Thematic management in small schools

Muthersbaugh paper addresses classroom management in elementary setting

“Thematic management in small schools: The itty bitty city” by Debbie Muthersbaugh, associate professor of education, was recently published in volume 77 of The Journal of Adventist Education (JAE). Muthersbaugh recently answered a few questions about her paper and the class strategies she has found effective.

What prompted you to write this article?
The North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists Department of Education includes over 700 elementary schools, of which a large number are one- and two-room schools. This realization prompted me to consider my own memorable experience in the mid-1990s as principal/head teacher of a rural, 22-student, one-room school in upstate New York.

What is the message of this paper?
Teaching as an art and science requires thoughtful response to the academic, social, and spiritual educational needs of students—a holistic approach. Using thematic organizational strategies in small schools helps teachers meet the diverse needs of a wide range of student abilities, as well as achieving high levels of on-task behavior. This approach proposes a way to encourage collaboration across grade levels and supports critical thinking in real-world contexts. For the primary audience of JAE—Christian school teachers—the integration of faith with academic learning helps us better understand human nature and the development of the whole person.

Who was your target audience for the paper?
My target audience for this piece in particular was educators in schools with one or two teachers, but would be applicable to any teacher wishing to implement themes such as city governance (Itty Bitty City), history of the Middle Ages (Classroom Castle), or ocean life (Under the Sea) into their classroom management plan.

Describe your process in writing this piece? Were there any challenges?
Approximately 18 months ago the then editor of JAE asked if I would consider submitting an article for the small schools edition of their upcoming publication. After writing the initial piece, it went to three or more peer reviewers, both nationally and internationally. They provided feedback and suggestions. I answered their comments and when the editor was satisfied, the journal went to press. The major challenge for me was the time needed to polish the article during an already full quarter of faculty responsibilities.

What was your reaction to being published in the Journal of Adventist Education? What other papers have you had published?
It was an honor being published in the Journal of Adventist Education. This was my first time submitting to JAE, although I have wanted to for some time. I have been published in other journals, mostly on topics related to elementary science education, including Journal of Research in Childhood Education (2014), The Online Journal of New Horizons in Education (2014), Journal of Teacher Education for Sustainability (2012), and The Earth Scientist (2011).

What relevance does this article on small school thematic management have on your work as a teacher of teachers at WWU?
WWU School of Education and Psychology has a strong history of producing highly qualified educators in both public and private school systems. This article provides a researched based theory of classroom management that can be shared with our students to support their own professional work as classroom teachers and managers.

Are these concepts of thematic classroom management common? Are they in need of promotion?
From a management perspective, using yearlong themes is not a typical practice but one that I found to be highly beneficial, providing cohesiveness across all grade levels in a small-school setting.

How would you describe your philosophy as a teacher and as a teacher of teachers?
I have been given a sacred opportunity to share my perspectives based on years of experience teaching at elementary, middle, and secondary school levels with our WWU teacher candidates. This includes my beliefs in the integrated nature of all subjects, the importance of recognizing the giftedness of every child, and the positive impact of engaging students through meaningful, relevant, real-life experiences.

Posted May 23, 2016

Debbie Muthersbaugh is associate professor of education at Walla Walla University. Her latest paper, published recently in the Journal of Adventist Education, deals with classroom management styles in the small school setting.

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