It’s important to know who you are. This is important for life and true in any profession but i’ll argue that it’s crucial in education. Your teaching persona is the foundation of your classroom management style and the basis for how you will create a classroom community.
We all have different versions of ourselves...the shades of difference in how you speak and behave based on the people around you at any given time. Most of us act one way when we’re with old friends at happy hour, a different way when we’re at home, differently again when we’re visiting grandma or meeting a potential employer. What version of you will make the best teacher for your students? Consider your true self...what are some common denominators among all the versions of you? What kind of teacher do you want to be? Does that vision align with your personality? Can you make small adjustments to enhance or exaggerate some traits and diminish or modify others?
My core personality traits:
I am direct, considerate, loving, dependable, occasionally short-tempered, and I have a tendency to curse a lot. Some of these work very well in a classroom. Others do not. I obviously do not swear around or to students. Though I have been known to close the door at the end of the day and blow off some steam with a colleague ;) Early on in my career I knew that I would need to make some adjustments. I knew that my students needed someone consistent, firm, and loving. They did not need a reactionary hot-head. So I smoothed the edges to create this teaching persona. I stayed true to myself by finding this version of me that could be successful in the classroom.
My teaching persona: The Straight-Shooter
This version of me is clear, consistent, calm, matter-of-fact, loving, and welcoming. My students know that I mean what I say and say what I mean. Everytime. Everyday. Consistency is crucial. They know I am fair and honest. If I make a mistake, I apologize. Being consistent and using direct explicit language in the classroom helps students understand expectations and helps me keep my frustration level at bay which in turn reduces my desire to curse like a sailor. It’s win-win. I tell kids when I’m feeling frustrated. Modeling self-regulation and how to appropriately express emotions and feelings teaches kids strategies to monitor themselves and self-regulate their own behavior. It also helps me. Again, win-win. I make real connections with every kid. I make an effort to get to know them and their families. And I allow them to get to know me. I share pictures and stories during Morning Meeting and Writer’s Workshop. Building real relationships with students helps them establish a sense of belonging, significance, and fun. They feel safe enough to take academic risks and then true learning can occur.
I am fortunate that my core personality and the needs of my students closely align. It was easy to find my teaching persona because it was a true version of me. I have known many educators who were excellent instructors and had a true passion for teaching children but didn’t have the right teaching persona. I’ve had colleagues whose personalities didn’t match with what our students needed. Its very hard for a soft-spoken, sing-song-y, needs-to-be-loved-by-kids person to succeed in the inner-city classroom. Even if they are super knowledgeable and great at teaching content. It’s hard for these folks to find a teaching persona that’s a true version of themselves AND also meets the needs of the kids. Some of these colleagues realized that this isn’t the right job for them. And that’s ok. They were miserable and their students were miserable. Life is too short to hate your job.
Whether you are a new teacher or a veteran looking for a teaching style make-over, it’s important to consider whether or not your teaching persona and management style are working for you. I encourage you to find the persona that allows you to keep true to yourself AND will help you meet the needs of your students. Once you’ve found that persona, clearly define your management style to yourself. Consider ways to build the classroom community with your students. Create responsibilities (not rules) with the kids, clearly explain and model your expectations, and give them time to practice. All while maintaining the new version of you...the rock-star teacher.
Check out these resources:
To get to know yourself - http://schoolreforminitiative.org/doc/compass_points.pdf
The best classroom culture program/research - Responsive classroom is the foundation of my classroom management and culture - https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/
Read this book! And anything else written by Paula Denton.
My mom was a stay at home mom. She cooked every night, came on field trips, volunteered as homeroom mom and watched my field hockey games even though I rarely played. She made brownies every first day of school, we stopped at the bookstore on the first day of vacation each year and she read me books each night. She hugged me every day, told me she loved me and that she thought I was the best of all my friends. She also yelled at me loudly when I did something wrong or that she had explicitly told me not to do. She slapped my face for back talking. She told me the truth even if it made me cry. She apologized when she was overreacting.
She was my first classroom management coach. Now- yelling and hitting students is obviously terrible. And not what I am suggesting or what I did. BUT- loving kids unconditionally, showing that love right after they have disappointed you, and apologizing to them when you mess up… those are the keys to running a classroom that oozes respect and community.
However, it’s a hard thing to teach. My first year of coaching teachers I focused mainly on procedures, consistency and setting clear expectations and lines(so important and impossible to have a classroom conducive to learning without these). But I was noticing that still some teachers were having trouble in their classrooms. Students were off task, students were coming late and being disruptive. I am thinking of one specific teacher especially because he is the one who had highlighted for me how I had failed him. 3 years after I coached him we were talking about the amazing changes in his class, and he told me it took a while to get it. He was too focused on the rules and the consequences and was not responding to the students as humans. He was not behaving like an Italian mom! He approached management the way I taught him to: systematically.
Systems are important. I still coach teachers to create them, articulate them, practice them and stick to them with the kids, but there is more to creating a classroom that thrives. And that is just being humans with the younger humans in your class.
Teachers have to give consequences. They have to have rules. BUT teachers MUST also encourage students- especially after they’ve made a mistake. Teachers MUST remind students that consequences are natural and not personal. Teachers MUST apologize if they’ve wronged a child (and apologize publicly if you’ve wronged publicly). Teachers MUST, like my mom, show unconditionally love to all students even (possibly especially) when those students have misbehaved, acted disrespectfully and hurt your feelings.