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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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Lauren Fuller's picture

I agree 100% with this! I can remember a teacher that I had who was not loving and caring and I hated being in her classroom. There was no valuable learning there whatsoever. She definitely tried to establish fear in us from the beginning in hopes that we would respect her and her rules. That did not work and she actually ended up quiting because we made her life miserable. None of us remember anything from that class. If you want classroom management, you must respect your students first. You want them to get the most out of your class and walk away with skills to transfer to new situations in the years to come. Educators must be loving and caring and really act like they want their students to succeed.

D. Adrianza's picture

I agree with you. I learned that we as teacher need to develop good relationships with the student in order to earn respect. We need to show empathy and we nee to show we care.

MARK's picture
MARK
parent of 2 high school girls twins 16 yrs. old

Being a father of two 16 yr. old girls in high school i do agree with you that establishing a good repoire with your student is essential to qualityconnection with your student. I know that not every teacher has the ability to connect on that level with every student, however the ones that do seem to have a higher success rate with the over- all student body

Lauren Seredich's picture

I find that classroom management is like walking on a fine line, or a tight rope. If you lean to heavily structure, order, and rigid rules than that could potentially push your students to fear but certainly disinterest in the classroom learning. However, if you allow the students to freely do as they will, you will never get a lesson accomplished or a halfhearted one at most. In my limited experience, I have found that creative structure, consistently enforced rules, and clear expectations with positive or negative consequences (when followed through) are all vital to my classroom environment. However, learning my students and their desires, personalities, strengths and letting those curb my structure and rules has seemingly always creative a cooperative classroom management system.

Dane Heard's picture

I believe that one must have a classroom under control in order for students to learn. It is such an important part of being an effective teacher to have good classroom management. All teachers need to have a management plan for their classroom that is clear cut and concise. The most important thing is to be consistent with whatever management plan a teacher uses. I often see teachers who have great content knowledge, but are not very effective teachers because they cannot manage a classroom. So many times, teachers appear "afraid" of their students and as soon as a student senses that "fear," the teacher doesn't have a chance of keeping the classroom under control.

C Craven's picture

Classroom Management
I agree 100 percent that you must have a strong positive relationship with your students in order to have a great classroom management. I am a kindergarten teacher and building a positive relationship and classroom management are two things I work very hard on the first month of school. The first thing I do is try to create a safe and positive learning environment. This allows the students to feel comfortable and be expressive in your classroom. The next thing I do is to allow the class to make their own set of classroom rules. I may have to guide them along a bit but for the most part they do great. In doing this, the students have a sense of belonging and responsibility in the classroom. At my school, we have a rewards program school-wide and I have one in my own classroom. I believe rewarding positive behavior is a way to overcome the negative behavior. In doing this, we are making the students take responsibility for themselves and their actions.

Susan H.'s picture
Susan H.
Third year substitute teacher

I wholeheartedly agree about the importance of establishing a safe, caring environment, as well as developing a respectful and positive relationship with one's students. It is my belief that this groundwork must be laid in order for students to have trust in you as their teacher and in each other as a community.

While the concept seems relatively simple, as a substitute teacher, it can be difficult. While I often work in the same classrooms and am able to develop positive relationships with students, this is not always the case. The difficulty is how to have effective classroom management in a class or school that I have never been to before.
In my teacher training, we did not receive much in the way of classroom management. I find this interesting, as with the current job market, it was quite well known that most of us would begin our careers as substitutes. Per Dr. John L. Byer, in his article A Sequential and Comprehensive Method of Effective Substitute Teaching, "problems with classroom management have been identified by published authors as being among the greatest obstacles to effective substitute teaching."

While many schools, classrooms and students have a strong identity and understand what their teacher and I expect of them, this is not always the case. Occasionally, all of the classroom management strategies that are normally effective do not work. It has been these situations, that I have been reflecting upon lately and wondering how the outcome can be different and more positive.

When a look, standing next to a child, a warning, time out and even sending the child to another classroom or the office still does not work (they return and begin the same behaviors), what suggestions do you have for me? My problem is also that is almost never just one child, but 4-6 that are causing the entire class to be off task. Recently, while in a second grade classroom, the behaviors were so severe I had to call the principal in (students hiding under the teacher's desk, throwing things, outbursts such as, "you're not the boss of me, "this sucks!", etc.) This was a first for me in my three years as a substitute. The difficulty is that I also place great pressure on myself. Every school is a potential employer. I do not want to be the substitute that cannot control a classroom, nor do I want to be the substitute who they could hear yelling down the hall. While I do have the option of not returning to some schools and classrooms, I want to grow as a professional educator and improve my classroom management in these difficult situations. I would appreciate any suggestions and feedback. Thank you.

JBallard's picture
JBallard
2nd grade Teacher 9th year teaching

I have been researching this subject in one of my Master's classes. One of the things that I keep reading about in my research is gaining an individual relationship with each student is vital in having classroom management. By gaining this relationship the students are more apt to have respect for you because you have shown them you have respec for them. If a student has respect they tend to behave better. This is one thing that I have seen in my classroom also. I show them respect and that I care and they tend to do the same. This doesn't always happen and there are students that continue to misbehave and I then have to look for alternative methods. There is no answer for having perfect classroom management...that's what keeps me going!

Rachel Pickett's picture
Rachel Pickett
10th grade Social Studies

Very interesting perspectives. Thank you!

I'm a 2nd/3rd year teacher (depending on how you count it), and continue figuring out classroom management. Building relationships and care and trust between me and students is a huge aspect of effective classroom management for me. I've been taught that the teacher needs to be in control. What I find, though, is that it doesn't work when "I" try and control the classroom. In fact, when I try and control through fear, or by establishing rules I can't enforce -- which then discredits my authority because I'm inconsistently enforcing -- things become more chaotic and relationships suffer. And, more time is being spent on trying to control behavior, and I spend less time focusing on work/learning.

What is working much more effectively is when creativity, their work, and clarity are in control (These are also my teaching strengths). When creativity, their work and clarity are the authority, then I back them up, expect them, and students get that and feel cared for. They also begin internalizing that their work is valuable, and they start caring about it, too (like one kid, whose Islam poster is hanging up outside the classroom, said this week, 'I'm actually proud of that'). Students begin staying after school to work on stuff, and coming in on their off hours. It seems that kids expect to be working on something creative, nowadays. This way of managing also breaks down the division between management and instruction/curriculum.

Building an environment of engagement is also an authority for me. Morality can be an authority, too. And self-direction.

Any thoughts?

Rachel Pickett's picture
Rachel Pickett
10th grade Social Studies

[quote]When a look, standing next to a child, a warning, time out and even sending the child to another classroom or the office still does not work (they return and begin the same behaviors), what suggestions do you have for me? My problem is also that is almost never just one child, but 4-6 that are causing the entire class to be off task. Recently, while in a second grade classroom, the behaviors were so severe I had to call the principal in (students hiding under the teacher's desk, throwing things, outbursts such as, "you're not the boss of me, "this sucks!", etc.) I want to grow as a professional educator and improve my classroom management in these difficult situations. I would appreciate any suggestions and feedback. Thank you.[/quote]

I got very good at subbing last year. I literally had a routine for middle school, and it'd probably work in elementary too. I brought a yellow foam ball, a bunch of prizes, and little pieces of cut up paper, to each class. On the board, before the day began, I wrote 'what respect and good work look like' and made a list of what they look like. Then I introduced myself and told students that I was their teacher for the day, and cared about how they did. Then I said I believed it was important that they knew a little about me, and asked if they had any questions for me. Before a student asked me a question, I threw the ball to them (the one to speak is the one with the ball). They'd ask and throw the ball back to me, and I'd answer, and then take another question. It kept going on like this for a few minutes, and built trust and fun (kids like getting the ball!).

Then I asked them a question (like, "what were you for Halloween?") and we continued the ball-throwing thing (for speaking in turn). Then I explained the expectations (list on board) and gave them each a small piece of paper, and they wrote their name on it. As we went through the day's activities, and I saw them on-task, I walked around the room and gave them tally marks. At the beginning of the day I said that the top 3 tally mark cards would get a prize, but often behavior was so good that I wound up giving a prize to everyone. They could choose their prize (bouncy balls, mechanical pencils, gum, etc were all great prizes).

I don't do this as a classroom teacher, but it worked great for subbing! It was fun.

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