Classroom management with Strathfield Girls High School – What works best podcast

This podcast was originally published 13 October 2020.

This podcast is part of an eight-part series. In this podcast, Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, dives into what classroom management looks like in practice and why it is important at Strathfield Girls High School.

Mark Scott speaks with Strathfield Girls High School Principal, Angela Lyris, and students

Classroom management with Strathfield Girls High –

Transcript

Intro: Welcome to a special CESE podcast series on the ‘What works best: 2020

update’. For eight exclusive episodes join the Secretary of the NSW

Department of Education, Mark Scott, as he speaks with schools and

students, like me, about effective teaching practices that support student

academic achievements. This week’s topic is on classroom management

with Strathfield Girls High School.

Mark Scott: Well, I’m here talking with Angela Lyris, the Principal of Strathfield

Girls High School, and students from the school, about classroom

management, which is one of the What works best themes. And

we’re going to talk about how classroom management looks in

practice at their school. Hi, Angela. Tell me, what does a wellmanaged classroom look like, and why is classroom management

so important?

Angela Lyris: Hi Mark. Thank you for the opportunity for allowing me to share our story

with our colleagues. Firstly, I’d like to start by saying that a well-managed

classroom has a positive learning environment that inspires all students to

achieve their personal best in the learning process. Also, it’s about every

student maximising their learning time in every classroom where every

teacher ensures that every student in the classroom is engaged and

actively participating in the lesson. I strongly believe there are some key

factors that you would see as a casual observer in any classroom where

well-managed classrooms exist. And one of the first things that you would

see would be a clearly defined learning intent from the outset of the

lesson; the teacher having established the learning context; the students

understanding clearly what is going to be achieved during the lesson.

I think the other thing that is extremely important is the deliberate

sequencing of activities that are going to take part during that lesson,

and the learning resources available to the students have to be varied,

they have to be appropriate, they have to engage students and

differentiate so every student is able to access the lesson content. But the

most important thing that I think as educators, and what I strive for as

leader at Strathfield Girls High School to do, is to build those positive

relationships where the students and the teachers are working together to

achieve the best for the student.

What I mean there is, it is my expectation that every teacher is a leader in

their classroom and they know every student, they know their strengths,

they know their areas for further development, and they’re working

together to improve those learning outcomes. And I think if students feel

comfortable with those relationships, they’re willing to take risks, they’re

willing to engage a lot more than what they would if they didn’t have those

positive relationships.

Mark Scott: How do the teachers at Strathfield Girls address student

disengagement?

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Angela Lyris: Like every school, we have a discipline policy, and it is our expectation

that our students engage. We call it “commitment to learning.” So, at the

beginning of every academic year as Principal, I take every cohort through

our expectations. So, we start off with the commitment to learning, the

behaviour code, the department’s behaviour code, and a whole range of

other areas that we feel that our community and our students need to

know what is expected when you come to school, when you visit a

classroom, and what the consequences are if you are not adhering to the

standard of behaviour that we expect.

One of the things we’ve done is about four years ago we monitored and

tracked every student in the school from Year 7 to 12. We used the traffic

light system where green means the student has achieved growth, and

we’ve used the amber system which means there has been some growth

but not sufficient. And the red means that we need to put some

intervention strategies in place and we need to get our specialist teachers

to support us in providing that additional support for students who have not

at the moment progressed in the learning process as we have expected.

A critical factor also in all of this is student voice. As Principal, I pride

myself in interviewing all students in Year 7 to 12, and to listen to what

they have to say about their learning. And they’re very honest; they tell you

exactly what they think, they give you suggestions. We’ve just finished

Year 7, Semester 1, and they’ve talked about their learning experience,

including COVID which I can honestly say that my heart goes out to poor

Year 7, they’ve had a very difficult time. I mean, they arrived, they had an

orientation program, and then everybody went online, and so many of

them felt so lost in the process. And we’ve learned a lot from that.

But I think, you know, going back to your question, it is about identifying

wellbeing needs. A lot of our students in today’s society, they come to

school, school’s the only safe place, and they want somebody to be able

to support them with the other issues that they are currently facing. So, I

think, you know, how you communicate that information effectively to the

rest of the staff where a student doesn’t feel in any way that everybody

knows what is happening in their life, but they are able to engage in the

learning process after you have addressed the wellbeing issues that are a

priority, and hopefully the staff are committed to ensuring that that student

has the additional support that they need to succeed.

Mark Scott: Can I just ask on the staffing question, I think some of the feedback

we get is that teachers in the initial part of their career, one of the

great shocks, in a sense, you can do your initial teacher education,

but landing in a classroom, the classroom management challenge is

very significant. And also, I think we know that if a particular teacher

is struggling with classroom management, that can have an impact,

not just on the kids in their class, but on the whole learning

environment, and in other classes as well. How do you support your

staff to develop effective classroom management skills?

Angela Lyris: I support my staff because I believe, you know, you’re absolutely right

when you talk about beginning teachers. I have a couple here and it’s true

to say that that is an area that every beginning teacher struggles when

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they first start their teaching career. One of the things that I do is, I believe

in visible leadership, and I’ve said to the teachers that I’m going to walk

into your classroom. “Please, it’s not about you; I’m here to support you, to

talk to the girls.”

And what I did a couple of a weeks ago, I walked into this Year 9 class,

and there were five girls that were misbehaving. Now, those girls were

removed from the class and we had a one-on-one discussion. And I think

what’s really important is that a beginning teacher needs to fully

understand the school’s discipline policy. When you talk to students

individually, and our policy, we ask the students to reflect on their

behaviour. We ask them to think about how could they have done things

differently? And we ask them to say, “Well okay, when you go back into

that next lesson, what are you going to do?”

Now, after having those interviews with the five girls, I went and had a

one-on-one interview with the teacher, because I knew she was feeling

very, very nervous about the Principal coming into her class and removing

five of the students. Now, I explained to her that I walk around, she’s new

in the school, I walk around, she doesn’t need to be concerned about

anything, but it is important that we provide her with the support that she

needs to be successful in the classroom. Now, the teacher came back,

and obviously I worked with the head teacher, and said, we asked her,

“What can we do to support you?” And sitting down with the head teacher

and having that discussion then allowed us, we worked out a plan that is

supporting this beginning teacher to address some of the discipline issues

that she’s having in that classroom.

I must say, those five girls were angels in the following lesson, so

tomorrow I’m out to visit the class again. So, I think that constant

reinforcement of what our school rules are, of what are our expectations,

referring back to our policies, I think it’s essential to have the policy as the

backbone of everything that we do, because that’s the perimeters to have

the discussion.

CESE is doing a great job with the research and providing us the

framework for us to have the discussion and provide the professional

learning to staff that will support them, and give them the opportunity. I’m

going to change the framework for our meetings in 2021, because I want

to give staff more of the opportunity in using the ‘What works best’. I had

implemented that the first time it came out, but I’m going to do it very

differently this time because I want staff to engage in discussion, and then

go back and implement something, and then come back and discuss it

across faculties. “What worked? What didn’t work? Why didn’t it work?”

Mark Scott: Terrific!

Angela Lyris: That’s great, Mark. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

Mark Scott: See you, take care.

Angela Lyris: Thank you.

Mark Scott: Students, three of you. Hello Annabelle in the middle, how are you?

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Annabelle Knight

Year 12 student: Hello.

Mark Scott: Saresha. Hello Sofiia how are you on the end there? Let’s talk about

learning at Strathfield Girls. How do your teachers create and

maintain a positive learning environment?

Annabelle Knight: So, the teachers at Strathfield Girls High School are extremely dedicated

and enthusiastic in their subjects. They go above and beyond to provide

us with opportunities to excel, and they like to make sure that we

understand the content and skills taught in class really well. The teachers

at Strathfield Girls High School, my teachers, are so supportive and

encouraging, and they put so much effort into making sure each and every

single student in the classroom feels like they belong. So, for example, the

teachers will often encourage girls to speak up and express their own

personal opinions, and by doing this, they cultivate individual development

and they can create meaningful conversations within the classroom.

Mark Scott: How do the teachers keep you on track? I mean, there are a million

distractions that are out there. How do your teachers work to keep

you all on task on the job at hand, the work at hand, the work that

needs to be done?

Annabelle Knight: That’s a really good point, because there are a lot of distractions in today’s

classroom with all the mobile phones and music. And I think it’s important

the teachers set the standards at the beginning of the class. They’ll tell us

what they expect of us, and they’ll also remind us why we’re here, why

we’re getting education, why this is important to us, and why we should

care.

Mark Scott: Any other thoughts from the other students there on ways your

teachers keep you on task in the classroom?

Saresha Mangalath

Year 10 student: At the end of every topic we do, our teachers normally get us to do an

evaluation of what we thought we liked, what we enjoyed, what we might

want to change next time, and what we really found interesting. So, for the

next students and the next topic we can do, they will add those points in to

the curriculum. So, everything is quite tailored to us, so we know what

we’re doing and we can enjoy it a lot.

Mark Scott: Let me ask about that. I think there might be many teachers or

anyone, even in a work environment, where you ask for feedback but

you don’t really want feedback, particularly if it’s kind of critical;

you’ve worked hard to be able to deliver it. How do your teachers

create an environment where you feel safe to give honest feedback

on what your experience has been like in the classroom?

Saresha Mangalath: Well, we create trust with our teachers, and we know that if they’re giving

us feedback, they want us to improve next time we do something, next

time we do an assessment task, an assignment, homework, whatever it is.

So, we know that they want us to improve, to improve our skills, improve

our knowledge. So, that trust really does help us to stay on track.

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Sofia Nolan

Year 9 student: And with our teachers, we have a very friendship kind of relationship with

them. It’s not like they’ve left this gap between us, it’s not like student and

teacher only; it’s more like we can talk to them about if ever there’s any

problems that we have. And especially in terms of school, like if we have

any problem with the content that we’re being taught, a lot of our teachers

offer programs where we can go to the library and they’ll help us with any

homework that we have, or we can book a meeting with them if we have

any problems with the content they’re teaching us. And it’s not just strictly

to do with the content; it’s to do with our wellbeing as well, like if we have

any problems. A lot of our teachers will refer us to the counsellor, or we

can talk to them or our Year Advisor. And we’re really close to all our

teachers, so Strathfield Girls offers a really nice environment that’s really

comforting for everyone.

Sofia Nolan: Thank you so much.

Mark Scott: Thank you.

Annabelle Knight: Thank you.

Saresha Mangalath: Thank you

Sofia Nolan: Thank you so much.

Mark Scott: See you.

Outro: Thanks for listening to this special ‘What works best’ podcast series,

produced by the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation or CESE.

Tune in next week or subscribe to listen to the next episode.

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