Teach Like An Olympian: An Equitable, Empowering Approach

Gateway High School > Pedagogy > Teach Like An Olympian: An Equitable, Empowering Approach

According to recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Black students are more likely to be disciplined compared to all other racial/ethnic groups, for every type of disciplinary action. The largest disparities exist for in-school suspensions and out-of-school suspensions for black male students and black male students with disabilities. These racial disparities are particularly concerning given the potential implications that these disciplinary actions can have on long-term outcomes like employment and involvement in the criminal justice system. 

The racial differences in disciplinary outcomes may have many contributing factors, but research supports racial bias as the primary consideration. There is evidence that black students, especially black boys, are more likely to be monitored and reprimanded for their behavior, even when their white peers, who do not get disciplined, also exhibit the same behavior. This suggests a failure in classroom management – how teachers and staff approach keeping students focused and productive in the learning environment is evidently inequitable.

Educators should create a classroom that allows every student to learn, grow, and be challenged. But, as this data suggests, many classrooms are environments where racial minorities are faced with excessive, unfair corrective discipline and excluded from the opportunities for in-class learning. Education thought leaders like Ilana Horn refer to this practice of teaching as “carceral” pedagogy

What is carceral pedagogy?

Carceral pedagogy is a method of teaching that goes beyond the necessary corrective discipline and too often makes students feel guilty, embarrassed, or fearful in effort to get them to adjust their behavior. This is widely practiced largely due to popular teaching guides, created for urban schools, that focus on maximizing orderly and structured teaching time by training students to act and respond in a particular way. 

Specifically, the best-selling book, Teach Like A Champion, claims that instilling “working class behavioral norms” with this sort of corrective disciplinary action will enable students in urban schools to achieve postsecondary success. However, when the focus is on control, correction, and compliance, these students are not empowered to learn in the way that works best for them and they are not able to take initiative or advocate for themselves. Instead, they learn obedience and unquestioning compliance. At its worst, this regulation of student behavior in the classroom directly mimics mass incarceration techniques that, too, debilitate and disproportionately affect minority communities.

At Gateway High School, we believe the purpose of education is to equip all students with the tools, education, and confidence to have success in college, trade school, career, or whatever postsecondary opportunity they would like to pursue. Rules about behavior have very little to do with learning, and can be dehumanizing and undermine the dignity of students. 

The reality is that students come from varied circumstances and all sorts of backgrounds, so it’s important that educators and staff are willing and able to create an inclusive learning environment at school that supports every student. Ultimately, diverse communities should help teachers, staff, and administrators to challenge our mindsets and embrace every student for who they are. 

Teaching practices that work

Teaching requires intelligence, creativity, and mindful attention to every single student. With appropriate, informed, and equitable resources, it is possible to utilize classroom management strategies that keep students academically productive and honor individual learning styles. Well-planned and well-delivered instruction builds positive relationships between students and teachers, and effectively works to reduce the need for any disciplinary action. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, positive discipline is effective in making punishment (and reward) unnecessary. While corrective actions may help teachers in the moment, particularly White teachers of students in urban schools, there is a better way to prevent and reduce unproductive behavior in the classroom. 

Gateway High School is committed to creating an equitable learning environment in which all students have access to quality education and a positive atmosphere for personal development and growth. The Olympian is not just our school symbol, it is a spirit that we embody every single day to measure success by both achievement and participation. As demonstrated in initiatives like implementing restorative justice practices as the center of our disciplinary system, we are determined to break this troubling national trend.

Rather than punishing negative behavior, our practices only seek to repair the harm caused by the behavior and repair the relationships that were damaged in the process. We focus on the core restorative justice practices of building relationships, talking through disagreements, and repairing harm to build a stronger classroom culture. Our teachers and staff have worked to both keep students in school and to improve their social interactions on campus. Additionally, this has helped our students become more open to learning new conflict resolution techniques. 

We pride ourselves on treating our students with the respect they deserve and teaching them to treat others in the same way. Committing to do the best we can for our students has shown positive results, and we look forward to the future with our students. For more information, read about the importance of these practices and how they improve school culture