Anyone who’s ever set foot in a classroom knows they will find the majority of students sitting quietly absorbing the teacher’s lesson, but there is always one or two students who appear restless, disengaged and borderline disruptive. Rather than making flash judgment, this is always a point where classroom management benefits from compassion over compliance.
Oft times, active students don’t mean to be disruptive, they are certainly not looking to disrespect the teacher; most likely, they simply have a learning style that necessitates motion, activity, and stimulation that traditional teacher methods typically do not accommodate.
A principal and I watched a kindergarten teacher read to her class, and every student met the school’s expectations: hands folded, mouth shut, legs and butt on the appropriate rug square. Every student, that is, except a rocking, chattering boy whom the teacher redirected several times to no avail. “He’s such a problem,” the principal said as we left the classroom. “We need to have him tested.”
“Maybe he’s the normal one,” I said. The principal looked at me like I was crazy, but I was serious. Managing a classroom full of children is tough, so it’s understandable that teachers would prefer compliance over commotion. But what if compliance is incompatible with students’ developmental needs or abilities?
I ask that question at new teacher induction training, and work with teachers to ensure their classroom policies and practices are age-appropriate. Chip Wood’s book, Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14, is a great resource for this purpose because it looks at children’s developmental needs and their classroom implications. (Wood also writes a Yardsticks blog.) Yardsticks helps teachers align their classroom expectations with students’ developmental needs and abilities. A few examples:
- The 4th grade teacher who improved classroom culture by responding to “difficult” students with humor rather than exasperation.
- The 5th grade teacher who was more patient with students after discovering that 11-year-olds often prefer learning new skills over refining existing ones.
- The kindergarten teacher who had fewer discipline problems once she allowed students to stand up while they did their work.
- The middle school teacher whose classes were much more cooperative after he allowed students to collaborate instead of insisting they only work independently.
- The 2nd grade teacher whose students improved academically and behaviorally when she gave them regular opportunities to move their bodies in the classroom.
Does this mean we should lower our expectations of students? No, but we should avoid asking students to do something or not do something that conflicts with who they are from a developmental standpoint. Let’s have high expectations of students, but let’s also have reasonable expectations of students.