Thirty years of research indicates classroom management has the strongest impact on student achievement. A well-managed classroom provides an environment where effective teaching and learning can thrive. Of course, that’s easy enough to say. But ask any teacher and they’ll tell you that managing a room full of 30 students — or six separate periods with 30 different students each period — is one of the most challenging aspects of teaching. It certainly was for me.
During my time as a classroom teacher, I did some research and found that one of the most important factors that contribute to successful classroom management is high-quality teacher-student relationships. In a meta-analysis of more than 100 studies, Robert J. Marzano and Jana S. Marzano (2003) found “that on average, teachers who had high-quality relationships with their students had 31% fewer discipline problems, rule violations and related problems over a year’s time than did teachers who did not have high-quality relationships with their students.”
To nurture these relationships, teachers require information that provides a “360-degree” view of students. This means teachers need more than academic performance data, although that’s certainly important. Information about special needs, interventions, behavior and character strengths is vital as well.
Collecting and analyzing all these data points by hand, however, is difficult and time-consuming. Even with technologies like student information systems or online gradebooks, many teachers still struggle to manage and organize all the information they capture every day with a homegrown maze of Excel spreadsheets and Google Docs. Further, since most technology systems aren’t designed to track student behavior and engagement on a daily basis, an important data stream for teachers is missing.
In my experience, moving back and forth between different data systems, spreadsheets and documents, or equally common, a teacher trying to keep track of everything in their head, hampers the ability to achieve a 360-degree view of each student. Rather than trying to connect an array of diverse systems, teachers would be better served by an instructional management solution that integrates the various data streams needed to holistically track student outcomes and organizes the information in a way that’s easy to understand.
In such a system, student profiles could securely display information such as age, birthday, any school-defined groups and subgroups of which the student is a member, plus a summary of academic performance in each course, links to assessment data and views of student mastery by assessment or by standard. The personal information in the profile supports teachers’ efforts to build positive teacher-student relations, while the academic data provides more clarification of which areas require remediation or enrichment.
A 360-degree student view also means that teachers have the capacity to track students’ behavior and engagement levels on a daily basis. Teachers should also be able to review other teachers’ observations and notes so they can share insights into a student’s performance throughout the school day.
It goes without saying that privacy and security of data is of paramount importance. As with all data systems, the first step must be a well-thought out plan of district- and school-wide privacy and information sharing policies that are thoroughly communicated to staff, teachers and families.
An instructional management system should also track the progress of general education students alongside their peers with special needs. With this data, teachers can spot academic or behavioral warning signs early and immediately address areas of concern, reducing the need for more intensive interventions and eliminating unnecessary referrals to special education.
Since many families now have some form of online access, teachers should also have the option to activate a parent-student portal where parents or caregivers can see their children’s most recent academic and behavioral progress.
It is important to mention that, although an instructional management solution streamlines and simplifies data collection and analysis, teachers will still benefit from professional learning to help them master data analysis and action planning. Once they receive the initial training, they can better filter and organize data to identify problems and successes. Ongoing collaboration through regularly scheduled grade-level or subject area meetings or professional learning communities is even more important that the technology itself.
By tracking student grades, standards mastery, reading growth, prescribed interventions, rubric observations, attendance and behavior within a single, secure application, teachers not only save time but also create a more transparent, collaborative environment. With 360-degree views of student performance, teachers can more fully engage students in their learning and ensure they feel respected, cared for and motivated to achieve. When students feel valued in the classroom, disruptions and discipline incidents decline and academic achievement increases.
Jennifer Medbery spent several years teaching disadvantaged children through Teach for America. She then served as a founding teacher at a New Orleans charter school, where she developed the idea for Kickboard, an instructional management solution.