Inquiry Interview: Danita Stewart, Middle School Math and Science Teacher

When I asked Danita how she best deals with defiant or disruptive behaviour, she explained that it almost never happens in her class. Partially, this is because she spends the first few weeks of her year building community, but it also relates to the straight-forwards way she runs her classes, her emphasis on making learning fun, and her relationship with the students in general.

One key element of community building is writing a social contract. Danita encourages the kids to co-write, and then sign, the social contract that they have written. This means that she doesn’t set the rules for her class, instead, the students keep each other accountable to the contract they designed. She explained that this social contract not only helps the kids think critically about what qualifies as ideal classroom behaviour, but it also gives them context for the kind of unspoken social contracts they will have to learn to navigate as adults.

Danita also makes her classes as accessible and straightforward for the students as possible. She runs her own blog with all the homework outlined for each class, and uses remind.com to alert her students to upcoming homework. She uses a grade outline that breaks down every letter grade into expectations and language that is accessible to students. This means that her students are rarely ever shocked or upset by their grade, since they already know if/when their work has reached a certain grade standard.

She also mentioned that teachers have a responsibility to make their lessons engaging for the students. She explained, “The less time there is to be bored or disengaged the better! That being said, not every lesson will be exciting. I try to make sure I break up each class into different activities to keep them engaged.  In math, using the whiteboards helps keep them involved and accountable.  I like hands on, investigation type activities and I find most kids stay on task with little management if the tasks are interesting.”

Ultimately, Danita emphasized treating your students like real people. If you joke around with them and actually invest in a relationship and you will have a much better result than trying to force them to do something.

Check out Danita’s blog by clicking here.
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