School Mental Health Project

Opening the classroom door


Mother to son:
     Time to get up and go to school.

      I don't want to go. It's too hard and the kids don't like me.

     But you have to go you're their teacher.


One teacher and a classroom full of students is not an optimal learning or teaching situation.

It is important to understand the many reasons why this is so.

It is essential to change the situation by taking steps to "open the classroom door."

Good teaching calls for teachers working closely with other teachers and school personnel, as well as with parents, professionals-in- training, volunteers, and so forth. Collaboration and teaming are key facets of mobilizing and enabling learning. These practices allow teachers to broaden the resources and strategies available in and out of the classroom to enhance learning and performance.

Opening the classroom door is key to effective mentoring and collegial practices. It enables demonstrating and discussing new approaches, guiding initial practice and eventual implementation, and following up to improve and refine teaching.

Schools also can use specialist personnel (e.g., school psychologists, counselors, social workers, resource teachers) to mentor and demonstrate rather than pursuing traditional consultant roles. That is, instead of telling teachers about how to address student learning, behavior, and emotional problems, specialists can be trained to go into classrooms to model and guide teachers in implementing new practices to engage and re-engage students in learning.

Moreover, opening the classroom door allows for adding a variety of assistance and useful partnerships. Student learning is neither limited to what is formally taught nor to time spent in classrooms. It occurs whenever and wherever the learner interacts with the surrounding environment. All facets of the community provide opportunities; anyone in the community who wants to facilitate learning might be a contributing teacher. When a classroom successfully joins with its surrounding community, everyone has the opportunity to learn and to teach. Indeed, most schools do their job better when they are an integral and positive part of the community.

The array of people who might be of assistance are:

A Case in Point

Chronically, teachers find classroom instruction disrupted by some student who is less interested in the lesson than in interacting with a classmate. The first tendency usually is to use some simple form of social control to stop the disruptive behavior (e.g., using proximity and/or a mild verbal intervention). Because so many students today are not easily intimidated, teachers find such strategies do not solve the problem. So, the next steps escalate the event into a form of Greek tragedy. The teacher reprimands, warns, and finally sends the student to "time-out" or to the front office for discipline. And, the lesson usually is disrupted.

In contrast to this scenario, teachers can train an aide (if they have one) or a volunteer who has the ability to interact with students to focus on these youngsters. Specifically, the aide or volunteer should be taught to go and sit next to any youngster when a problem starts to emerge. The focus is on re-engaging the student in the lesson. If this proves undoable, the next step involves taking the student for a walk. It is true that this means the student won't get the benefit of instruction during that period, but s/he wouldn't anyway. And, not having to shift into a discipline mode has multiple benefits. For one, the teacher is able to carry out the day's lesson. For another, the other students do not have the experience of seeing the teacher having a control contest with a student. (Even if a teacher wins such contests, it may have a negative effect on how students perceive the teacher; and if the teacher somehow "loses it," that definitely conveys a wrong message. Either outcome can be counterproductive with respect to a caring climate and a sense of community.) Finally, there has not been a negative encounter with the student. Such encounters build up negative attitudes on both sides which can be counterproductive to future teaching, learning, and behavior. Because there has been no negative encounter, the teacher can reach out to the student after the lesson is over and start to think about how to use an aide or volunteers to work with the student to prevent future problems addressing problems.

Want to know more?

First, browse the Center Newsletter article entitled: Opening the Classroom Door (fall, 1998).

Then, go to the Center website's Quick Find on:
Classroom Focused Enabling
Environments that support learning
Volunteers in Schools

Also, see previous hot topics.

Each topic provides a host of relevant online documents.

Finally, see the various Center documents on providing learning supports to address barriers to learning.

Back to Hot Topic Home Page

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School Mental Health Project-UCLA
Center for Mental Health in Schools
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