How to Close The Student Achievement Gap: Recommendation #2: Be Innovative in Planning and Classroom Management

How to Close The Student Achievement Gap: Recommendation #2: Be Innovative in Planning and Classroom Management


Most schools—especially in areas of high ethnic and economic diversity—have concerns over “student achievement gaps,” academic-success differences related to demographics. This post series looks at ideas for remedying the problem.

Most achievement gaps are abetted by the idea that there’s one right way to learn and students who struggle are just “slow.” Once the “slow” label is applied, all problems can be blamed on the kid’s bad luck in being born with low potential, and you don’t have to waste extra consideration on someone who has no hope of amounting to much anyway.

It’s a very convenient approach for teachers—if you don’t mind never amounting to much yourself. If you’d rather be an exceptional teacher, you’d better put a little more innovation into planning and managing classes.

Secrets of Innovative Planning

Be prepared to make allowances for language and cultural difficulties. Achievement gaps rooted in narrow-mindedness are worst in “mixed” classes. Sometimes, kids who seem to speak good English struggle the hardest, because they haven’t learned the nuances of figurative language—and teachers are less patient with them.

Learn about the traditions and worldviews of all ethnic groups. Try to personally observe schools with different demographics. Practice seeing things from different points of view.

Focus on priorities and values. A common problem in any vocation is losing passion due to fear of “hurting my chances for advancement” and consequent reluctance to try unproven ideas. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis: stick to your values and career success will find you; think only of career success, and you’ll likely have a mediocre career and lose your values along the way.

Have a daily routine, but leave room for planned and unplanned surprises. Everyone needs the security of the expected mixed with the learning opportunities of the unexpected.

Make up your mind to be flexible and solicit regular student input. Even small children have ideas to make classrooms more effective.

Beware of working-late syndrome. It may seem like dedication, but more often it’s a sign of insecurity and procrastination. If you struggle with “never finished” feelings, ask a friend to help you set and stick to priorities.


Secrets of Exceptional Classroom Management

Keep rules few but firm. Trying to dictate every contingency only encourages students to regard all rules as arbitrary. Choose no more than six “inviolables,” then begin each new term by introducing those rules and inviting class discussion about whether anything should be added.

Then, be consistent in enforcing the rules! This doesn’t mean you should refuse to hear anyone’s side of the story—but insist on consequences in all but the most unarguable extenuating circumstances. If you regularly ignore or dismiss violations, students will lose respect for the rules and for you.

Get to know your students as individuals. This applies double to anyone who comes in labeled as slow, difficult, or even “angelic.” They need to see themselves as multifaceted people with much to offer the group.

Schedule regular breaks to release pent-up energy. In addition to stand-up-and-stretch breaks, consider “daydreaming” breaks and “mingle and chatter” breaks.

Keep the classroom uncluttered. Give everyone room to move about and maintain a clear view of everyone else.