We often hear that policy makers are looking for a “silver bullet” that will cure what ails public education. Here are two free ones.

This summer at one of first PD sessions at my new school, my principal said two things I’ve not forgotten and I’d never heard before from a school leader.  He said them calmly, matter-of-factly, but took a rare moment to say them–and be heard.

1. “We don’t yell at kids. It’s very rare that that ever gets us the outcome we’re looking for.” 

2. “We don’t talk over kids” (meaning if students are chatting with one another during a lesson, we don’t continue teaching while they do this).

These are two rules of thumb that seem obvious, and yet no one had taken the time–since I was a student in graduate school, and even then it seemed too obvious to dwell on–to make the expectation explicit.  Out in the field, however, especially in high need urban schools, it is quite common for adult staff members to resort to yelling and/or allowing students to have side conversations as they address a group of students.  I have been in situations where it’s been extremely challenging not to do this, and I am familiar with the conditions that can create such situations.  Of course, these actions by adults send a confusing message to students about what appropriate school behavior looks and feels like.  (Note: I do see a difference between raising your voice at times, or speaking in a firm tone with students, and yelling.  Also, occasionally applying the strategy of consciously ignoring attention-getting behaviors is not the same thing as just teaching through students’ side conversations.)

I call these two rules silver bullets, because I am amazed at what a huge difference it makes for students to go through the day without being yelled at at all, and with a clear expectation that the teacher will not speak over them, and they should not speak over the teacher.  The tone of the school is much more calm, which is an important working condition for both students and teachers.  The adults are in control, which makes the kids feel safe, which is the bottom line.

If policy makers could do something to support teachers and principals in creating schools that can follow these rules of thumb, they should.   Ideas?

[Image credit: drivereducationbrisbane.com]

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