Dr. Tracey Garrett is known in the education community for her expertise in classroom management
by Keith Fernbach
Dr. Tracey Garrett is best known in the education community for her expertise in classroom management. She teaches a course on classroom management to education majors at Rider, has delivered more than 175 professional development workshops to elementary schools teachers on this topic and has written a book, Effective Classroom Management: The Essentials. Ironically, if not for a meeting with a Rutgers professor, she might have chosen a different career path.
At the time, she was an elementary school teacher who was interested in going back to graduate school to become a college professor. She knew she wanted to work in teacher education, but was unsure about what to select for her area of specialty. While she was considering her options, she met with Dr. Carol Weinstein, a leading expert in the field of classroom management. Weinstein’s work resonated with her and she knew she had found what she wanted to specialize in, and whom she wanted to work with for her doctoral studies.
“I knew this area was particularly important because teachers need to have a strong understanding of classroom management before they can even start teaching the content,” she says.
Garrett defines classroom management as the strategies teachers use to create an environment that is conducive to academic and social and emotional learning. There are a number of elements that teachers need to take into account, and she offers the following advice:
“You definitely want to establish strong relationships and connect with your students,” she says. “Set clear rules and routines that convey your behavioral expectations, but don’t be overly rigid and punitive.” Third, “you want to have a warm, welcoming classroom without it being overly cluttered and chaotic.“ The placement of desks and the storage of classroom materials so that they’re accessible can help to create such an environment. Finally, engaging instruction is important because, “the more engaged and motivated kids are, the less likely they are to choose to misbehave.”
One area of classroom management that is of particular interest to Garrett is the relationship between teacher and students. She explains that this is important because teachers who connect with their students tend to have better behavior and engagement in their classrooms. A key element of relationships is the notion of caring. Garret has been studying how this is impacted by cultural differences, since caring is interpreted and perceived differently in different cultures.
“Our student population continues to grow more and more diverse each year, but our teaching force does not,” she says. According to Garrett, this has a lot of implications for classroom management. “The way that people use space and time and even the way teachers build relationships is influenced by one’s culture. We, as teachers, need to understand that and adopt a culturally responsive teaching approach.”
Garrett advises that there are a number of ways that teachers can better connect with a culturally diverse student population.
“First of all, they can talk to the students to learn more about their backgrounds to get to know them on a very personal level," she says. "They can increase their own frame of reference by doing things like traveling, by reading, by visiting places in the community that are relevant to the student population that they work with. For example is there a cultural center? Are there certain museums or religious places that are relevant to the students they are going to be teaching? Getting to know the neighborhood and the community is very important.”
Looking ahead, Garrett would like study the impact of technology — specifically social media and online teaching — and how it is impacting the relationship dynamic in the classroom.
“Relationships are so essential to teaching, they’re such a foundation,” she says.
Based on her own observations, she is concerned about how the digital age is affecting bonds that have traditionally been formed in the classroom — whether it's students looking at their phones instead of talking amongst themselves before class or instructors of online courses not having the opportunity to build rapport by greeting their students at the door and asking them about their weekends.
“My core philosophy is that learning takes risks, and students will not take risks if they don’t feel safe and cared for," she says. "That spans whatever grade you’re talking about, and it doesn’t happen unless you get to know the people in your environment.”
Q&A with Dr. Tracey Garrett
If you didn’t do this for a living, what would you do?
I would be a dolphin trainer. Swimming with dolphins is on my bucket list. It’s just something I always thought would be fun to do. If I’m not a professor, I’m doing something totally non-academic!
What is something about you that would surprise people?
I’m a little bit of an adventure junkie. I repelled down a sinkhole in the middle of a rainforest in Belize, and I went skydiving in New Zealand. I like to do crazy things like that!
What do you love about your job?
One of the things that I love about my job is the variety in terms of what is required of us. There are three aspects to the job, including teaching, research and service. I love all three and feel that they all feed into one another. For example, my teaching often leads me to new research questions. However, my research often leads me to new approaches or strategies to adopt in my teaching. I also like the opportunity to contribute to the Rider community and the wider professional community through the service opportunities. The bottom line is that they work together to make me a more well-rounded academic.
What advice do you have for students who want to go into teaching?
Get as much field experience as possible and get into as many classrooms as possible. By doing this, they can develop realistic expectations of both the rewards of teaching and the challenges of teaching.
What professional achievement are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the fact that I created the classroom management course at Rider. It didn’t exist before, and there was a big need for it. It’s only offered as an elective, but it fills every year. And I feel like by doing this, I can have a really big impact on future classrooms.