I love this post “So this happened today” and the wonderful opportunity it provides for a discussion of school climate. The teacher shared a thoughtful observation of two kindergartners in distress and is wondering why the kids in her school seem so angry. I have three hypotheses:
1. Stress caused by academic overload. I have seen this occur in the lower grades, especially kindergarten, when a school district increased the academic demands in reading. For the majority of students, it was no big deal because they were already beginning readers. Kids who came to school without knowing the alphabet and letter-sound associations basically had one report card period to get on board. They were doomed from the start. The reading train was moving forward and they were not even at the station. Most of those kids felt stupid. Those strong feelings manifested themselves in aggressive play at recess and disruptive behavior during reading and writing.
2. Ineffective community building and behavior management. Teachers play a crucial role in establishing norms for their classes. Effective teachers are able to build a sense of community, despite variations in student ability levels. Through modeling, discussion, explicit instruction, and class meetings, teachers can help kids pull together. The use of cooperative projects, where each member has an important role, is another tool to use. Making sure that all voices are heard is another. Cognitive empathy is a powerful tool for engaging students. Behavior management includes all of the above, plus consistency, structure, fairness, and motivation. Every aspect of behavior management is too broad to go into here, but I would love to ask the teacher who just posted to observe some other classes. She has a good eye and may be able to point out some unhealthy classroom dynamics, as well as those practices which are effective.
3. Cultural divides. Does this school reflect and accept ALL its students? Nationally, most teachers are white females (like me), which means we have to work harder to step outside our preconceptions and prejudices. We have to match other cultural values by restructuring class interactions and instruction. We know “our” way of doing life. Now, what is their way? How is it similar and how does it vary? There are many resources on cultural proficiency available to educators. One of my favorites is “How to Teach Kids Who Don’t Look Like You” by Bonnie M. Davis.
4. A combination of the above. Perhaps the problem is a critical mass issue of the above three hypotheses. Exploring this through school-wide discussions may be helpful as long as the emphasis is upon finding solutions, not finger pointing. Encouraging parental input (especially related to “cultural divide”), providing additional intervention in reading, and teachers spending more time observing one another could be effective.
Do you have any other hypotheses? What would you suggest?