A typical school day often involves more than 30 transitions, including taking bathroom breaks, switching subjects, and going out for recess and fire drills, to name just a few. Managing these disruptions can account for about 15 percent of daily class time, according to research by Walter Doyle, PhD, a professor in the University of Arizona’s department of education.
His research also shows that organizing these transitions helps students regain their focus on learning and get the most out of class time. How can teachers pull this off? That’s one of many topics covered in APA’s online course, “Practical Classroom Management,” available for free. Through PowerPoint slides and recorded voiceover, the course teaches evidence-based strategies that help teachers increase student engagement and reduce classroom disturbances. For example, one module suggests how to arrange the classroom based on a teacher’s individual teaching style, encourages teachers to stand close to or lightly touch the shoulder of a student who is beginning to act up in class and recommends posting class rules to ensure that students know what’s expected. Indiana University counseling and educational psychology professors Russ Skiba, PhD, and Jack A. Cummings, PhD, wrote the script for the course, as well as for a second module in the course that is focused on interventions for dealing with students’ emotional and behavioral problems in class.
Since the modules’ launch in 2008, they have been used in teacher preparation courses, school district training sessions and by individual schools to educate teachers on how to manage misbehavior. Some districts even encourage school administrators to view the modules so they can better support teachers.
“The roles of our teachers are no longer limited to that of agents of knowledge,” says Delesicia Martin, EdD, assistant superintendent in the Hinds County School District in Raymond, Miss. She requires all new teachers and many administrators in the district to complete the modules.
The modules meet an important demand, says Gabrielle Jones-Wiley, PhD, a school psychologist in the district, explaining that today’s teachers must instill many skills that students once learned at home, such as attention control and politeness. To help address those challenges, the classroom-management module recommends — based on psychological research — that teachers refer to classroom rules as expectations as a way to help promote self-discipline over compliance. The course also encourages posting brief, positive guidelines for students, such as “Follow directions,” “Speak considerately” and “Have materials” and praising students who follow these guidelines, rather than focusing a lot of attention on students who act up in class.
“If teachers can be taught to change a student’s undesirable behavior by directing them to engage in a desirable behavior, then a large portion of the battle has been won,” Jones-Wiley says.
Of course, laying out classroom rules and procedures can be challenging. “It sounds easy, but a lot of people don’t realize that … procedures need to be taught to students and expectations need to be expressed,” says Debra Park, a past chair of APA’s Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools and an instructor in the Rutgers-Camden Teacher Preparation program. She says the APA modules provide step-by-step instructions on how teachers can introduce students to a social curriculum and expectations at the beginning of the school year. On the first day of her own teaching course, Park shows student teachers part of the classroom management module — a case study on Ella, a disruptive fourth-grade student who has problems reading aloud. Park asks the student teachers how they might work with Ella on her reading problems, and what Ella’s teacher could do to better manage his class.
“The modules really set the stage for more detailed discussions and the application of many research-based strategies,” Park says.
Jones-Wiley agrees, adding that while the modules are based on psychological literature, the lessons are explained in ways that make sense to people who are not familiar with psychological terminology, she says.
“They offer sound, practical solutions to challenging classroom behaviors,” says Jones-Wiley.
Now, recognizing that burnout is one of the primary causes of teacher dissatisfaction and resignation, especially among early career educators, APA is working with Isaac Prilleltensky, PhD, a professor of educational and psychological studies at the University of Miami, to develop a video-based module on teacher stress. This module will cover different definitions and sources of stress for teachers and provide survival strategies as well as video clips from real teachers about their coping strategies. APA is also developing a course on how to elicit creativity from students, with help from Saybrook University’s Steven R. Pritzker, PhD.
“Our dream is to continue to develop modules as we get resources and expert psychologists to provide us with the science behind different topics of importance to teachers,” says Rena Subotnik, PhD, director of APA’s Center for Psychology in Schools and Education.
Amy Novotney is a writer in Chicago.