To become an effective practitioner, irrespective of field or discipline, the process of reflection is imperative. The likelihood of engaging in reflection often does not come naturally without prompting. However, reflective practice has been an emerging trend, especially in education, and is increasingly gaining popularity with empirical research supporting its practice. The concept itself, instead of sounds ambiguous, is not bereft of problems (Zeichner and Liston, 1996). While it is not the goal of this essay to reconcile issues and debates on reflective teaching, the essay recognizes the critical role of reflection for professional development. In this essay, I strive to engage in reflection, particularly in classroom management and student discipline.
To this end, in the sense of my own professional experience, I will be exploring different dimensions of classroom management and discipline. I will draw from related research to examine my own experience to participate in reflective practice fully. I’ll incorporate two forms of overall skills when reviewing my practice: hard skills and soft skills from which individual techniques belong. I will then highlight the areas of weaknesses and strengths. Finally, I will be providing suggestions for my practice that will hopefully support my personal and professional development.
Personal Assessment and Reflection
In reviewing and reflecting on my practice of managing the classroom and student discipline, I find it beneficial to differentiate between two forms of practice. Second, I’m going to refer to as technological techniques or tough competences. I shall mark the second group as partnership strategies or soft competencies. Hard skills in the world of work often refer to technical skills or procedures which often involve machinery and computer protocols. Technical strategies are those in the classroom, which involve planning, structuring, and organizing systems and procedures for maintaining an effective classroom environment. On the other hand, soft skills are the abilities of the people working to build in ties. Some relationships are critical in the classroom and must be formed to minimize disturbance and misbehavior.
Evaluation of the Technical/ Hard Skills
The critical factor in Arrend’s preventive classroom management techniques (2009) will be prepared. However, to be able to prepare effectively, knowing, and recognizing the students’ history, in which I usually invest during the first term of the school year, is extremely necessary. I find this training not only encourages successful lesson planning that meets a range of needs, but it also helps me to work more quickly on student issues. Sometimes I would start with a diagnostic test to help me assess the students’ overall level and identify the students who would require further care and support in the future.
Establishing Rules and Developing a Schedule
Establishing clear rules and keeping to a schedule are the first two steps in organizing and structuring the classroom; they are also essential steps. The first day of class is often spent establishing rules and developing a routine. However, I have always made it a point to engage students in this process. The opportunity gives them a sense of empowerment and ownership for the classroom rules and regulations. As expressed by Henley (2010, p.37), this is essential, “student empowerment enhances the perception that they have some control over their lives.”
Room Arrangement and Work Centers
Since I work with a younger age group [i.e., lower primary], I must structure learning in a manner that encourages social interaction. Lessons and instructions are conducted in the large group, but specific tasks are accomplished in a small group within work stations. Students move around and work with different groups throughout the school year, and this kind of set-up somehow “forces” them to be with other students.
I have noticed that building the class as a team is an excellent way to introduce cooperative work. Henley (2010) reiterates that “cooperation is the bridge that connects the individual need for empowerment and the social need for belonging” (p. 41). For students who prefer to work independently, I have noticed that assigning them roles in groups encourages their participation rather than letting them work individually in a group.
They Differentiated Instruction and Scaffolding
Recognizing that students start the school year at different levels, I have always prepared for differentiated instruction. The teaching assistant has been beneficial during this time when they have to give differentiated instructions. We would often shift roles helping the lower ones and the faster ones. There is a need to address both types of students, and in this case, I have created work stations as well, so the faster ones can work collaboratively on more complicated tasks. This has worked out quite magnificently, so work time is maximized, and students are continuously engaged in classroom tasks.
Routines and Responsibilities
Each student in the class has an opportunity to lead the class throughout the school year. I use this shared leadership approach to help develop the students’ leadership potentials at a young age. Often, as they move on to higher levels, leadership becomes constant and given to one student or a group of students. However, it is not always the case that students can effectively lead, as some are unwilling to take responsibility. At these times, I would often intervene to ensure that the responsibilities are executed. Although this can be relatively interventionist, I do it to ensure that the classroom system is maintained. Students are also assigned specific roles each week for housekeeping. I believe that giving children responsibilities to empower them.
Student Movement and Transitions
Often I would discuss this movement and transitions with other teachers involved in my class. We work out a plan of training the students and getting them used to their routine and slowly letting them move from one classroom to another on their own. At all times, though, the teacher has to be vigilant, but after four sessions, we inform the class that they will have to make it on their own and subscribe to the rules when transferring between rooms. The assigned leader is often tasked with keeping the class disciplined while on mobile. During class work, transitions can also happen between work stations. I have found it useful to keep a timer on the board and inform the students of the time left to accomplish the task. This is an effective way to help students gauge their time and encourage them to finish and move on to the next task (Gootman, 2001).
It is essential to let both parents and students know the grading system enforced in class at the beginning of the school year. I follow a grading system established by the institution, yet aside from that, I provide a portfolio of the students’ works. The portfolio has been a perfect qualitative tool to measure students’ progress and use it for reporting back to the parents. However, a portfolio can be taxing if it has not been planned at the beginning of the school year. The works in the portfolio must reflect the classroom’s objectives for the school year, and it must also reflect how the students have progressed in terms of these objectives.Projects, usually inter-disciplinary, carry a significant percentage in the grading system. To allow for flexibility, students are asked to form their groups and choose a project from a list that they wish to present. This is similar to contracting with students on the kind of projects that they are making.
Evaluation of Soft Skills/ Relational Skills
Gootman (2001, p.2) states: “The classroom is a caring community; relationships among the students and between teachers and students are supportive. The positive, constructive attitude is energizing and stress-reducing.” In the years that I have been a teacher, nurturing a caring and supportive classroom has been challenging. And yet, it has also been the most rewarding. Once relationships are built and strengthened inside the classroom, keeping rules and managing misbehavior becomes more significant. A caring classroom does not guarantee harmony throughout the whole school year. However, it guarantees that problems will be solved effectively, and students can grow from their experiences in the classroom.
Regardless of age group, the establishment of mutual trust and support in the classroom is significant. This encourages participation, cooperation, and collaboration. I have witnessed a low ability student persist and achieve success because of the support of his classmates. This approach builds on discipline from within where students become accountable for their actions, not only because rules are set but also because they recognize its benefits. I believe teachers should strive for intrinsic motivation.
Recommendations and Conclusion
Although I have classified the two types of skills, both are not mutually exclusive. These two skills must interact with each other to become effective classroom managers. Good routines, systems, and procedures will not be effective unless one has built a safe classroom environment for students to explore, express, and be creative while respecting the rules and routines. On the other hand, without building the relationships, the systems would be skeletal structures, without the meat that is meant to nourish it.
At this point, I highlight the importance of reflective practice in teaching and specific classroom management again. Challenges come in different forms and for different reasons. For a teacher to respond proactively, s/he must find time to reflect upon what is happening in the classroom and build on the strengths to solve the many problems that will shape the classroom environment.