Great piece today from OECD (the organization that produces the PISA assessments and where one of education’s true super heroes, Andreas Schleicher, works) on order in the classroom. It summarizes the results of their study and analysis of school across all nations participating in the 2009 PISA. The findings are clear, direct and unambiguous. I summarized them below in five direct quotations from the report. Short discussion after each is my own.
1) “The disciplinary climate in schools is strongly related to student performance.”
If you teach or lead a school in most places you probably already know this. At least I hope you do. Important to note, though, that order does not create achievement by itself. it “relates to it” meaning, in my mind, it sets teachers up to be able to teach real content and hold students to academic expectations. One of the challenges of order for school leaders is remembering that establishing order is the first step not the end product. Surely some of us walk by the orderly classrooms, look in the window, and think, “Good. I don’t have to worry about that one,” and on down the hall we go. Rather we should think, “Good, this class is primed to take advantage of more guidance towards excellent instruction.” And then we should open the door and walk in.
2) “Most students in most PISA-participating countries and economies enjoy orderly classrooms.”
So many people will try to convince you that establishing an orderly environment is done “to” kids. That it’s a fight against them. That it represses them in some way. This report underscores two of the reasons why that’s merely an oft-told lie. 1) An orderly classroom respects kids by helping them achieve and 2) They actually like being in places where the behavior of others is predictable, held within limits, and where they are free of having to test limits themselves. Some people assume that the culture that arises when adults don’t responsibly and actively shape the classroom is “youth culture” and that it’s “theirs” (meaning the kids’) … but it’s not theirs. What exists is a lack of culture or a version of it that rushes into the vacuum. That version reflects the lowest common denominator and most kids don’t like it either. So let’s not insult them by calling a lack of culture “their culture” All kids deserve classrooms that respect their interest in learning but most kids LIKE it too. They want to be able to think about school things.
3) “Orderly classrooms are not ends in themselves; they seem to be preconditions for learning.”
A simple but important reminder to those of us who work hard to make sure classrooms are orderly positive and productive. The purpose is not order; the order is a means to an end and the end is achievement. The first time a teacher who’s struggled with order gets his kids to line up, there’s a part of him that will want to keep them in that tidy line where for a few minutes his day becomes rational and calm. We’ve always got to move quickly to get him to understand that the goal is not to keep students in line but to get them through the line as quickly and quietly as we can so we can get to the learning on the other side. Orderly climate sets the table for a banquet. Without the banquet the table loses its purpose.
4) “In 31 countries and economies, schools with a more positive disciplinary climate tend to perform better. In other words, disciplinary climate is one of the few school-level characteristics that show a significant positive relationship with performance consistently across countries.”
Order matters in 31 countries. It matters across cultures and socio-economic statuses. Interestingly, the author’s describe it as a “school-level characteristic.” The best schools see it that way too– they don’t leave it to individual teachers to frame expectations (the result of that is a school where expectations are inconsistent and therefore not really expectations) and they don’t leave teachers on an island to build and reinforce culture. They put systems into place to support and guide teachers to success as a group. Establishing a vibrant, positive, orderly climate is the shared work and shared responsibility of every member of a school organization.
5) “Results from PISA suggest that a positive disciplinary climate in school can reduce the impact of a student’s socio-economic status on his or her performance.”
Some people like to argue that schools and teachers that believe in order and work to establish order use it to keep certain classes of kids down, that it’s repressive. Now we can refute them in one tidy, data-driven sentence.