Any elementary teacher who has taught for any length of time knows the experience of having one of “those” classes. The class that is imbalanced with challenging behavior students, students who should have been separated but weren’t, too many struggling readers, or any other combination of students that can make teaching a real challenge. These are the classes that make you pause in your car in the school parking lot in the morning to take a deep breath before walking into the building.
As a teacher, you may be feeling a variety of emotions and questioning your practice. Perhaps you feel that you aren’t as effective as you could be. The quality of your instruction is suffering. The amount of curriculum you can cover may be lessened. You think about the kids in your classroom and feel sorry for them because you know it’s not the best classroom environment. Reflection helps you recognize that you need to make some changes.
Before the start of a new school year, elementary teachers want so much to avoid having this experience that the phrase, “I hope I get a good class this year,” becomes a mantra repeated over and over again. But why is it dependent on hope? As with anything in our lives where we don’t have direct control, all we can do is wish for a good outcome. The class you receive, is for the most part, dependent on the work of others. The grade level teachers below you, and ultimately the principal in your school, are creating the class you will be with on a daily basis for the entire next school year.
Most years this isn’t a problem. Every class will have its own unique characteristics that are manageable. But what circumstances came together that one year to create “that” class? How did it happen?
Really difficult classes are created as the output of an antiquated paper-based process. There is simply too much data to account for when making critical student placement decisions for so many students using sticky notes and blue and pink paper cards. Unintentionally, something will fall through the cracks in just the right, wrong, way to create that one tough class. Fortunately, there is a way to avoid these challenges to ensure equitable classes. By way of explanation, I will use the three ghosts in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens as an analogy.
Ghost of Class Creation Past
Imagine going back in time to see what events led to you getting the most challenging class you ever taught. Let’s start with the grade level teachers who did the majority of the work:
- They were using sticky notes.
- It was at the end of a long day of teaching.
- They were pressed for time since they wanted to finish before going home for the day since they didn’t want to go through the hassle of saving the sticky notes and recreating the layout again.
- Two boys, Sammie and Tyler, were flagged to be separated next year. At the very end of the process, the teachers were focused on balancing students identified as ELL. Sammie and Tyler were placed together again by mistake in class #1.
The class lists created by the grade level teachers were then sent up to the office for review and final approval by the principal:
- The principal needed to move several students into other classes based on confidential information she couldn’t share with her teachers.
- Three students who weren’t flagged as having behavior challenges, but did have strong personalities, were moved into class #1. The principal didn’t know these students well enough to know this combination would be an issue.
By the luck of the draw, you got assigned to class #1. By the time you found out that Sammie and Tyler should have been separated, it was too late to move them to other classes since the school year had been in session for over a month. And with the three added extroverts, your most difficult class was set for the year.
Ghost of Class Creation Present
The conditions that led to the creation of the challenging class described above are still happening today in your school:
- An antiquated paper-based decision making process.
- An inability to clearly see all of the important data to ensure equity.
- Time constraints on teachers.
- Valuable information getting lost in translation as class lists are sent to principals for final decision-making.
Ghost of Class Creation Yet to Come
Let’s see how the scenario described above would have played out if Class Composer was being used:
- Sammie had a “Do Not Place with Tyler” request entered on his electronic Student Card. When the teachers accidentally placed Sammie with Tyler, the system popped up a warning. Sammie and Tyler stayed apart.
- The three students with strong personalities were all marked as extroverts on each of their Student Cards. Extrovert is one of Class Composer’s default Identifiers. When the principal was moving students, she glanced up at the data table on the Digital Data Wall on her computer and saw class #1 had a heavy number of extroverts in comparison to the other classes. She distributed those students evenly into the other classes.
The most difficult class you ever taught never happened.
As a leader, you want to take care of your teachers and give them the best opportunity to succeed and to create a positive learning environment for all of your students. Are you doing all you can to ensure you reduce the stress of challenging classes for all teachers in your school? Are you doing all you can for all of your students to ensure they end up in a positive classroom environment? This is where Class Composer can make a real difference by significantly lowering the odds of “that” class being created. We can help you create balanced classes where all your students will have an opportunity to thrive in a positive learning environment.