CLEARMONT — Instruction styles have evolved since Jonathan Broersma began teaching in 2007.
Broersma, a fifth- and sixth-grade educator at Clearmont Elementary School, initially tried to manage every aspect of a classroom. Over the years, he has adapted and focused on allowing students more freedom to make mistakes and attempt to solve their own problems.
A significant reason for the evolution began last year when Sheridan County School District 3 implemented lessons from Love and Logic, a classroom management tool designed to give students more choices through positive, empathetic interactions.
“I’ve always been taught that (the) relationship is important between teacher and students,” Broersma said. “ … But this really puts into perspective how to build that relationship with the students.”
On a sign in Broersma’s room hang six Love and Logic guidelines that emphasize positive communication.
“It’s not a lot of, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that,’” Broersma said. “It’s, ‘You can do what you’d like to do as long as it doesn’t cause a problem.’”
SCSD3 superintendent Charles Auzqui initiated Love and Logic training for teachers and parents through a community partnership with the Clearmont Community Church at the beginning of the school year. He initially received Love and Logic training as a parent but said it has transitioned to the academic area fairly smoothly.
After training last August, the Clearmont Elementary School teachers decided to look more closely at Love and Logic as a book study this year. The instructors meet every Wednesday after school for professional learning communities and usually discuss a specific scenario and how they handled it with Love and Logic techniques.
“We took it upon ourselves to start managing our classrooms this way just to see what happened, and it’s worked out pretty well,” Broersma said.
The Love and Logic book mentions three types of educators: helicopter, drill sergeant and consultant. A helicopter teacher micromanages and solves problems for the students but doesn’t allow much room for independence and is often mentally drained at the end of the day. A drill sergeant controls a classroom through negative reinforcement and often talks in a threatening tone, rarely allowing students’ creativity to flourish. A consultant — the category SCSD3 teachers aim to become — sets and enforces limits and guides students to solve their own problems.
Broersma often encourages students to “fail forward” and learn from their mistakes. That was difficult initially but has improved as the year continued. The failing forward mindset also applies to Broersma, so there is some mutual respect and accountability between teacher and students. Broersma also created seven rules for himself this year for which students hold him accountable.
Broersma said putting himself in students’ shoes is a huge part of Love and Logic.
“Before you give [students] a consequence, give them a huge dose of empathy,” Broersma said. “You know, ‘I’m really sorry, that must be really hard for you. I’m sorry that this happened.’ Just show them that you care and then figure out a consequence together. It’ll make it a lot easier.”
Love and Logic emphasizes delayed discipline, where the teacher calmly tells a student there will be consequences for his or her actions.
The student usually knows what he or she did wrong and why consequences are needed, plus it gives the teacher more time to think about an appropriate type of discipline.
Ideally, it eliminates teachers raising their voices and giving the student more attention than necessary.
“Sometimes as a teacher something happens, [students] are talking out of turn and we give them a consequence right away,” Broersma said. “Sometimes that consequence doesn’t fit the crime or it’s just out of frustration or it’s just not the best decision. So telling them, ‘I’m going to have to do something about this’ or, ‘I will do something about this’ gives you time to think about it and it gives them time to think about it as well.”
Anecdotally, Auzqui said he has noticed fewer discipline issues this school year.
“It’s allowed more instructional time in the classroom so you’re not focusing on necessarily just managing kids all the time,” Auzqui said. “ … There are key points that teachers know whether to engage or not to engage.”
Broersma often tells students in a soft voice that there will be repercussions to their actions.
“I am a giant man, but when I get quiet, they know I mean business,” Broersma said.
Auzqui said this year resembles a pilot program and that the school district will likely have additional teachers work more with Love and Logic in the future.
Once this academic year ends, the district plans to have follow-up training and discuss how to work through specific scenarios.
Auzqui said the positivity does not let students get away with misbehavior but gives them more ownership and personal responsibility for their actions. It is meant to change behavior rather than merely punish bad actions.
“It is a blend,” Auzqui said. “It is a new way of teaching. It is a new way of thinking … Let [students] fall, but then pick them back up … It can’t be a free ride, but if [students] are a part of the consequences, they believe in what they’re doing, you’ll see the behavior not be repeated.
“That’s my personal belief: If the behavior is changing and the students are learning and the repeated behavior is going away, then it’s being impactful.”