Academic Discipline Articles

New Teachers: How to Develop “The Look”

By Rebecca Alber

September 1, 2016

Check out this effective, non-verbal tactic for managing students without calling anyone out in front of the class. While taking teacher preparation courses, I was lucky enough to sign up for a class with Dr. Sharroky Hollie, who is the author of the book, Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning.

The course was on classroom management, specifically for new teachers working in urban public schools. There are several things that really stuck with me from the class, and they have stayed with me all these years. For one, Dr. Hollie brought in a community member to talk to us about gangs and the history of gangs in Los Angeles. We also learned about tagging (the messages it sends and its purposes), as well as reasons behind kids being drawn into this life.

We were taught the importance of always having an activity during those crucial first minutes of class, and for Dr. Hollie, it was silent reading. Each class, we were to bring something to read, and we would all spend the first 10 minutes reading silently and share after with a neighbor what we had just read. Some of us would forget to bring a book, newspaper, or magazine (before cellphones), and it was embarrassing.

I realized later that the partial intention of this activity was to show us that, hey, we all forget sometimes (to bring a book, homework, a pencil, etc.). The other more obvious and important reason was to see the value in this activity and to use it with our students to nurture a love for independent reading.

Learning “The Look”

As for the most memorable of his lessons?

At the beginning of one of our earlier classes, Dr. Hollie asked us if we all had “The Look” down yet. Most of us glanced around, confused, not sure what he meant (we were all first-year teachers). A few students understood, nodding. He then explained that it is essential that every effective teacher develop “The Look.”

He told us that this facial expression serves as a non-verbal signal to a child that you see that they are off task and talking or doing something they shouldn’t be doing (i.e. chewing gum or trying to distract another student who is trying to complete an assignment).

Dr. Hollie said, if done correctly, it conveys silently a serious warning, and it’s a great tactic for managing without calling a student out in front of the class. “The Look” should not be mean or angry, in fact, it can convey calm and is often free of any expression. He then had us practice in groups of four or five.

After much laughter and dramatics in our groups, he asked us to come to the front of the room and at the count of three, all do “The Look” we had created. The rest of the class would comment, critique, clap, and then give each group a grade — Definitely a B+. No, I’d say it was a B- because someone laughed! It was a fun activity and very informative.

I realized after that day and throughout my first year teaching that many occasions arise in the classroom when we can use this tactic (and other non-verbal ones) to signal to students that we are cognizant of their behavior. Sometimes situations do not warrant words – just mere eye contact or going to stand next to where a student is seated will do.

Non-verbal classroom management tactics like these help keep everyone’s dignity intact in the room, as calling out students’ behaviors in front of the class can be embarrassing for the child. (That conversation is better and more effective one-on-one with the student once the bell rings.)

Does It Work?

Over the years I taught high school English, I had a number of students comment to me about “The Look.” They told me they would consciously avoid doing something erroneous that might get it sent their way.

They understood it was something I did not do often, but when I did, it was serious and that the student was not going unseen — that she was accountable.

To new teachers: Now is the time to practice. Do so with a colleague and take turns. Coach each other, and also practice in the mirror and fine tune that expression that conveys – “I see you. I’m on your side, but you know what the task is at hand.” What non-verbal (or verbal) classroom management tactics do you find helpful that you can suggest to novice teachers?



Zero Tolerance or Restorative Justice?

By David Sortino


The Obama administration’s push to eliminate a zero-tolerance discipline philosophy in American public schools was long overdue.

Zero tolerance is a tool that became popular in the 1990s, supporting uniform and swift punishment for offenses such as truancy, smoking or possession of a weapon. Violators could lose classroom time and even be saddled with a criminal record. The recommendations encouraged schools to ensure that all school personnel be trained in classroom management, conflict resolution and approaches to de-escalate classroom disruptions.

According to Attorney General Eric Holder, “the problem with a zero-tolerance philosophy is that it often stems from well-intentioned zero-tolerance policies that too often injected the criminal justice system into the resolution of problems.”

Police have become a more common presence in American schools since the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999. However, what was missing from the administration’s anti-zero-tolerance presentation is a more concrete approach that teachers and/or school personnel could adopt as an alternative to zero tolerance, such as restorative justice.

I first experienced the restorative justice philosophy when I worked as a consultant in juvenile corrections. Victims would meet perpetrators with the intention of creating a sense of emotional empathy between the two parties. That is, the perpetrator’s meeting in a face-to-face conversation with the victim, an actual living, breathing person, hopefully caused the perpetrator to no longer commit crimes against others.

Statistics from one study describes the effectiveness of restorative justice and recidivism. In the first year, the restorative justice offenders had a recidivism rate of 15 percent compared to 38 percent for the probation group. In the second year the respective rates were 28 percent and 54 percent. By the third year, the rates were 35 percent and 66 percent.

Again, the problem with the White House recommendation is that it did not specifically recommend restorative justice as a successful alternative to zero tolerance, which in my opinion is an appropriate solution. Brain scientists have known for years the positive effects restorative justice can have on negative behavior, particularly with the adolescent’s brain. Again, one major difference between zero tolerance and restorative justice programs is that the dialogue is a face-to-face discussion about a problem. Face-to-face meetings stimulate the brain’s hippocampus which in turn stimulates higher centers of the brain, potentially leading to rational thinking. Conversely, zero tolerance is based on law and order or rules that are set up by authority figures, using punishment to obtain adherence.

A Washington state study showed that 75 percent of adult offenders had spent time in juvenile hall in their earlier lives. Was zero tolerance or some other ineffective school discipline part of the cause of such a high percentage of recidivism?

A Colorado high school, which has 75 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced lunches, showed a dramatic decrease in school violence after it enacted restorative justice as a form of discipline – from 263 physical violence incidences in 2007 to 31 in 2013-14.

Further, the restorative justice program at the Colorado high school has shown not only decreased suspension rates but has also resulted in a nearly 50 percent drop in absenteeism and a 60 percent decrease in tardiness.

In short, the reason why the Colorado restorative justice program works is simply that it is a more rational approach than zero tolerance in dealing with teen violence in schools.

 David Sortino, a Graton resident, is a psychologist and retired teacher.


Why I’ve ‘Softened’ My Classroom-Management Style

By Joanna Schimizzi


On a Monday, it was a student in the back of the room on her cell phone. On another day, it was a student with his head down. And in that same week, a third student was dancing while hearing imaginary music. Throughout this year and last, when students were off-task or acting inappropriately, I found myself becoming very upset … at myself.

I constantly felt there was more that I needed to be doing to motivate them, engage them, and support them in making good decisions. All three instances resulted in the students having a “time out” in the hall to reflect; a follow-up discussion with me; and lunch detention. And while I was seeing incremental improvements in my students’ behaviors, I kept thinking … Wasn’t I supposed to be using more forceful strategies to get quicker results? Shouldn’t I be raising my voice to make a point? Calling security to have them removed? Writing a referral for not following the rules?

So now I keep wondering … When did I become a softie?

Regular feedback from my students also makes me think about this situation. I often have them write me letters of reflection so I can gain insight into how they feel class is going for them. Several students have told me they think I should throw more students out of class because of their disruptive behaviors. And I keep wondering … Is having a phone out disruptive enough to remove you from class? When you are removed from class, what do you gain that day?

Definitely not any knowledge on a topic like DNA transcription that we were learning in class during the time you were gone. So you probably can’t do the homework. And when you come in the next day, you might be able to copy the notes, but they most likely won’t make any sense. And today, we’re only reviewing transcription for about 10 minutes before we go on to translation. So now this doesn’t make any sense to you. You are now two days behind and likely to continue falling behind. You can’t stay after school because you don’t have a ride. When will you ever catch up?

Ineffective Punishments

So I guess I became a softie when I realized that the “punishments” we use in schools were not only ineffective, but also dramatically more damaging than we might realize. I think my “softness” came after a useful session with the advocacy group America Achieves. We were looking at research about the importance of holding students accountable for their actions. We want to ensure that students see the impact of their choices. What we really want to do is to help students make the right choices.

But our traditional methods are NOT working. Sending kids out of class or out of school doesn’t set them up to be successful when they return. Those “punishments” knock them further down the ladder they are trying to climb.

The America Achieves session introduced the idea of restorative justice – an approach that aims to provide accountability, community safety, and competency development. We also heard about the amazing work of Jose Huerta at James A. Garfield High School in Los Angeles, where they have shifted suspension rates and seen the student-achievement and graduation numbers climb dramatically. Huerta was featured in an NPR Radio article and he says “The school’s attendance rates are in the 96th percentile, the graduation rate is higher than the district as a whole.” He then adds, “We just got word … that 27 of our students were accepted to UCLA. That’s the highest of any high school in California.” The work required to make this happen is complex, challenging, and time-intensive, but possible.

So instead of sending a student to in-school suspension, restorative justice encourages educators to help students see how their behaviors are disruptive and damaging. This is why I chose to treat my student differently when he called out across the room. I suggested he spend some time separated from the class and then asked him to write a letter reflecting on why his behavior disturbed class. Once he felt focused enough to rejoin the class, the two of us shared a dialogue about his behavior. When I asked what he felt he should do to restore his responsibility, he suggested helping clean desks during class change.

If you need an example of why we should all be interested in restorative justice in our schools, look to the recent news. We are all closely following the situation at Spring Valley High in Columbia, S.C. While all of the details surrounding the incident have not been shared, it is shocking for many of us to see a student touched in such a manner. And what was even more shocking to me was that in one video, I saw adults standing there, allowing this to happen without any objections.

While I do not have a classroom full of robots that quietly sit and complete every assignment, I can make the following promises to my students. I will never let you be abused in my presence. I will never set up a system that makes it harder for you to be successful. I will always seek a way to help you make good decisions.

My heart may be soft, but my will to help my students succeed is strong.

 Joanna Schimizzi is a high school biology teacher in Charlotte, N.C. Her National Board certification and work with organizations like NAATE, America Achieves, and Student Achievement Partners are integral to her teaching practice. Joanna is also a member of the Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory.               style.html?cmp=eml-enl-tu-news1