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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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