How to Move Beyond Micromanaging in Class

Teach More, Hover Less: How to Stop Micromanaging Your Secondary Classroom 
By Miriam Plotinsky
(WW Norton, 2022 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Rebecca Crockett

In selecting this book I was drawn to the fact that it might help me develop a more student-centered environment for learning. It seemed to jive with my journey towards a more feedback-focused and “gradeless” classroom.

I had never heard of the term “helicopter teaching” (xxi), but I certainly want to create a hover-free place for students to learn and grow, and so I took the plunge to see if author Miriam Plotinsky could help.

The introduction set up the journey that Plotinsky went through to arrive at her four-stage process and the reasons educators may want to follow her lead to “empower students to move away from overreliance on our approval and supervision and take charge of their learning” (xviii).

Plotinsky provides realistic and identifiable scenarios based on her years of teaching and observing in various secondary settings. Throughout the book she honors the expertise of teachers and the art teaching  is while gently nudging us towards self-reflection and a willingness to use others’ experiences to help hone our own process and classroom environment.

The pandemic has shown us where educational practice needs a push toward the future, and Plotinsky offers her ideas on how to create learning that is not dependent on teacher proximity. She asks us to hold our beliefs and practices up to the light and be willing to see where we might reset some aspects.

While I don’t see myself committing to all of her suggestions, I certainly appreciate her guidance towards reflective practice and student-centeredness. I also respect the acknowledgment of those who came before her in each chapter wherein she backs up her ideas with the words of wisdom from other well-known educational authors and organizations.

A surprising amount of information in a small package

While a short book of only five chapters – one for each stage of the journey towards hands-off instruction and one for putting it all together – Teach More, Hover Less contains a surprising amount of information in a small package.

Plotinsky first asks for a mindset shift toward student autonomy, then focuses on creating deeper relationships so that students have a safe space to take risks. She then asks educators to engage those students in the content based on the relationships created and, finally, to provide choice-based, hands-off instruction.

Chapter 1 is all about examining one’s practice for micromanagement and making shifts towards a student-run classroom. Her helpful charts guide this reflection and even describe how it can be used across a teaching team. I certainly had my eyes opened to how I might be micromanaging and “helicoptering” my students. I was still on board at this point and seeing where I could make changes.

Chapter 2 asks us to go beyond the surface level beginning of class connections and towards a meaningful person-to-person connection. She urges that we connect these relationships to our contents to build trust and rapport that supports learning. This section – as well as charts and insets – gives ideas on how to respond to students along with strategies to engage and connect.

Most helpful in my opinion were the examples of what a classroom where relationship building has been reframed may look like – seeing the small but helpful differences that could be made illuminated tweaks I could make and showed how it would benefit my students.

I felt that the rest of the book worked in tandem with students being part of the planning, teaching, and decision-making of the classroom. Chapter 3 asks us to “factor students into the lesson planning process” (48). It pushes shared responsibility – including students not just in preferences but in the actual planning and sometimes teaching.

While a proponent of choice menus and student autonomy in how they are engaging in the learning, Plotinsky also argues for including students in the timeline in which they show what learning is like with “You Do You” calendars. There are ideas for seating, routines, and a shared responsibility chart for possible student roles, all of which help move towards more student agency. The repeated mentions of “collaborative structures” in this section with no clear-cut path on how to create such structures or what they look like were problematic for me, however.

The final chapter on putting all the steps together offers scenarios and a lesson study in what these changes might involve in real-time. Plotinsky also advocates an inquiry method – where students collaborate to discover and discuss things – that will run without a teacher. Having taught for many years at various age levels and having dealt with what didn’t get done while a substitute teacher was present, I might agree that  a classroom can run without a teacher but that does not mean that it will in your absence. So this idea was also somewhat unrealistic for me.

Toward a less micromanaged class

While I found myself arguing with Plotinsky (in my head and the margins) at some points, I can’t discount all of her ideas. I am not completely ready for the shift and will choose to focus on just the first two stages of her four-stage journey – but maybe some of you are. If so, the included organizers to help educators reflect, reframe and move forward toward a student-directed hands-off classroom will be especially beneficial.

Plotinsky’s goal to share her stages and make this teaching approach accessible is a success, and although I don’t wholly agree with the approach, I do share her sentiment that the spotlight belongs on students (96). As for me, I will take her advice to “experiment with the techniques and ideas shared in this book” and take it as an opportunity to grow as an educator (97).

Miriam Plotinsky’s article For New Teachers: How to Keep Kids on Task appeared in MiddleWeb in July, 2022.


 


Rebecca Crockett is currently an English teacher for grades seven and nine in north central Idaho. A fifteen-year teaching veteran, she has taught at both the elementary and secondary levels. She is an avid reader, curriculum planner, and sometimes writer for her own enjoyment and to practice what she preaches. Summer finds her devouring professional development books to improve her craft; thus she has written many reviews for MiddleWeb.



 

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