AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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ER&D Resource Articles

Rules of Engagement

Training helps teachers set a classroom climate that leads to learning

High school teacher Zachary Matthews moved from teaching honors classes at a small public school to a faculty position at Central Visual and Performing Arts, a St. Louis urban magnet school that posed its own set of challenges and opportunities.

"The culture of the classroom was totally different," explains Matthews. "The kids here have more energy, and expectations of students aren't as universal" as they were in honors-track classes.

The challenge for Matthews was to set the tone for learning from the start of the school year. And it was a challenge that he was able to meet thanks in part to classroom management training he received through AFT St. Louis and its Educational Research and Dissemination (ER&D) program.

Matthews was introduced to the professional development program during his teacher orientation. "There was a sign-up sheet to have a representative come and help me set up my classroom," he remembers.

"I signed the list and never gave it a second thought until I got a phone call from [a representative] asking me when would be a good time to come in and help me," Matthews says. "I was thrilled that someone in the union actually took the time to help me start my year in a positive manner."

The training helped Matthews make choices ranging from the physical arrangement of tables, desks and chairs to strategies for conveying high expectations to students from day one. A big part of the second task, Matthews explains, is to set and reinforce rules in the early days of the school year. Even today, Matthews keeps posted on his walls the ER&D rules that helped him get the class off to a great start.

Matthews was somewhat at a loss to understand why ER&D trainers took so much time discussing the layout of his classroom. At first, he didn't realize how important the setup of student desks would be in dictating behavior management. "I quickly realized [the point] as soon as the students arrived."

Matthews also says he received great tips from the trainers when it came to his lesson plans and ways to incorporate different styles of learners in the classroom.

AFT St. Louis has heard similar stories from teachers with five or fewer years of classroom experience. This group was the focus of ER&D training at the beginning of the year, and many of those professionals joined the St. Louis affiliate as a result of the training they received. For AFT St. Louis, "it was a great opportunity to demonstrate that professional development is union work," says local president Mary Armstrong.

The effort is showing great staying power in the St. Louis school system. At least one school is preparing to launch a schoolwide program this school year aimed at safe and orderly classroom settings using strategies from ER&D.

For Matthews, the support he received through the St. Louis local has been a bright spot this school year. Many of the classroom management tips he employed can be found at in the "arranging your classroom" section.

Reprinted from American Teacher, Dec. 2007/Jan. 2008 issue.


Teachers helping teachers

"No college course prepares you for the first day of class-you just get in there and say ‘OK, what do I do now?' " says Leigh Ann Mount, who began teaching in the Jefferson County, Ala., school district this year. She did find the support she needed, however, through the Jefferson County AFT and its new Educational Research and Dissemination (ER&D) program. It translates cutting-edge research into concrete strategies for the classroom and then uses the power of the union network to circulate this information to educators at all stages of their careers. The program also includes individual follow-up, so that teachers and paraprofessionals can really make the strategies they learn stick.

"ER&D comes from real teachers-people who are in the classroom," stresses Mount, who says it's helped change the way she views the AFT.

Along with its strong research base, ER&D wins teachers' confidence because training comes from other classroom teachers, explains Wynell Gilbert, an ER&D trainer in Jefferson. Teachers take notice because "everything that is being said comes from the heart," she explains.

You can also hear excitement in Patti Senior's voice. The sixth-grade math teacher at Emerson Middle School in the Los Angeles Unified School District hasn't been active in her union that long, but she did participate last summer in national training tied to ER&D's Journey to Algebra unit. Today, she is eager to share the course's content with colleagues back home. There are strategies to help students "free up time and attention for higher-order skills."

Look for more stories like these in the future as ER&D casts a broader net across public shools, says Rob Weil, deputy director of the AFT educational issues department. The AFT's highly regarded professional development program is changing to meet the needs of AFT locals and members, he says. Working closely with the AFT department of organization and field services, ER&D is tailoring services to find the best fit in each participating local, whether it's an entire roll-out of ER&D offerings or individual units from the program. And the union also is making many of these same resources and strategies available to individual educators through the AFT online forum called t-source,

Reprinted from American Teacher, November 2007 issue.