Tackle behaviour so teachers can do their jobs
The news last week that underperforming teachers could face the sack under new measures seems incredibly ruthless and draconian. Teachers are too often judged on a narrow range of statistics, without being given enough support to deal with the specific problems in the classroom that prevent them from doing their job to the best of their ability.
Before we developed ClassDojo, my business partner and I carried out a vast amount of research. Not only had we both spent time teaching, but we also interviewed over 100 teachers in the UK and USA to find out what the biggest challenge they faced in the classroom was. The overwhelming answer was dealing with poor behaviour. The stats back this up: 4 out of 10 American teachers report they spend more than 50% of their time in class managing students’ behaviour rather than teaching: this is a staggering statistic – and it means more than half the school year is gone, without any teaching or learning taking place.
We started ClassDojo to help teachers overcome this problem, and what we’ve found is that the behaviour management problem is even more widespread than we initially thought. Teachers have found us without any promotion by us, and have engaged and spread ClassDojo completely independently. Currently, the majority of behaviour problems are dealt with post-hoc: wait until a disruptive action has happened, then punish retrospectively. In addition, there is an asymmetric focus: poor behaviour is such a pressing issue for teachers that often good behaviour goes unrewarded in the classroom, such is the preoccupation with discipline that they have to deal with.
The classroom needs a fresh approach. Teachers need to be empowered to focus students on the positives, and actually build those positive behaviours and attitudes in class, rather than making post-hoc corrections. This focus on building positive behaviors is a much-needed shift, in line with recommendations from leading classroom management experts such as Lee Cantor, or Doug Lemov, that could one day create a situation where ‘discipline’ is not needed in the classroom. Teachers might one day be able to focus mostly on teaching, rather than on crowd control.
However, the issues we are addressing with our development of ClassDojo go far beyond classroom behaviour, and question broader issues at the heart of our entire education system. For too long the UK system has been centred on developing test scores, as a proxy for cognitive skills. This has essentially become about learning ways to pass exams to move students on to the next level – but does this approach properly equip our children to live successful lives? It’s not obvious that it does.
I’m a firm believer that what secures good life outcomes is not just the development of cognitive skills, but crucially, character skills. It is a thought shared by many progressive schools on the other side of the Atlantic, in America. Our product, ClassDojo, is aligned with the philosophy of many of the ‘KIPP’ charter schools in America. These schools are situated throughout the US, in some of the poorest socioeconomic areas – the areas that have systematically underperformed. At KIPP schools, the idea of ‘education’ goes far beyond just building good test scores, to actually building the character strengths that lead to happy and successful students. This approach is having incredible effects: KIPP students not only achieve some of the best academic results in the country, but since the implementation of the character education component, also go on to achieve greater success (for example, lower dropout rates) in college and beyond.
There is a growing school of thought that this approach should be adopted on our shores here in the UK, and we are seeing thousands and thousands of teachers from the UK begin to use our programme. We are seeing more teachers in the UK believe that a shift to placing more emphasis on character development will prove more effective than measures of cognitive achievement alone at raising standards and providing the kind of skills needed for our students to lead healthy and productive lives. The theory here is that so many jobs do not necessarily require just high test scores, but do require persistence, integrity, self-control, curiosity, zest and a whole lot of other character strengths that our system isn’t yet concerned about delivering, in any meaningful way. We want to change that.
It is easy to judge a teacher as good or bad by their academic pass or fail rates. It is less easy to measure the impact that they can have on building the character of a child. If we can change this culture of obsession with a narrow indicator of teaching success – test scores – and alleviate the real pressures teachers face, then perhaps we can start to see an end to major barriers to learning. Not only will this create greater opportunities for teachers to teach and students to learn more effectively, it will also create a much broader education, with students having the opportunity to build the kinds of character strengths that lead to happy, fulfilling lives. Sacking teachers is a quick fix, and fails to address some of the core problems.Tagged in: ClassDojo, education, teaching
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