Discipline Tip: Seating Chart

Bear with me when I tell you this story.  I promise by the end you will see how this can help with your students who have trouble following the rules.

All across America there are teachers who are stressed.  Not the usual stresses of parent complaints, learning new curriculum, getting ready for standardized tests, or students not completing their homework.  No, this stress is a different kind.  This is the stress that stems from a teammate.  If this hasn't happened to you yet, consider yourself one of the lucky ones.  But, to many others, this is something that has happened over and over throughout his or her career.  

Here is how this common scenario plays out . . . Mrs. Workshard is a strong teacher.  She has good classroom management skills, her parents are happy when they find out their child has been placed in her class, and she learned early in her career that education is an ever changing field and has learned to adapt to the changes.  Her principal knows that she needs minimal supervision because she will come to him if she needs support with a student.  All in all, she is a principal's dream teacher.  Oh!  If only a  principal could have a school filled with teachers like her, the principal's job would be heaven.

Next, in this scenario is Mrs. Almost.  Mrs. Almost has been teaching for five years.  Although she has taught long enough to be considered seasoned she doesn't demonstrate the skills of a typical teacher with five years of experience.  She does not turns in important paper work in a timely fashion, her classroom management skills are weak, the Special Ed. team have voiced concern that she is not following her students' I.E.P.s, and she has forgotten her recess duty on several occasion this year leaving students unsupervised.   After the principal met with Mrs. Almost multiple times with limited success, he decides that it time for a change.  He is going to move Mrs. Almost to Mrs. Workshard's team and ask Mrs. Workshard to mentor her.  Surely, seeing a strong mentor in action will solve all of Mrs. Almost's issues.

Mrs. Workshard is flattered when asked to be Mrs. Almost's mentor.  Of course, she would be happy to share some of her classroom management techniques, organizational tips, and other strategies she has learned through the years.  At the beginning of the year, it seems like this might actually be helping.  But, as the year progresses, Mrs. Workshard has her own class to attend to and can no longer provide as much support to Mrs. Almost.  Then Mrs. Almost falls back into her old work patterns.  Mrs. Workshard feels guilty because she feels like she failed as her job of a mentor.  

Has this happened to you?  I am not talking about mentoring a new teacher or new-to-your-school teacher.  I am talking about mentoring a teacher who is not fulfilling her job description.  

Now let's relate this scenario to students in your classroom.  How do you decide where your students sit?  Do they sit in groups or teams?  If so, how do you group them?

When I was a freshly minted teacher, I was told to spread out my students with discipline issues.  If you had 4 discipline problems, you put them in the 4 corners of the room.  I was also told to surround them with role models. Did you get the same advice?  

In my 20 years of experience, I never found that the role models magically rubbed off. It took getting to the root of the problem to solve the behavior issue.  Each child is different.  Sometimes it was something as simple as the child was hypoglycemic and needed to eat small snacks.  Other times it was a change at home such as: a parent work schedule changed, parent was traveling for work, divorce, grandparent in the hospital, etc.  There can be hundreds of reasons why a child is acting out, daydreaming, or not doing his/her work.  You have to find the reason before you can solve it. 

One of the best ways I have found to find out what is going on with a child is through journaling.  Mondays are often the most enlightening days for this.  Let your class have free write on Mondays or give them simple sentence starters like "This weekend, I", "I get upset when", "I wish", "My family", or "If I could change one thing".  You will be surprised at what you will find out. 

When my schedule permits daily journal time, I organize my class into journal groups.  I put a colorful dot in the upper right corner of their journal.  I like to use these:
(click on picture)

I type students' names on corresponding colored paper so I can see at a glance who is in which group.  Each day a different color group comes to my table during journal time.  I find this once a week check-ins improve the overall quality of writing and it lets me get to know my students on a more personal level.  My students open up more during their writing because of these check-ins.  I think opening these doors of communication resolve behavior issues.

If your seating chart is organized by teams, how do you decide who is on each team?  Do you make heterogeneous groups (different ability levels and behaviors)?  If that is working for you, then continue doing what you are doing.  But, there are times when you have to have a Dr. Phil moment.  You know when Dr. Phil says "How's it working for ya?" When I am feeling stressed I ask myself this.  The answer is always "No, it's not working".  So, what do I need to do to make it work?  I often try the exact opposite.  If conventional wisdom says to spread your students with discipline issues to the four corners of the room, what would happen if they are grouped together to form their own team?
  • The 4 other teams would be able to work cohesively.  That is 80% of your class working efficiently.  When the behavior problems were spread out I had 4 out of the 5 teams tattling, frustrated, and not working like they should.
  • You would have a smaller area to monitor which means you don't need eyes in the back of your head.
  • The students with behavior problems would see how frustrating it is to try to work with someone who behaves like him or her.  You will be surprised at how eye opening this is to the student because they are used to be paired with a mentor.

If you have ever walked in Mrs. Workshard's shoes you realize how stressful it can be to be a mentor or role model.  While it is a nice compliment to be asked to be a mentor, when it comes down to it, the administrator needs to address the job performance issues with the teacher.  Maybe she needs to go to attend some time management workshops, attend classroom management P.D., or have a structured check in procedure with administration.  

The same is true with the student scenario.  If you were ever the student role model or you have a child who is often chosen to sit next to the student with a discipline issue, then you realize it is stressful.  Yes, it is a nice to be recognized for your citizenship, but it is not the student's job to solve a peer's problems.  

Try one or two of these tips to see if they help you.  Let me know your results!


Fern Smith's Classroom Ideas said...

I hopped over during the Bright Ideas Blog Hop! You always have such great ideas to help teachers!
Your friend,
Fern Smith's Classroom Ideas!
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Arlene sandberg said...

This is such a great post and a real eye opener. Thanks for sharing and hope it helps lots of teachers.
LMN Tree

Journey of a Substitute Teacher (Ms. T) said...

Great tips Michelle! I pinned so I can come back to this!
Journey of a Substitute Teacher

HoJo said...

First of all, you just planned my next writing unit! I love the journal ideas! Also, this post was great food for thought from a teacher and administrator stand-point. Thank you! Your posts are always so informative. I greatly appreciate that! =)

mrsrobinsonsroom said...

I did this one year. Everyone said I was crazy to put all the 'crazies' in one spot. Just like you said, the rest of the groups were so happy and quiet and on task. All the kids in the problem area group all went home complaining to their parents about having to sit with the others. One parent even went to the principal and caused a lot of grief for me (it was not the first time she had done so) but I did not move them. They had the option to work at individual work stations around the room if they wanted. No one else from the other groups needed to use those stations anymore because they did not have to escape. I fear they did not learn much of a lesson, as they did not change their behaviour. They stayed that way for the last three months of the year because none of them could keep the contract that their behaviour be consistent enought to leave the group.

Anonymous said...

I tried this just a month ago. I put my two toughest together as reading partners. They were just beginning to work together when one moved. I would try it again. As a matter of fact I am working on changing partners and trying to decide who to put with my one behavior problem. He may end up by himself (rather than with a mentor), since I have an odd number.

Terri Izatt

Sally said...

I love these ideas! I've had plenty of behavioral issues in my classes, and I've seen the stress they bring to others. It's always an eye opener when they complain about another child's behavior! Thanks for your great ideas!

Sally from Elementary Matters

Mrs. Goody Twoshoes said...

Wow! What a great post. I am really inspired. I can't wait to try some of these ideas out.

Heather Lilac said...

What an interesting idea! This never occurred to me but totally makes sense. I may have to try this In my classroom. Thanks for sharing!