Self-Management – the catch phrase of Education

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The term Self management seems to have become a ‘catch-phrase’ in education, a synonym for self-control and self directed student learning. However, sometimes I feel that this phrase is being thrown around the classroom, with little thought for the most important people – the students.

Here are some key questions for you as an educator to think about: what is self management? What does it look like in the classroom?Is it “edu-speak” that students will never understand?

I challenge you to ask your students what it means.

Most students you come across know what they consider to be good and bad behaviour in the classroom. Any child who has ever been admonished by an adult for inappropriate behaviour will have that behaviour firmly engraved in their mind as “BAD”. Yet the teacher or adult may not have revealed what it looks like to be good or how to correct their error.

The meaning behind self management in a classroom may be lost on the majority of the school population. Some may give you a blank stare or a “what’s that mean?”, while others may answer “being good”, and a select few may be able to reel off a list of pre-determined success criteria that have been drilled into them from the moment they stepped into school. Sad – isn’t it?

So then – What is self management?

As a 5 year old I would probably think it was some silly adult thing that had no implication for my life. Learning needs to be authentic and “MEAN” something to students or it will have no impact on them. As teacher we need to enable students, by helping them to find best way to get the most out of their learning.

How can we make this idea of “self-management” more real for students?

Here is a small suggestion – what if the students were to come up with the rules?

First of all, find out what the students already know about positive behaviour for learning. Give them some credit – they probably know more about each other and how to act in a classroom than you may think. Ask them to be specific – for example “Billy, how do I know when you are interested in your learning?”, OR “Jill, what happens when you get distracted? Why do you think that might be?”. Come up with a concrete list of behaviours that you will see the students doing in class.

Secondly, ask them to come up with a list of actions/consequences they will receive if they go off task. The key here is that the students are now full participants in creating and setting classroom expectations around how they can manage themselves. The consequences for not managing themselves need to be fair and agreed upon with the students. Student efficacy and ownership of the classroom are cornerstones for a successful learning environment. We all want a say in what happens to us, and I have never met an adult or child that likes to be dictated to.

Finally, put the list up somewhere students can see. YAY – you have validated their learning – Great work.Not only will it look pretty but the display can be referred back to as many times as necessary over the year and will give the students a sense of ownership over their classroom.

A note of caution – a good teacher is someone who knows their students and can effectively differentiate the learning opportunities to create the best learning environment. Learning to manage your learning is an extremely important skill and does not happen instantaneously.

Remember it is a process of repeated experiences. A wise teacher puts effort into building relationships, collecting, collating and enacting data (about students’ achievement) and finding/selecting tools that will engage students’ thinking and scaffold learning effectively.

Students will only be able to self manage when the learning is set at the right level of challenge for them. Of course E-learning tools, cool displays, funky resources, and exciting visuals add Fun to the classroom with a capital F! But these are no use at all if they don’t engage and challenge students appropriately.

During my past two years of teaching, I found that once foundation skills for student directed self-management, active problem solving and taking initiative were set in place – my role became more about guiding and “facilitating” learning. My intermediate (11, 12 and 13 year old) students were very capable of managing and creating their own learning opportunities, once they had the necessary experience to make it happen.

Some interesting follow up articles: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/ed-tech-worth-the-hype-bob-lenzhttp://www.edutopia.org/blog/positive-not-punitive-part-1-larry-ferlazzohttp://www.edutopia.org/blog/reframing-seeing-new-way-richard-curwin.

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