve problems, and learn together. Isn’t this why we all became teachers?

How do our teachers deliver engaging and rigorous instruction? This is the facet where individual teaching styles and PLC creativity come into play. As school leaders, look for ways to support your teachers to hone their instructional preferences and give them the time to work with each to develop new ideas and cultivate best practices.

Practice Makes Progress

So, it sounds easy, right? Just build relationships with your kids, hold them accountable for high expectations, and teach well. Piece of cake? Of course not. We know it is incredibly hard work. Even our veterans must work every day to keep this delicate triad in balance. However, even hard work can become routine when we seek help, surround ourselves with support, and ask questions anytime we encounter bumps. Our faculty works together diligently to practice these management techniques and makes steady progress every day to create a classroom culture most conducive to learning.

Share these three classroom management techniques with your teachers and discuss what is or is not working for them. Then work together to identify ways to increase their support and further strengthen your classroom environments.

Amber Schroering is an assistant principal at Brownsburg East Middle School and the 2016 Indiana Assistant Principal of the Year. She presents regularly at state conferences and hosts site visits to teach others how to build a successful PBIS model like the one her team has built at Brownsburg East.

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