In the second week of the new school year in Australia the Grattan Institute, an independent think tank, released the report Engaging Students – Creating classrooms that improve learning. It is important to consider the holistic environment that promotes learning and engagement in students. Student behaviour and the choices that they make are critical to the overall success of the students’ experiences at school.
“Any parent knows that the best intentions can disappear under pressure – yet we expect teachers to get it right every day” (p.8)
This report seeks to affirm teachers in their role, recognising the difficulties faced in the classroom and makes recommendations at the school level and government/system level.
Much of my reading and thinking is around the physical environment and engaging learning for students, but the management of behaviour is a dynamic that can’t be ignored. It is another one of those under-the-surface-of-the-iceberg elements. Innovative learning environments, passionate teachers and creative content is insufficient unless the cultural and social norms of the learning community are known and shared.
The Grattan Institute report outlines some startling statistics about the impact of disengagement on learning. The disengaged students at the heart of the report are not those displaying overtly aggressive behaviour, but are disruptive and passively disengaged. It states that unproductive students are, on average, two years behind peers in literacy and numeracy, while passively disengaged students do just as poorly as disruptive students.
Attitudes and mindsets of teachers are addressed, stating that stressed teachers can get caught in a damaging cycle when student behaviour escalates. Many of us recall teachers decades ago who would yell, humiliate students, they would use sarcasm and even punish the entire class. This type of teacher behaviour benefits no one. I do hope that teachers like this are no longer in the profession.
The experience of the pre-service teacher that is really under the microscope here. In an era when too many young teachers are leaving the profession in the first five years, they identify the ‘number one’ professional development need is managing student behaviour. It seems we are failing them in their initial teacher education and then the quality of induction and mentoring once they commence in the profession.
While managing student behaviour as a new teacher is one of the greatest stressors, it appears that the time spent on this during initial teacher education is minimal. Quality in-school practicums are essential, learning from exemplar teachers on how they establish routines and parameters in their classes.
What if we took this one step further, that exemplar schools became places for initial teacher education, as it occurs in the UK. Schools could work in partnership with universities, providing a more effective progression from theory to practice. With each innovation and technological shift in the 21st century, the world of students change. Schools are better placed as the incubators for young teachers, providing real-time understanding of the emerging generation at school. Then, once they commence as a fully-fledged teacher, ensure a mentor/support program is in place.
No ‘sink or swim’ attitudes welcome here.