Effective Teaching...

by Harry and Rosemary Wong

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This article was printed from Teachers.Net Gazette,
located at https://teachers.net.

December 2009 / January 2010

Dreams and Wishes Can Come True

Three Successful Beginning Teachers

Without procedures, none of what I teach would
make a difference.

Sarah Ragan
    Title I Reading Teacher
    North Elementary School
    Roxboro, NC


After the initial butterflies, having a script gives
me confidence.

Stacey Greene
    Fifth-Grade Teacher
    Y.E. Smith Elementary Museum School
    Durham, NC


I can barely contain myself from shouting from the
rooftops, 'To all new and struggling teachers, take heart, because procedures work!'

Nick Saadipour
    High School English Teacher
    Granville Central High School
    Stem, NC

The struggles of beginning teachers are many.   Statistics show that 17%
of new teachers will not return for a second year.   In the first three to five years of teaching, over 50% of the teachers will not return to the classroom.

What is it that these three successful teachers did in their first year to keep them in their classrooms and defy the national odds?

Sarah Ragan:  Lost Without Procedures

Sarah says, “In my first year, because I’m a Title I teacher, the school term started late for me.  I watched the other first-year teachers with interest—I wanted to learn from what they did.  Unfortunately, every single one of them struggled on their first day.  Without fail, they would engage their students—not in learning, but in never-ending battles over pencils, hallway behavior, noise levels, and so on. 

“I decided that would not be me.  I had read The First Days of School in college, and that evening, I went home and wrote my First Day of School Script.” 

Sarah’s script contains

Click here to see Sarah’s First Day of School Script.

When the term started for Sarah, she set down with her first, fourth, and fifth grade students and introduced them to how the classroom would be run.  As a class, they discussed and modeled each classroom procedure. 

Sarah explained the purpose of the procedures, walked students through their responsibilities, and made sure every single class member understood that the class would achieve success by working together. 

From that day forward, there was never a question
of what Sarah’s students ought to be doing—
her students knew what to do from the minute they stepped in the classroom,
to the time she dismissed them.

Everyone Is a Star

Sarah emphasizes that in her classroom, everyone is a star.  Her behavior guidelines are called the STARS behavior guidelines.

Strive to do your best
reat people and property with respect
ct in a trustworthy and respectful manner
eflect on your actions
how a cooperative spirit

With these guidelines, Sarah has found—much to her initial surprise—that the same students who exhibit behavior issues in other classrooms do not have issues in her class.  Sarah’s students know to enter the classroom each day, look at the schedule written on the board, and get right to work.  They are engaged and learning every minute of class!

Sarah proudly shares, “There is zero downtime in our time together.  My students understand that I expect them to work hard, but also to have fun. 

“I’ve actually been assigned some of the more difficult students to work with—students that my principal calls ‘some of the most streetwise students in school!’  These students begged to come to my class.  They don’t know why they want to come, but I do.  My class is well-managed.  Everything is organized, and I am well-prepared.” 

Sarah even had the pleasure of calling a particularly “streetwise” student’s home to tell his grandma how wonderfully he was doing. 

“My students are responsible for themselves and stay on-task throughout class.  I connect with each student personally.  I know what their cat’s name is, and I know the reason they couldn’t get to sleep last night was because the neighbor was playing loud music.  I encourage my students to do their best!”

It Is Never Too Early or Too Late

Every single one of Sarah’s students made progress last year.  “This is not because,” as Sarah humbly shares, “I am an extraordinary teacher.” 

It is because Sarah’s students had a purpose

They knew what to do (objective),
when to do it (agenda),
and to what extent to do it (rubric).

Please read The First Days of School for more information on creating objectives (page 234) and rubrics (page 266).  For more information on creating an agenda, please read “How to Help Students with Their Assignments” in the August 2004 teachers.net column.

Sarah, in her very first year of teaching, received glowing evaluations.  From the excellent rapport she has with her students, to the brisk pace of lessons and the warm and inviting classroom environment she has created—Sarah rated “above standard” while the rest of her first-year colleagues floundered. 

Sarah’s advice to new teachers is simple.  Create a plan and work it.  “Even though the first day of school has come and gone, it is not too late to have an effectively-managed classroom.  Create a classroom management plan and implement it, and you will see changes in your students and yourself beyond your wildest imagination. 

“Without procedures, none of what I teach
would make a difference.”

Stacey Greene:  Practice Makes Perfect

Stacey Greene jokes that her students must be sick and tired of having to practice procedures over and over again until they get them right.  Yet, she knows that a little extra effort at the start of the school year is far better than having to raise her voice at her students or to lose her cool with them mid-term. 

Stacey respects and treats her students as she would like them to treat her.  So, on the first day of school, she greets every student at the door with a firm handshake, a cheerful “Good Morning,” and a big smile.  She reasons, if even she—the teacher—was nervous, her students would be nervous, too.  Stacey feels responsible to put her students at ease on their first day of school! 

Start on the Right Foot

Stacey organizes her classroom so everything is in place for her students to begin learning immediately.  There are clear directions posted on the board and the students have no time to visit with each other or to wander around the room.  They put away their book bags, find their assigned desk quickly, and start on the bellwork. 

Once all her students are seated and working diligently, Stacey calls for their attention and introduces herself.  She has a detailed, minute-by-minute First Day of School Script prepared and knows exactly what she wants to tell her students. 

Stacey says, “After the initial butterflies, having a script gives me confidence.  In fact, I have so much for the students to do that the time goes by in a flash!” 

Stacey’s First Day of School Script contains notes, reminders, and procedures.  She has  

A crucial element of Stacey’s effectiveness is she introduces and practices the procedures with her students before they are left to carry them out on their own. 

Please click here to see Stacey’s First Day of School Script.

Connect with Your Students

Stacey shares, “Before I started teaching, I would hear disgruntled teachers complain, ‘No matter what I do, the students just don’t get it.’  By ‘it,’ they were referring to the rules and expectations of the teacher.

“I was naturally concerned that despite my best efforts when I start teaching, my students would not get ‘it,’ either.  To my pleasant surprise, I’ve found that it’s not rocket science.  In fact, it is common sense.  I find my students respond to a strategy that we all employ when communicating in our daily lives:

“When someone doesn’t understand what you would like them to do,
rephrase your request, or try to break your request down into terms
that they will understand and can relate to. 
In short, connect with your students.

“The key to a well-managed classroom is making sure that classroom procedures are clear, straightforward, and easy to follow.  Students must understand how to do the classroom procedures, as well as why they are doing them—it is the only way that we, as teachers, will gain their cooperation.”

The Only Constant Is Change

Stacey says, “Learning never stays the same, and children are not the same either.  The only sure thing is I will have to try something new with every new class that I’m privileged to teach. 

“I hope and pray that I will never become a teacher who is so set in my own ways that I cease to be open to new ideas and techniques.  For then, nobody wins.  The teacher who is not dissatisfied with uncooperative students is preventing them from doing their best.

“I am happy with the tone that I set on the first day of school, and every day things get better.  Looking back, I can think of many things that I would have done differently.  But the great news is that I have next year, and the year after, and many more years ahead to give my students the best first day of school ever!” 

Nick Saadipour:  A “Light Bulb Moment”

Nick Saadipour quit an exciting career as an actor to teach.  Soon after walking into the classroom, he found himself stressed out.  Nick had to remind himself daily why he had entered the profession.  Perhaps he had been mistaken in believing teaching was his calling!

Barely weeks into the school year, Nick attended an inservice meeting.  Speakers included  Harry Wong, Chelonnda Seroyer (featured on the DVD in The First Days of School), Cindi Rigsby (North Carolina Teacher of the Year for 2008 - 2009), and motivational speaker Derek Greenfield.  At the end of the workshop, Nick left saying to himself, “Every one of those speakers was more inspiring and moving than a good episode of the Oprah Winfrey show!”

Even better, Nick left the workshop with a renewed energy and a promise of success.  He had had a “light bulb moment.”

At the start of school, Nick thought he was well-prepared.  He had read The First Days of School and had a Classroom Management Plan in hand.  Unfortunately, Nick neglected one key component of a successful classroom management plan.

He introduced his students to his classroom procedures,
but overlooked the need to rehearse and reinforce those procedures.

The problem was not in Nick’s procedures, but in his implementation of procedures.  Professional actors rehearse their lines and actions day in and day out to ensure they do everything right.  So how could Nick expect his students to be experts at his classroom procedures if he hadn’t given them the opportunity to rehearse the procedures?

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

After the workshop, Nick went back to his students and explained that though he had set high expectations for them, but he had failed to model how the classroom would run.  In fact, during a fire drill, he realized to his horror that his students were just sitting in class, waiting for him to explain the evacuation procedure.  He had never modeled the procedure for them. 

Nick created a PowerPoint presentation of his procedures and patiently walked his students through them.  Click here to see Nick’s PowerPoint presentation of his classroom procedures.

Besides modeling how each procedure would look and what it would sound like, Nick related its purpose to his students.  His students soon realized:

Classroom procedures are not just for the teacher’s benefit.
They benefit everyone in class.

Slowly but surely, as the class rehearsed the procedures, Nick could see the procedures gelling in their minds and having a positive effect on the learning environment.  Nick says, “I remember vividly the first time I walked into the classroom and saw that a student was not doing the bellwork.  Before I had a chance to say something, another student said, ‘What’s the procedure, please?’  I couldn’t help but smile.” 

Procedures Work!

At the end of the year, Nick realized he only had to write a single discipline referral.  Nick also received an invitation to the County-Wide A+ Awards for Employee Excellence.  His assistant principal had nominated him.  This is what she wrote: 

Nicholas Saadipour is a first year ILT with a gift rarely seen in teachers of any experience level.  His special gift is his innate ability to form meaningful relationships with students.  He is a natural teacher and has the talent necessary to catch and hold students’ attention throughout the 90 minutes of class.  Students hold him in high respect and with deep regard.  They listen to him and respect his rules and procedures because of his ability to relate to them on their level. 

Nick says, “I’m not sure I deserve my assistant principal’s kind words.  I have not done anything extravagant.”  Remember, just a year ago, Nick had been despairing and thinking he had made a mistake entering the profession! 

“I am now in my second year of teaching and continue to make adjustments to the things I do in the classroom.  I have created a First Day of School Script—something I lacked (and sorely missed!) in my first year of teaching. 

“All I want is a well-managed classroom where
students can feel comfortable and are encouraged to learn and give their best. 
That is my guiding principle for everything I do.

“There is a major difference in my attitude between last year and this year.  Last year, I was sitting in the new teacher conference, wondering what sorts of awful notes my substitute was leaving for me about my students.  As expected, when I returned to class, I received a laundry list of complaints from the substitute. 

“This year, I returned from an absence to find a note from the substitute saying that she had experienced the ‘best class ever!’ and that she would love to cover my class any time I was out. 

“That is a true testament to the power of procedures and expectations in the classroom.  I still have so much to learn, but now, instead of being afraid and doubtful of my calling, I cannot wait to see where my teaching career takes me.  I know that I can only get better as the years progress, and I can barely contain myself from shouting from the rooftops: 

“To all new and struggling teachers, take heart,
because procedures work!”

Live Your Dream

Sarah Ragan, Stacey Greene, and Nick Saadipour were invited to share their new teacher experiences with colleagues at a seminar in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  The 400 new teachers in the audience all had “light bulb moments” hearing how a fellow colleague could succeed in one year.

Listen to their interview at http://ela.ncwiseowl.org/21st_century_ela/e_l_a_podcasts.

At this same meeting a year before, Stacy Hennessee shared a similar story of his success.  We featured him in the September 2008 teachers.net article.

Listen to his interview at http://community.learnnc.org/dpi/elalPodcast-7-Stacy-Hennessee.mp3.

This meeting is sponsored each year by the North Carolina Model Teacher Education Consortium.  (http://www.cfnc.org/career/TeacherEd/modelTeacher.jsp).   The theme of the meeting is “Discover Your Dream Job and How to Get There.”  The meeting is designed to help teachers succeed once they’ve been hired.

Sarah, Stacey, and Nick very easily could have been causalities of the statistics shared at the beginning of this article.  Yet they all had one thing in common that helped each to succeed, beat the odds, and live their dream:


Plan for success
Rehearse and reinforce
Organize before students arrive
Costs nothing to do
Extra time gained for teaching and learning
Don’t wait until next year; do it now
U make a difference in students’ lives
Rehearse some more
Experience a class that hums with learning
Success is yours because procedures work!

Procedures are shockingly simple and allow you to live your dream of making a difference in the lives of children.  Just do it and see your wildest dreams come true.

Harry & Rosemary Wong products: http://EffectiveTeaching.com

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