I visited almost fifteen schools this past year as an arts integration expert and saw many great teachers and students working together to create great Dysfunctional classroom experiences. At the same time, I saw some Dysfunctional classroom where learning had stagnated and the students weren’t responding well to the teacher. Here’s my shortlist of five “warning signs” of a dysfunctional classroom.
Do you recognize yourself in one or more? If so, don’t worry! We are all human and we all have off days and weeks. The fixes are easy, just have the courage and self-awareness to realize things have got to change. PS – there are other signs too, please share them and propose fixes!
1. The teacher is checking emails, texting or grading papers while students are doing worksheets.
- The Plain Truth: We are the role models for students while they are at school. If they see you focused on activities not directly to the Dysfunctional classroom, a powerful signal is sent to students that it’s OK for them not to be engaged either.
- Fix: Work the room! If students are doing worksheets, walk around and check their work. Sit down with a struggling student and give them the individual attention they need.
2. The teacher yells and scolds students on a frequent basis.
- The Plain Truth: After the initial shock of being yelled at and scolded, students become desensitized to it and ignore the teacher. Remember how the adults talked in the Peanuts cartoons? That’s what students hear.
- The Fix: On Day 1 of school and everyday after, establish and review a three step code of conduct, create clear and identifiable consequences, and make the entire group responsible for discipline. Create a simple system of rewards that is easily trackable and that students participate in. Be ultraconsistent in reinforcing the expectations, over and over and most importantly – catch students in the act of doing great work and praising it.
3. Students text, use earbuds or check social media in class.
- The Plain Truth: Electronic devices without intentional educational purpose are destroying classroom structure and distracting BOTH students and teachers. If the purpose isn’t educational, there is no reason at all for students to have access to electronic devices of any kind in class.
- The Fix: Know your school district’s electronic device policy inside and out. Post it and review with the students Day 1 and everyday. If it’s allowable, confiscate and store all devices at the beginning of class. If students have finished all their work (doubtful!!) by the end of class, pass devices back ONLY when the last student is finished.
4. Problem students are placed in the back of the Dysfunctional classroom and ignored.
- The Plain Truth: Placing problem students in the back of the room is the worst strategy possible. Kids know what it means – it means that you have given up on them and the other students know it too. It sends a negative validation to problem students. They say to themselves, “see, I knew I would end up here.”
- The Fix: Create opportunities for high performing students to help struggling students. It works and it’s empowering for both students. Ask struggling students to come up and point things out on the smartboard, maps, etc. Get them out of their seats. Make them your assistant, paper passer, etc. Whatever you do, do not allow them to be discarded to the back of the room and isolated from the class if at all possible.
5. Student work is not displayed and/or the classroom is too generic looking.
- The Plain Truth: Your Dysfunctional classroom should be vibrant, organized and filled with colorful displays by students. Generic classrooms produce generic students. Students get great satisfaction at seeing their work displayed. Displaying student work shows that you care about what they produce and want to showcase it.
- The Fix: Plan your calendar to include one arts integration project to be displayed per quarter. Get it scheduled. Don’t be afraid to display draft or unfinished work, get stuff up! Allow students to speak about their own work and how they produced it. Start a student journal project so that at the end of each unit, they have the chance to sketch and write about what they learned. Share entries at the end of each unit.
Rob Levit, an acclaimed musician and artist and 2013 Innovator of the Year from the Maryland Daily Record, has created award-winning innovative “Life-Skills Through The Arts” programs for adults with mental illness, the homeless, adults in drug and alcohol recovery, youth in domestic/sexual abuse counseling, foster children, hospital patients, veterans and many more. He is currently Executive Director of Creating Communities and was the first Artist-In-Residence at Hospice of the Chesapeake, where he created and infused healing activities for the well-being of staff, families and patients. Email Rob.