Classroom Management: Building Community and Responding to Behavioral Challenges

Building community and anticipating behavioral challenges are the two most important elements of my management plan. Peterson and Hittie question whether a school’s purpose is to create competition or to create community (Peterson and Hittie 278). Like the authors, I believe that the purpose of schools is to create community and this idea is at the heart of my teaching philosophy. I have put the topics of building community and responding to behavioral challenges together because they depend upon each other in a successful school. Schools and classrooms with healthy and welcoming communities are better able to handle behavioral challenges. Having fewer behavioral challenges in a school or classroom creates a healthier community.

Peterson and Hittie explain that a school or classroom community involves belonging, inclusion, support and care, contributions and responsibility of all members, democratic problem solving, and reaching out (Peterson and Hittie 280-1). There are many ways to build community in a classroom, such as involving students in goal-setting, having students establish classroom rules, developing meaningful relationships among classmates and teachers, and participating in respectful communication (Peterson and Hittie 292-7). I have engaged in these activities in my student teaching placement and plan to incorporate these and other more English Language Arts-specific community-building aspects into my own classroom. In secondary school courses it can be difficult to create a sense of community due to the relatively short class periods and number of interactions in a day. However, I believe an English Language Arts classroom offers many unique opportunities for building community. Writing assignments that ask students to share their worldview or opinions are a great way to promote empathy and understanding among students. I agree with Peterson and Hittie that literature is also a powerful tool for helping students understand difference (Peterson and Hittie 305). By reading about people from other cultures, belief systems, socioeconomic groups, genders, and sexual identities, students can better understand their peers and become more compassionate toward them. Similarly, Peterson and Hittie discuss the importance of emotional intelligence and how it is essential to meet students’ socio-emotional needs in addition to their academic needs (Peterson and Hittie 285). The goal of the humanities, such as English Language Arts, is directly related to this. The humanities help students become more compassionate and better understand their fellow human beings, while simultaneously sharpening their academic skills, such as critical thinking. A successful humanities course, such as English Language Arts, will not only help students become more skilled writers and critical readers, but will help them become more thoughtful human beings.

Fully addressing students’ needs is important not only for building community, but also for responding to behavioral challenges. Peterson and Hittie’s approach to behavior is student-centered and focuses on helping students meet their needs rather than controlling their behavior. The authors suggest that teachers try to understand the underlying reasons why a student is acting out, rather than focusing on the behavior itself. Traditional behavioral management, which focuses on rewarding or reinforcing good behavior and punishing bad behavior, does not address needs or motivations behind behavior and is, therefore, not effective and can even be detrimental to students (Peterson and Hittie 315).  I plan to instead use the positive behavioral support model, which is proactive and needs-based (Peterson and Hittie 317). This approach directly addresses students’ needs and requires positive relationship building with students. The authors note William Glasser’s theory of five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, fun, and freedom (Peterson and Hittie 332-3). By creating a community that addresses these needs, I hope to be able to better address behavioral issues.

In addition to building a community that focuses on students’ needs, I hope to additionally address behavior by using restorative justice in my classroom. With restorative justice, instead of arbitrarily punishing students, students are required to fix or heal whatever negative outcomes their behavior caused (Peterson and Hittie 324). Rather than segregating a student through detention or some other form of isolation, the student is given a chance to make amends and to be welcomed back into the community. I think this is a powerful way to handle behavior and one that helps meet the needs of all students, not just the students who are harmed by others’ behavior. Through community building and positive behavioral support, my classroom will focus on the needs of all students.