From Baseball to the Science of Classroom Management
Chris Huzinec traces his interest in researching classroom dynamics back to high school sports in Ewing, New Jersey.
“I joke that sports always kept me from being a real ‘problem student,'” Chris says.
“When I played baseball and I wasn’t very good,” Chris says. “But a good friend was one of the team’s star pitchers. He felt most comfortable with me behind the plate, so I ended up catching all his games.”
“He had learning disabilities and took some special classes separate from the rest of us,” Chris says.
“I guess that friendship opened my eyes to the challenge of creating a classroom environment where all learners learn, regardless of academic and social challenges.”
Tools for Teachers That Make Sense, Can Be Used Right Now
Today, Chris is a Director of Research for Pearson’s Review 360 with graduate degrees in clinical and educational psychology. He also worked for a time in Houston’s public schools.
“It’s a tool for teachers to be proactive in setting up a classroom to better manage disruptive behavior before it starts,” Chris says.
“Disruptive behavior takes away from instructional time for all learners,” Chris says. “But it’s also true that constant removal of a behavioral challenge is not necessarily the best approach, either.”
“We’re trying to help teachers both manage their classrooms and facilitate healthy instruction at the same time.”
6 Indicators of a Well Managed Classroom
This help comes in the form of six areas of attention—organized in a way that’s “simple and straightforward,” according to Chris.
High expectations for student behavior must be defined and communicated. Appropriate and acceptable behaviors must be taught, modeled, practiced, and reinforced on a daily basis. Setting behavioral expectations is the foundation for proactive classroom management.
Classroom procedures must be defined to provide guidance to students in how things work in the classroom. Common procedures and routines should be so methodically taught and so consistently enforced that they become internalized by all students within a short amount of time.
A well run classroom is arranged and organized for optimal learning regardless of the activity. A structured classroom greatly improves the educational outcomes for students and reduces the occurrence of problem behaviors. Teachers are well prepared with the lesson’s required materials and supplies readily accessible. Little instructional time is lost during transitional activities.
A teacher of a well run classroom recognizes the importance of reinforcing and rewarding positive behaviors. They understand that behaviors that are reinforced grow stronger over time. Praise, comments, and constructive feedback let students know they are being successful. There is a greater ratio of positive vs. negative interactions.
A well run classroom includes a good balance of structure and nurture. Students have a positive relationship with the teacher and the other student. Students feel safe and comfortable to learn. There is a climate of respect and caring. A sense of community of learners is present.
In a well run classroom, problems will still occur. The difference is that the teacher has developed a systematic plan for correcting behavior that has been taught and reinforced. Both positive and negative consequences have been initiated. Desirable replacement behaviors are identified.
“Research has shown us that schools of Education which prepare teachers often require minimal coursework on addressing disruptive student behavior,” Chris says.
“Teachers tell us that our method gives them skills they never had, that they can use right now in the classroom,” Chris says.
Success with a New Approach, Skills ‘I Can Use Right Now’
Most training in managing classroom behavior takes a top-down approach—starting with principals and school-wide initiatives.
“We’re keeping things simple, working with teachers on skills they can use with their students every day—then moving up to school-wide activities,” Chris says.
Research conducted by Chris and his colleagues shows that this effort can work. By providing teachers what they want and need to address disruptive student behavior through easy-to-access and easy-to-use lessons can not only improve the practices of teachers but also improve the discipline outcomes for students.
Pearson started working with teachers and schools in Brownsville, Texas. It’s a district of about 55,000 students. They are predominantly Hispanic and many are economically disadvantaged.
“In three years,” Chris says, “in-school suspensions were reduced by 36-percent. Out-of-school suspensions came down 40-percent.”
The impact on students served in Special Education was even more notable.
Prior to review—these students, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, were suspended twice as much as their peers.
Eventually, these suspensions came down—by 49-percent for in-school suspensions and by 46-percent for out-of-school suspensions.