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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Dave's picture

"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." - Peter Drucker

"You don't manage people, you manage things. You lead people" - Admiral Grace Hopper

Creating a high-trust environment requires a leader with the self-confidence to respond to a penetrating question with "I don't know; let's find out".

Wendy Wegner's picture
Wendy Wegner
Education Writer, Editor, Blogger

It is so refreshing to read this blog. I 100% agree that respect goes both ways and a genuinely effective teacher will be concerned about teaching students subjects AND social skills - a way of working together, respecting others, and becoming independently motivated and concerned for their own education. That's how we help develop "whole students."

mick kilburn's picture
mick kilburn
CTE Department Chair

A critical point is "the majority of student" will be engaged learners. In my lab where students are simultaneously exploring a variety of 21st C projects, responsibility on the part of students is crucial. At times, a student, who would rather smooze with their friends than learn, can obstruct progress in what would otherwise be a well-managed classroom. What is the key to managing what an educational motivational speaker at a previous school called, "the buzzards in the back"? Sure, engage them, but who has some secrets for the hard core disengaged?

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

Respect for self, peers and the teacher, ownership, and personal responsibility are prerequisites for a positive learning environment. William Glasser has been teaching this and helping schools to implement it for years (see "Quality Schools", and "Choice Theory in the Classroom"). Students must assume ownership for their learning. To do this they must have a teacher courageous enough to put the students in charge. With ownership comes responsibility. Our students must prepare for adult life as they work their way through the curriculum and these are life skills that need to be learned sooner rather than later.
"See part of your job as a developer of people" Robin Sharma
For an ongoing discussion of classroom management strategies visit my blog at www.classroommanagementstrategysite.com

Rural schoolmarm's picture
Rural schoolmarm
jr high teacher

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.

Ricardo's picture

This works well when you start young and subsequent teachers follow through. Many teachers find they have to spend the first two weeks of school teaching proceedure before instruction begins and from there on out it's all about keeping abreast of the program. Whew!

mick kilburn's picture
mick kilburn
CTE Department Chair

For Wayne Sheldrick: wonderful catchphrase--sauce, but your link which links to prices for services, frankly does a disservice to this blog. I've been teaching successfully for 30 years and would like to hear scenarios/setups that work. Anyone else have secrets they'd like to share?

Jessica Piper's picture

Hey, Mick!

Below are links to my blog posts about classroom management and discipline...Oh my goodness! What a HUGE difference using these strategies made in my life. I go to work not dreading the behaviors I used to encounter. Please feel free to visit these pages and know that I am NOT a paid consultant...I'm a 7 year teaching veteran who has learned from tons of mistakes=)





David Ginsburg's picture
David Ginsburg
Instructional Coach, Leadership Coach, Math Specialist

An important discussion, but let's be careful not to confuse behavior management with classroom management. True, teachers must be able to facilitate constructive relationships with and between students. But you can be the most effective relationship builder in the world and still fail in the classroom. That's because classroom management is about communication and organization.

It's only when we're strong in both areas that we provide students the culture and structure they need to thrive. And let's also not confuse "structure" with "control," since as I often say, "Show me a controlling teacher, and I'll show you a classroom out of control."

As for rules, there's little or no need for them when you provide the structure--through fair, clear policies and procedures--and culture I'm talking about. Visit my blog Coach G's Teaching Tips for practical evidence-based practices related to this topic categorized under Classroom Rules, Classroom Management, Behavior Management, and Classroom Culture.

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