Classroom Management

Classroom Culture and Pencil Procedures

July 28, 2015 Updated July 24, 2015

“By the way, what’s your pencil procedure?”

Sounds like the sort of trivial small-talk you’d overhear at a professional development session for teachers entering the 2015-2016 school year. When designing a procedure for something seemingly small like pencils, teachers should make sure the procedure they choose doesn’t undermine core classroom culture values they intend to instill. When aligning procedures with your intended classroom culture, decide what you define as a high expectation for the student: Arriving to class prepared with three sharpened pencils? Independently deciding an appropriate moment in class to sharpen one’s pencil? Obeying extrinsic pressures or appropriately responding to internal ones? A combination of the two?

Depending on what you choose, different shades of non-cognitive skills including integrity and self-control embed themselves into the fabric of your classroom culture. And while all teachers would agree it is important to have a pencil procedure, some would say it’s not the deal breaking aspect of a functional classroom. 

Teachers holding this belief are due for a pencil procedure awakening.

We know that high expectations are at the cornerstone of instilling motivation inside young learners. Unfortunately, the notion of the high expectation and consequent motivation is often ignored when creating procedures. Therefore, it is critical that the pencil procedure chosen entails a high expectation of the students in order to ensure procedures align with the envisioned classroom community.

When discussing classroom community, current professional development institutes may offer sessions of instilling growth mindsets and non-cognitive skills in students, but it is doubtful any formal discussion would be held on the topic of any writing utensil procedures. Classroom procedures fall under the realm of classroom management, a mundane topic compared to the Social Emotional Learning curriculum igniting change in many public school classrooms. Disconnecting these realms is detrimental to developing the necessary skills for success beyond the district’s calendar.

Classroom management typically falls at or between the two extremes of high teacher control and low teacher control. The high-control methodology carries with it the belief that students’ growth and development are the result of external conditions. This methodology aligns with rigid procedures that are typically school-wide policies. However, it is important we don’t mistake student compliance for genuine integrity. Kylene Beers’ (2009) notion of the genteel unteaching of America’s poor because “some kids learn best with rules and structure” inadvertently eliminates the option those students really deserve – a chance to make the autonomous decision to do the right thing because of their own code of conduct – not the school’s.

Low-control approaches are based on the philosophical belief that students have primary responsibility for controlling their own behavior and that they have the capability to make these decisions. In other words, the two models rest on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, respectively. Paul Burden (2013) insightfully ties in procedures to these different models when he states that for high-control, “The teachers select the rules and procedures for the classroom, commonly without student input” and conversely for low-control, “The child’s thoughts, feelings, ideas, and preferences are taken into account when dealing with instruction, classroom management, and discipline.”

Regardless of the management plan you choose, the pencil procedure in your classroom is not and cannot be separated from the often below-the-surface non-cognitive skills you teach to your students, for they are inextricably connected and create a classroom culture which relies on expectations that stir different brands of motivation inside every student.

The simple pencil procedure may seem trivial and therefore arbitrary, but procedures are the wheels that live in your classroom daily and become the guideposts by which students begin to understand their role in your class and therefore their world. As teachers entering into the 2015-2016 school year find themselves considering the best classroom procedure for pencils,  they should feel confident their definition of “best” entails a  procedure that aligns with a culture they envision, thereby ensuring student success beyond the walls of the classroom. 

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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