From: Ashley Fulcher
Date: May 2016
As a first year teacher there are many obstacles that you do not realize you will face when it comes time to leading your own classroom. Getting a job as a recent graduate of college in the education field was more than I could have asked for. I was excited to set up my own classroom and teach scholars like I learned in all of my education courses. My first few months were rough! When teaching in an Urban area, scholars face more challenges than any child their age should face. They often come to school hungry, full of emotions that they do not know how to handle, and sometimes not well kept. I quickly realized college did not prepare me on how to deal with these types of situations. I was dealing with a wide range of emotional and behavioral challenges, scholars who were below grade level, and just trying to get the hang of things. I was so overwhelmed and frustrated! I felt like I was drowning and I couldn’t get the hang of anything. I tried multiple strategies and still left school feeling frustrated and defeated.
Jill Brown was brought to our school as a consultant to teach the staff how to work with the scholars on things like the foundational principles of character development, develop critical thinking skills on various topics, and provide them with tools to help them make better choices as well as deal with their emotions. I was chosen as one of the staff members she was going to coach to provide me with strategies to accomplish some of these goals. Jill really took the time to learn not only me but my scholars as well. She talked to me about my scholars and asked me to keep a journal with a small blurb about every scholar. The first time she came in we started with the basics, talking about respect and what it feels like to be respected. We took it a step further and talked about what it looked like to respect someone while instruction is going on. Every scholar can tell you that they want respect, but by breaking it down for them what respect looked like made a real connection with the scholars. After we talked about what it looked like to respect someone, I would start using the cue words as I was teaching a lesson. I also added in counting backwards starting from 10. This gave scholars time to show me what they should be doing when someone was talking etc.
From there we worked on empathy and compassion. This was done by incorporating a routine called highs and lows into instruction. The idea behind this was to state something positive, a high, and negative, a low, that happen during the week while getting the scholars to listen and acknowledge one another’s feelings. Jill Brown modeled this is a PD session she did at my school. At first I incorporated this as a journal prompt on Mondays and Friday’s. I would have the scholars write them down and then share with each other. Jill and I also started a lunch bunch group where the scholars talked about their high’s and low’s for the day. What I noticed was the scholars were able to talk about something that was bothering them in a safe space where they knew no one would make fun of them. It helped improve the energy and mood of the afternoon’s in my classroom.
Next, we worked on building a classroom culture where everyone felt safe, loved, and supported. This was a huge struggle for me since my class had such a strong mixture of personalities. My class was constantly breaking out into fights and arguments between scholars. Jill coached me on using a variety of strategies to help build a better classroom culture. From this, I started doing inquiry based questions such as “How did it make you feel that this person did this” or “How do you think that person felt when you did/said this” and “What could we have done better for next time”. By asking these questions to the scholars who were fighting or arguing I was able to get them to self reflect on their actions. This was particularly challenging because often times scholars are told to fight back when hit or harmed. Trying to get scholars to realize that their actions might harm another person was difficult. Another way I infused this into teaching was by creating a do now when scholars came back from lunch. The do now asked the scholars to write down one positive, support, and kind thing they could do for another person that day. This allowed me to have a reference when a scholars were getting frustrated with others or I could sense a fight about to break out. Jill also coached me on greeting scholars, making them feel welcome every time they walked into the classroom. This was done by standing at the door and saying “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” to every scholar that walked in the classroom. By doing this I was able to make each scholar feel welcomed and acknowledged as they walked in. It was my way of showing them I’m here ready to teach and you’re here ready to learn.
After Jill and I worked on building a foundation for all of these strategies, we worked on resolving conflict between scholars. Jill coached me on the 8 Essential Questions. This strategy was key for my classroom. I experienced a lot of personalities among the girls in my classroom. Attitudes start to become more prominent in 3rd grade and who’s more popular is important to a scholar. The 8 essential questions really helped me create a way to resolve conflict. I would have scholars fill out the worksheet of the 8 essential questions and then conference with them on what happen. This allowed the scholars to self reflect on the problem that was happening. Another thing this did for me was allow me to hear both sides of the conflict without having another scholar interrupt in defense. The 8 Essential Questions had so many positives, it allowed each scholar to be heard, it reviewed with the scholars the choices they were making in that moment, and it allowed the scholars to cool down as they were going through the process of answering the questions. One of the most important things the 8 essential questions did for my class was allow me to see where the problem stemmed from and how I could better resolve it.
From this coaching, Jill and I were able to brainstorm and create routines, procedures, and strategies to help form my classroom culture and climate. Most importantly she provided me with information that I can use in my teaching career in the future. I look back on this 2015-2016 school year and see the progress I was able to make with multiple scholars based on her guidance and curriculum. It was a rough journey and it is still a work in progress. However, I have seen the positive change that occurred in my classroom after her coaching and I thank her for it.