What's the Secret to Effective Classroom Management? | Edutopia
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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
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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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Erin Mahollitz's picture
Erin Mahollitz
Third Grade International Teacher working in Tallinn, Estonia

I agree with Dr. Sheldrick that when children begin to take responsibility for their own learning, and when teachers allow their kids to have more control - then you have authentic and effective classroom leadership/management. I want to add that it is not enough to simply remove external control. I use the Gradual Release Model in all areas of my teaching, whether it is learning how to write, read, multiply or solve problems with peers. Classroom meetings, emergency friend meetings and explicit instruction on emotional and social intelligence skills help me help the kids be their own best teachers. I highly recommend Ruth Charney's book, Teaching Children to Care for more information on teaching self-control.

Wayne Sheldrick PhD's picture
Wayne Sheldrick PhD
Educational Speaker, Writer and Coach

Sorry to have offended you Mick, I guess your school district pays more than mine does. I won't darken your door again.

Jessica Aravena's picture
Jessica Aravena
ESe Teacher from South Florida

Our goals as educators are to try our best to do our part in assisting children to become healthy learners. This includes the physical, mental, emotional and psychological health of children.Helping our students with all these qualities is helping to build a foundation of their trust in you.
When adults have a sense of trust with other adults they feel at peace and are eager to interact with the other adult. The similar need for trust is felt by children. When children are in our care we want to treat them as our own children. We surely want our children to feel a sense of trust with us and other members our family. When educators are in the classroom we want our children to feel a similar sense of trust in us. Most students want to have peace and sense of accomplishment in their classroom. However, most of them might not know how to do it. If we as teachers become role models and teach children how to have a successful and effective classroom, our students will use those skills and knowledge to their advantage. To be able to teach those skills to our students they need to build a sense of trust with their teacher. They also need to feel a sense of pride and belonging. When students shared in the responsibility of create an engaging classroom they want to follow the same rules and responsibilities that they had in creating it.
Trust is a peaceful and happy thought. Both adults and children want to be happy. Trust will be very positive towards building students cooperation and accomplishment .Children will cooperate to follow what they strongly believe to be a recipe for a successful classroom.
We want to build qualities of responsibility and pride in our students. We don't want them to do something because of fear. Fear is not a good reason for someone to do what is excellence and what is right. Children want to do what is right because they strongly believe that is a good reason to do it, not fear. Whatever we do positively for children we are helping and contributing to their future. Building a future based on trust is better than building one based on fear. As a classroom teacher I will always choose the best choice that is good for my students and that choice is always building a teacher relationship based on trust.

mick kilburn's picture
mick kilburn
CTE Department Chair

[quote]Sorry to have offended you Mick, I guess your school district pays more than mine does. I won't darken your door again.

Wayne[/quote] It's not so much about offending and more about not using a public help forum to do business. Not my door, the public's door.

mick kilburn's picture
mick kilburn
CTE Department Chair

David, I use some of the same strategies that you use, though I hesitate simply saying to students to "ask another student". My strategy is "ask 3 before me," and then if and when they come back to me I insist they tell me what they learned from their classmates. More Socratic method when a student asks me a question, requiring depth of understanding of the subject, but a question that leads a student in an exploratory direction.
Frankly, all the talk about effective teachers, wonderful; but I feel effective curricula is the key to keeping students engaged. Some politicos think that it's is all up to the teacher. Sure there are teachers that can weave straw from gold, but they are damn few and far between. A little more gold would make things work a lot more smoothly both in terms of pay and resources.

Roxy - R.F.'s picture
Roxy - R.F.
Future Educator

This article has many good points. Yes, children need to have a strong, positive, relationship with their teachers, as well as the teachers with the students. Trust is very important in that relationship, but the student shouldn't be fearing the teacher. There should be lots of respect. In a classroom, teachers should trust their students to have discussions, ask questions, and disagree or agree with each other. It should never be just worksheets all the time and like the article says to see which answer is correct. Now in regards to classroom management, of course the teachers should also be concerned with the students learning, but if the classroom is not managed, no student will be able to learn. I don't think this article is including all types of teachers, because I think it's a lot different for ESE and in regards to the classroom management, especially EBD!!! If there is no classroom management or behavior management in an EBD classroom then there is a problem and I can assure you that the students won't learn a thing. It's hard enough for them to learn while there is management, imagine withought.

James Mac Shane's picture

This perspective has more basic value if you change the word trust of students to respect. Respect that a teacher has for their students is the scientific base of their successful teaching.

SG-SOE's picture

EditArticle Post
Personally, the suggestions given in this article are positive to implement for classroom management. Though I do agree that allowing the students to co-create the class rules are a great step towards trust with the students, the teacher must not allow total surrender of the class dynamics. Different approaches can be taken into consideration when applying this suggestion in one's class. Keep in mind the grade level and the diversity of the students in the class (elementary, middle or high school). Asking the students what they look for in classroom behavior; respect, honesty, consequences, etc. Teachers can develop classroom rules based on the students wants; a contingence between the teacher and students. This will create a sense of charge, ownership, and responsibility that the students will uphold in the class environment.

Jessica B.'s picture

As I conclude my internship in an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) classroom, I believe that the secret to an effective classroom management is positive reinforcement and/or positive rewards. "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." I believe and have seen that students do want to accomplish their task at hand to always make the teacher happy. If a student is not completing their task, instead of calling on them every 5 seconds and using your "angry voice", compliment the ones that are around them that are completing their task. The student will want to finish their task to please their teacher.

Also, I believe that positive rewards are a great way to control the classroom. We use this a lot in the classroom with this population: "First ________________ and then ________________." Students seem to respond to this very effectively, and it doesn't always have to be candy or a sticker, it can be something from the classroom they may way to take home like a book or a stuffed animal, or some time on the computer for an educational game. GET CREATIVE!

P.M.G's picture

Classroom management has been a real challenge for me. I am completing my internship in a self-contained, middle school class with students suffering from Emotional/Behavior Disability.

I agree that a successful classroom needs children to have a strong relationship with their teacher. That is a goal that teachers must work on from day ONE. Creating a comfortable environment will make learning fun and allow the students to become risk-takers. Respect is also very important! The teacher must have control of the classroom while still allowing the students' voices and opinions to be heard. It's a great idea to involve the students when creating classroom rules. Making sure the students are a part of the decision-making processes will make them feel comfortable and will give a sense of belonging. It is important to show the students that their opinion truly counts! But successful classroom management needs more... It requires numerous strategies, reward systems, consequences for misbehavior, and even family involvement. Since each student is different, classroom management also requires a trial-and-error process - seeing which strategy or system works with each student. In the end, the teacher is the one who must take responsibility for and ensure that learning is taking place!

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