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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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What's the Secret to Effective Classroom Management?

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service
Here it is: Children have a strong, positive relationship with their teacher, and vice-versa. Beneath this seemingly simple concept is a lot of neuropsychology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive development, and SEL.

Social rule structures eventually rest on one of two things: trust or fear. When the rules are based on trust, students feel freer to participate; problem-based learning can thrive, versus learning focused on getting the one right answer; students can challenge prevailing wisdom, ask questions, and disagree safely with one another. Students can co-create classroom management rules because they want to be there and they want the classroom to be engaging and work well.

When fear predominates, classrooms can look orderly on the surface, but it is the order of prison. "Underground," perhaps, there is rebellion. Sometimes there is also overt misbehavior, to express frustration or even get oneself put out of the noxious environment.

Classrooms managed based on fear create disaffection and disengagement from the learning tasks, which are often "blamed" on students as the reason so much rigid order is needed. So learning suffers, genuine learning, even if there is a lot of rote seatwork being done.

Learning is work of the head and work of the heart. A climate of fear thwarts all of the goals of higher learning. Plus, as David Brooks so insightfully points out, children often learn first for the teacher, to please the teacher and to obtain the teacher's pleasure in their learning, more than they learn for the intrinsic value they attach to the subject matter or tasks. This is especially true when students are introduced to new content and concepts.

Those concerned about classroom management must simultaneously be concerned about student learning. Both thrive only when there are trusting, respectful, caring relationships between students and teachers. When the latter are in place, rules will be effective and the majority of students will be engaged learners.

Please share your ideas and practices for building positive relationships with students as a scaffold for classroom rules and productive learning environments.

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

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Maurice Elias's picture
Maurice Elias
Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service
Blogger

[quote]I take issue with the fact that the author says the students "want to be there". With many(maybe even most)of my students, they DO NOT want to be there. If the parents do not value education, independence, or accountability, they will be an example of everything that is opposite of those values. I struggle daily to make students care. This is very difficult when the closest people in their lives clearly do not care.[/quote]

First, let me say that the comments folks have been posting are marvelous. They show the creative talent that has been devoted to classroom management, and, more generally, creating an effective, positive learning community with character. I think this blog can serve the function of creative problem solving, recognizing that it's very hard for others to use others' systems without substantial guidance. So it's important that those trying ideas from this (and other) blogs report back and seek help if things don't quite work as advertised.

The comment above reminds us that engaging students is an ongoing challenge. When home life, neighborhood, and/or media culture is not supportive of education, or the necessary habits for learning, that challenge is greater still. That said, every child who is not deeply emotionally disturbed (and even many who are), long to be effective and valued at school and in the world. Their disengagement in school is largely a product of their not seeing value in school, connection of school to their life goals, or their short-term goals, and of them not feeling like their attendance in school makes any positive difference to anyone. We all know that part of the problem is that kids' goals are sometimes askew, overly influenced by media and negative peer culture. But that means that they are going to need a positive relationship with a caring adult in school- not necessarily a teacher- or in an after-school setting (youth group, religious group, sports group, performing arts group) in which that adult will help inspire them with the stories of those whose lives have made a difference and whose backgrounds were not privileged. Ultimately, kids need the social-emotional skills for life and school success but they will not be motivated to develop those skills and appropriate character until they believe it can lead to something. And that something starts with the caring relationship with an adult who is glad to see them when they arrive and who cares about and follows up about them when they are not there.

It may not be fair to have to extend so much effort to reach out to kids when their parents should be doing that job. But we have many people in our communities- potential peer mentors, retirees, senior citizens, college students- who are ready to help with this outreach if we can organize them to do so. Sometimes creating engagement is not an individual act but creating a structure for engagement resources to be able to work effectively where needed. Unlike the song associated with the play Don Quixote, to reach the unreachable stars is NOT the impossible dream. It's the essential challenge.
Maurice Elias

Matthew Bowen's picture

I would agree that there is no method for perfect classroom behavior however I also agree that it is vital that we as teachers try to learn more about every child on a personal level. Most of the children that have behavior problems are only looking for attention that they do not get outside of school. They will get it when they misbehave because then you have to deal with them and then their parents will speak to them about the behaviors (hopefully). Something that I have found other than making sure that you have tried to formulate a relationship withe very student is that you also need to have a classroom that has order and rituals and routines. It helps a lot when the kids know what is going to happen next. Even when you get behind due to unforeseen difficulties the students know what is going to happen and they tend to get themselves ready for it. Making sure that every second is used also helps with this. As we have always heard, "idol minds are the Devil's workshop." This is true in children as well. When they are bored or not entertained even with work or information then they will find other things to entertain them, usually not good things.

Dana Martin's picture

Understanding your students is a major factor when creating a classroom management system that works. Each year I find that my management plan adjusts for the students that I am working with. What motivates one class may not motivate another. I have had classes in the past that loved to work on computers, so I worked earning computer time into the positive behavior plan that I was using. This year, my students love to do art projects, so I have molded my behavior plan so that they may earn time to create an art project at recess. The factors that make a management system work requires a teacher to understand what motivates the class. This motivation may change throughout the year, but if a teacher knows their students, it is relatively easy to modify to continually motivate students to make good choices.

Brett's picture

I had "the fear" as a beginning teacher and then to make matters worse I tried to get my students to like me believing that would improve behavior in my classroom--wrong! Their behavior worsened and my confidence waned. I was afraid to enforce the rules because I thought they wouldn't like me and therefore not want to learn from me. I approached classroom management in all the wrong ways. You need to build trust and relationships as a facilitator of learning not teacher/ "please learn from me" friend. Everything people are saying about creating a supportive and caring learning environment in this thread is really the key. Not just for the students who come from backgrounds where education is not valued and there is very little "care" going on at home but for all students. I like to think of the mentors and highly effective teachers I have learned from when I encounter a challenging class or individual. I ask myself how they would react to this challenge and then find real, concrete ways to improve the relationship.

Jessica Dye's picture

I am a kindergarten teacher who spends an extensive amount of time getting to know my students and setting up routines/procedures at the beginning of the year. Building a solid rapport allows me to connect with the students throughout the day and offer motivation to get through unappealing tasks. Our routines and procedures provide the students with clear expectations as well as guidelines within our classroom. We talk about choices, rewards and consequences. We focus on responsibility and how they have the power to control much of what happens throughout the course of the day. I meet with students who are struggling to make good choices. We reflect on the cause and the effect. I praise, praise, and praise throughout the day. The class also works to earn computer time as a group or play an educational game at the end of the day. I also tweak the group incentive to meet the interest of the class. We have a classroom reward system dealing with tickets and prizes as well as a school reward system. Both of which I have found to be effective. Consistency is key with any system you choose to implement. Once your classroom management is in place, learning can begin.

Mrs. G's picture

I have really enjoyed reading everyone's comments in this blog. As a first year teacher, I can honestly say that I totally agree with what is being said, and I am glad that I am not alone. Effective classroom management is so important for learning to take place. Creating a trusting, respectful, and caring environment is so productive. I was determined not to conduct my classroom with so much seat work, so I incorporated workstations. In order for them to be effective, I had to make sure that my students were aware of the do's and don'ts. It took practice, but now that we have it down, there is so much learning taking place. The students are interacting with each other, learning from each other, and really work hard on the various activities I have planned out for them. I learned during my first years of education classes how important classroom management is, but it was a totally different experience to actually have to implement a good classroom management plan. In my school, many teachers use reward systems, such as earning tickets for prizes, and they have worked really well. The prizes really do not cost much which I thought was pretty good. Some of the prizes are having lunch with the teacher, reading with a stuffed animal, or taking your shoes off during the afternoon.

Jeff I.'s picture

I agree that understanding and knowing your students is the key to classroom management. Showing the students that you care about them and respect them will promote teacher-student and student-teacher respect. I also believe that the teacher should have classroom rules posted within the classroom so that the students understand and realize what is appropriate and not appropriate in the classroom.

Miss Westerhouse's picture
Miss Westerhouse
Fourth Grade Teacher from Florida

"Learning is work of the head and work of the heart." I fully agree with that statement. There are times that we will have students that have bad parents. We need to make sure that they know we care for them. This will establish a learning environment that is created around trust and respect, when this is done students are more willing to invest in their learning because they know we as teachers are going to support them and push them to do their best. When students know you care, they are more will to put more effort into their work to become effect learners

One of the things that I do in my classroom is I speak to my students like adults (they are fourth graders). When there are issues in the classroom or at recess, I give them the chance to explain themselves and show them the respect of supporting their option and voicing their side of the story. This creates a trusting relationship. It benefits me because now when they give me attitude or are being disrespectful, I turn to them and ask them if I treat them that way and normally the behavior stops because they know that they have crossed a line that we have established of respect.

Another thing that I do is have a class reward system this helps create a classroom environment of respect for each other and helps them hold each other accountable.

Robin's picture

Isn't it amazing how something so small can mean so much to a student. My students love to be able to take their shoes off during class time. I teach 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th grade students with learning disabilities. The first few weeks of school we discuss rules...school rules, rules at home, classroom rules. We talk about why we need rules, making lists of rules we have to follow (I put the students name next to their rule...THEY LOVE IT!)
Once we have established the rules and why we need rules, I tell them I only have 1 rule in my class. The students find that difficult to believe. I call it "My Golden Rule" I print it out on yellow construction paper. My "golden rule" is simply "Be Kind, Be Nice". Believe it or not after working with this, modeling it, etc., it works.
Some of my 5th graders were students of mine when they were in 1st grade. To this day, when there is a discrepency or disruption all I have to ask is "What's the rule in here?". They will respond always with "Be Nice, Be Kind". We talk about the problem and work out some kind of solution (allowing the students to make the choices).
This may not work with students with severe behavior, but it has worked for me on some pretty tough students...

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