Laboratory Charter School, Part 6


This is part of a series of posts on my reflections on The Laboratory Charter School in my neighborhood — specifically how other urban schools could learn a few things from the way it models its program.

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

Take character-building and behavior management seriously

problem parents revenge by Facing North EastOne of the best things a school can do for new teachers is to make clear what their options are for dealing with disruptive behavior. Hopefully these official options actually discourage bad behavior. Even better might be to have a unified protocol.

Now, I don’t know specifically what the Laboratory School’s protocol is, but I do get the sense that they take the maintenance of an orderly environment very seriously. It was mentioned in the presentation that disruptive students are immediately taken out of the classroom, and that parents are notified. It was also pointed out that no major fights took place last year in the school.

I’ve been in situations where I was hesitant to call parents in certain circumstances because I suspected that they might overreact, to put it mildly. Believe me, I know from personal experience how unfair parents can be to a child. And believe me, I also know from personal experience how amoral and manipulative kids can be.

Fortunately, I’ve yet to be in too many situations (although there have been a few) in which the parent turns around and questions my judgment as a teacher. The director of my middle school does an admirable job in being a buffer in such situations, a fair and supportive go-between for both parents and teachers.

I’m by nature a pretty accommodating person; I prefer to let things slide, go with the flow, have a dialogue to reach empathy and understanding. I loathe confrontation. I don’t like to jump to conclusions and tend to think there’s always three or four valid perspectives to every situation. As you might guess, my biggest struggle as a beginning teacher was behavior management.

I’ve come to realize the importance, however, of setting clear standards of behavior at the beginning of the year and following through on consequences strictly and consistently. I’ve learned that playing the heavy is not just about punishing bad behavior, but preserving the openness, safety, and productivity of a class. It means giving the class a chance to find its flow and then protecting that vibe.

As a result, I personally favor taking disruptive students out of play so that I can deal with them constructively one-on-one later. A school that can support and accommodate that makes my life easier.

Last year I was content to make sure students understood I meant business and let it go at that. This year I hope I can go beyond judge and jury and provide more support to students if they do misbehave. Initial consequences need to happen immediately and consistently, but I think the real difference can be made in the follow-up.

The Laboratory School also has a character training program. Each month has a theme related to character or community, and students participate in discussions and role-playing. Now, I’m very skeptical of character-building and self-esteem programs. By and large, they do not work. What works is the building up of actual competence, community, and service.

However, I really appreciate the times of Quaker reflection that’s a part of my Quaker private school. The monthly queries and weekly meetings of worship helps to slow the frenzy and allows some thoughtfulness to creep in to our community. I can see how kids can miss the bigger picture if we don’t remind them that it’s there.

Besides, research has shown that, as with everything else, attitudes and social mores are learned through observing and practicing modeled behavior. It’s worth experimenting with.

3 thoughts on “Laboratory Charter School, Part 6

  1. Tom, creating a positive learning environment certainly can be challenging, especially when there are a few students looking to do the opposite. Someone once told me that you shouldn’t smile until December. I don’t quite take that approach, but clear initial guidelines (that you really enforce) are essential.

    If there are no rules, well, your class is likely to go crazy. If there are rules, and they are never enforced, well, your class is likely to go crazy. If there are clear boundaries, and the teacher sticks to them, welcome to a world that kids understand, rules and related circumstances.

    That being said, I am no disciplinarian. My classes are loud and collaborative, but there are still rules…


  2. It’s interesting that as a new teacher in a new school that it’ll often take a year (more?) for me to gain the confidence to know how exactly to handle my classes. It’s a matter of getting adjusted to the school’s culture. No one ever bothers to tell you how boisterous is too boisterous, and you always suspect the worst.


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