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Why Classroom Management Runs Deep

I think it's safe to say that "classroom management" is a big deal in teaching.  Not much learning can happen if students are running wild in a classroom.  Schools of education have been criticized for not preparing teacher candidates enough in the area of classroom management, and there is a movement in some charter networks to focus almost exclusively on classroom management. While there's some valid reason for the criticism and the resulting craze, I want to take apart what we really mean when we refer to classroom management.  

1. The use of the word "management" in the first place is kind of a misnomer.  What we are really talking about is a teacher's leadership of his or her students. (This was first pointed out to me by my mentor, Madeleine Ray, faculty at Bank Street College of Education.) 

2. "Management" of students cannot be separated from all of the other aspects of teaching.  

The first question might be "who is the leader in this classroom?" If the teacher is not the leader, then there's a leadership crises to address, which is no small task.  We might ask, which student(s) are trying to lead? What's their agenda? What do they offer that the teacher currently doesn't?  What are the problems with this balance of power?  Or maybe the teacher is the clear leader, but he or she is, say, leaving students vulnerable on certain fronts or leading in a direction that works for only some students. Then there are leadership issues to tackle, none of which are superficial.

Somehow, we understand that leadership runs deep. It's personal, and it's about courage, vision, and follow-through. While there are techniques to learn when it comes to managing AND leading a classroom of students, let's not pretend the leadership (or "classroom management") aspect of teaching can be condensed into a simple checklist of actions that works the same with every group.  People and group dynamics have always been and will always be more complex than that.   

 

 

10 Comments

Anne Jolly commented on November 26, 2013 at 5:42pm:

Good points - and right on!

I agree, Ariel.  I can't tell you how many dollars my school system spent on purchasing classroom management materials, sending teachers to classroom management workshops, and helping them learn all kinds of "tips and tricks" based to some degree on external rewards. Grrrrrrrr.

Classroom management encompasses so many facets - from the personality and leadership traits of the teacher, to student-teacher relationships, to external factors like overcroweded classrooms and lack of teaching materials, and to the general school culture.  

And, when push comes to shove, having a group of accomplished colleagues working with you helps a lot! 

 

Ariel Sacks commented on November 29, 2013 at 5:26pm:

Teacher-students match

 Anne, thank your for your comments. I think, among the many facets, one important one that is often left out is the connection between the teacher and the particular group of students. The burden falls first on the teacher to define this connection. The teacher chose to be there, with those students (we hope) but the students did not get to choose their teacher! So what brings the teacher to this particular group? Why is he or she there? what does the teacher know about the students and what does he or she hope to do with them? What kind of leader does the teacher intend to be? This 

Ariel Sacks commented on November 29, 2013 at 6:14pm:

Continued!

I think in middle classrooms, especially, students are asking themselves and each other, who is this teacher? Why is he or she here? Do we feel safe? Do we trust and respect this person to be our leader? Techniques, organization and follow through are a part of this but teachers also need to understand and show who they are in relation to the students to help answer the undercurrent of questions students are asking as they withhold and test their trust of their teachers...

Ariel Sacks Ariel Sacks commented on November 29, 2013 at 10:43pm:

Teacher-student connection

Anne, thank your for your comments. I think, among the many facets, one important one that is often left out is the connection between the teacher and the particular group of students. The burden falls first on the teacher to define this connection. The teacher chose to be there, with those students (we hope) but the students did not get to choose their teacher! So what brings the teacher to this particular group? Why is he or she there? what does the teacher know about the students and what does he or she hope to do with them? What kind of leader does the teacher intend to be?
 
I think in middle classrooms, especially, students are asking themselves and each other, who is this teacher? Why is he or she here? Do we feel safe? Do we trust and respect this person to be our leader? Techniques, organization and follow through are a part of this but teachers also need to understand and show who they are in relation to the students to help answer the undercurrent of questions students are asking as they withhold and test their trust of their teachers...
William Tolley commented on November 30, 2013 at 6:38pm:

Good conversation at this juncture.

I think the points you raise are key at this juncture, Ariel. 

In a traditional direct instruction classroom the term "classroom management" made sense, but in one of the democratic-Freirean-flipped-open-blended-projectbased-inquiry learning hybrid mutants many of us are attempting to create and nurture, the term falls flat in irrelevance. 

Personally, I like the term "environmental choreography" with an understanding that there will be a lot of improv bolstered by strategic habits and mindsets that create an ordered and interesting learning space: instructional jazz. I am working out my thoughts on the matter here. Feel free to peruse if you get the chance. 
 

Emelinda Falsis commented on December 1, 2013 at 12:58am:

Ariel your point gives me a

Ariel your point gives me a new and fresh perspective of classroom management. Teachers should know that they too are leaders. Unless they get this new perspective of leadership in the classroom they will never be convinced that they can lead the class well. 

Emelinda

Marsha Ratzel commented on December 1, 2013 at 6:15pm:

Acquiring skillsets

Classroom management is a key issue and sits at the foundation of every class.  It's sort of the invisible hand (and not the Adam Smith variety) that regulates everything that happens.

I know that Schools of Education take it on the chin for not enough training in this area.  But, as an adjunct professor in one of those SOE, I have to say that you can't teach what they're not ready to learn.  Pre-service teachers are so busy acquiring knowledge of all sorts of varieties....content knowledge, instructional knowledge, assessment knowledge etc etc....and then tend to be overwhelmed with just integrating those bits.  I've seen plenty of deer-in-the headlights kinds of gazes.  

I imagine a much better way to teach these skills is to scaffold them...first learning how interact with students one-on-one and tutoring them.  Then learning to lead small groups of students with different purposes---some that are enrichment, some that are remedial---you get the idea.  Then management of the whole class at once on a very simple lesson, leading a discussion, and then with distributed foci. If you stop to think about it, no one would give a rookie 150 employees to manage right off the bat.  They'd go thru an on-the-job training program and gradually be released to work with more and more people.  I wish we did that with teachers and students too.  

The leadership skills you mention have to be customized to fit the populations they serve.  A dear friend, who was an exemplary teacher in the urban core high school, moved out to the suburbs.  His classroom management went down the drain until he adjusted and re-mastered it for a different student population.  He thought he just have student respect and he quickly found out, he had to earn it.  He had to have a different pacing, a different way of interacting with students and grabbing their attention----he thought it would be a easy transition, but it almost did him in.  Because he's an experience & excellent teacher, it all worked out.

Management skills need to be taught.  They are not acquired through osmosis and shouldn't come thru the school of hard knocks.

Sandy Merz commented on December 2, 2013 at 5:46pm:

Remember to be myself

I've made this comment before, in one way or the other, but kids can spot a fake a mile away.  I used to try to bluff kids into thinking I was a hard-ass with lots of inflexible rules and sure and swift consequences: but I couldn't keep up the facade.  

Now, instead of spending the first day of school creating those agreement things, we do something fun.  When it gets around to rules, my rule is, "We'll take it as it comes."  

Right now, frankly, I'm being eating alive and my school has some major problems we haven't had for awhile.  Something happened around Fall Break and a lot of kids went off the rails after a pretty good first quarter.  But I can't point to a poster and tell a kid she's commiting a class 2 violation and will face a minimum consequence of.... well you get the picture.  

Instead, I have to look into myself and go back to first principles - like you say, I have to lead.  Two clases are responding well.  The third has a ways to go.  But there is something empowering in claiming leadership.  It means I get to be the first to change and the first to exercise my options - the first to adjust - and the last to call it quits.

Allyson Bogie commented on December 5, 2013 at 1:36pm:

Management & curriculum are in relationship

Thanks for this blog post, Ariel. I have been reading your blog since I was a teacher, and now I am a teacher librarian, and I work with teachers as well as being a BTSA support provider (I'm in California).

I encourage teachers to think about what  needs their students are demonstrating when they behave in a way that is undesirable to the teacher and/or the classroom environment. An engaging curriculum goes a long way toward learning behavior. Integrating movement, discussion, and inquiry into the classroom will often respond to some middle schooler's needs, giving them an outlet for the behavior that was previously considered a problem. It's not a magic bullet--and I really agree with you and the above commenters who talk about the relationship between the teacher and the class--but people who try to control their middle school classrooms by ruling with an iron fist without engaging students don't usually get the results that they want.

Susan Graham commented on December 6, 2013 at 12:31pm:

Terms Matter!

This made me think about how much words matter! Too often Classroom Management is a euphuism for Student Managment and Control and sets up inexperienced teachers to confuse controlling the learning environment and controlling the learners. What if we seperated people from procedures?  Management of Classroom  Procedure would address efficient classroom operation. Facilitation of Learning Environment would focus on creating positive relationships and interactions based knowledge of students, their needs, goals and relationships. 

 

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