Recipe for a Successful Classroom

Classroom baking leads to success

My daughter enjoys making cookies. She has a specific recipe that she relies on, but it’s a recipe she had to modify until she produced the type of product she was proud to serve. I am usually her baking assistant, so I’ve been with her through many successful and disastrous batches.

We’ve both learned a lot about making cookies, but as I looked at her list of ingredients I began to think about different classrooms I have observed in my career. Like my daughter’s cookies, some were phenomenal and others were dreadful. Perhaps there was a winning recipe to producing the best classroom environment.

Start with two cups of curriculum mastery

Anyone familiar with the work of educational authors Richard and Rebecca DuFour knows that the first question any professional learning community should ask is “what do we want our students to learn?” This question appears to be very simple. But to be able to answer this question thoroughly, a teacher needs to have confidence in their understanding of what they teach.

Curriculum mastery does not evolve overnight and requires more than just reciting the textbook. The foundation of any successful classroom is a clear vision of what students should be able to master by the end of the school year and beyond. College and career readiness should be in the back of a teacher’s mind as they delve into the content strands. Considering how to directly connect learning to life goals beyond the classroom will help validate what is being taught to the students.

Some teachers may be fortunate enough to have curriculum maps or other supportive documents provided to them while others may need to create their own. Regardless of the resources, a great teacher recognizes that curriculum mastery is a career-long journey.

Just as the flour in my daughter’s cookies binds all the ingredients together, confidence in the ability to work with curriculum is what binds all the other ingredients of a successful classroom.

Add one cup of classroom management

I always enjoy talking with first-year teachers who see classroom management as a minor issue they will need to address in their preparation for their inaugural school year. Some talk about using the “iron fist” where the kids will be scared straight from day one. Others plan to use the “light touch” method of friendship over policy. While both of these approaches have probably found success in a few classrooms, typically when I follow up after just one month the majority of these new teachers have had to drastically rethink their systems.

Classroom management is so easy to overlook because it sounds so simple in its design. “I’m the teacher. I make the rules. The kids follow the rules. Everyone is happy.” Unfortunately, when you are working with the various personalities of a large group of students, classroom management can become much more involved.

Educational researcher Robert Marzano has spent a great deal of time studying classroom management. He provides a meta-analysis of four key components for classroom management:

  • Rules and procedures
  • Disciplinary interventions
  • Teacher-student relationships
  • Mental set

Each component is as important as the next and requires consideration, planning, and flexibility. Without realistic and meaningful rules coupled with consistent procedures, students won’t have a clear understanding of how the classroom functions and what their role is in the learning environment. Rewards and consequences (disciplinary interventions) that are inconsistent or inappropriate can damage the validity of the classroom management system and destroy the teacher-student relationship, which is an important component of student learning.

Blend two tablespoons of feedback and collaboration

When I first took my daughter shopping for her cookie ingredients, we spent a lot of time talking about price and quality. We looked at a variety of chocolate chips and had meaningful discussions about how not all chocolate chips taste the same.

A similar discussion could occur with teachers when it comes to the quality of feedback and collaboration that exists within a school. Teacher evaluation occurs in classrooms everywhere, yet the quality of feedback that is received varies greatly. The primary purpose of an evaluation is to grow employees, can only happen with meaningful feedback and the opportunity for professional growth.

It’s important for all educators to know they have a right to receive actionable feedback, but feedback can come from more than one location. An effective educator is willing to learn and share from those around them. Collaboration is more than just sharing supplies or talking informally about work. True collaboration happens when teachers are willing to work together in an effort to solve problems and improve themselves professionally.

Not sure how to begin the collaboration process? Refer to these questions that Richard and Rebecca DuFour pose in their writing:

  • How will we know that students have reached mastery of a concept?
  • How will we intervene on behalf of a student who doesn’t reach mastery?

Don’t forget a dash of fun

My daughter doesn’t bake cookies for our family; she does it for the animals. She will bake dozens upon dozens of cookies and sell them to people to raise money for the local animal shelter. While everyone enjoys her chocolate chip cookies, the most frequent comment she receives is how much they love the little bit of sea salt she sprinkles on top of each cookie.

We get into the education business because we want to make a difference in the lives of children. This desire to connect with this population often becomes clouded by assessment requirements, report card due dates, lunch duties, etc.

It’s easy to bypass on the part of the job that is so rewarding, which is making a child smile. A student will work hard for you if they believe you truly care about them. One of the easiest ways to do this is to infuse some fun into their day. This doesn’t require you to arrive at work in a clown costume (which teachers have been known to do), but it may require a little planning and the proper mindset. For many children, school is the only safe place they know. You have the opportunity to make it a place they love.

Dr. Jason Perez is the executive director of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness for the Oklahoma State Department of Education with 14 years of educational and administrative experience at the elementary level. He also serves as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas University.

Learn More: Click to view related resources.
  • Richard DuFour, Rebecca Dufour, Robert Eaker, "Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work," Solution Tree Inc.
  • Robert Marzano, "Classroom Management that Works," ASCD