Basic Principles of Classroom Management

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Unit 1: Basic Principles of Classroom Management

Basic Principles of Classroom Management

Students learn best when their minds are engaged and their bodies are moving. People learn through experimentation with the real world, rather than by memorizing a list of rules. This statement has implications for the design of instruction. Learning opportunities should be based, as much as possible, on real tasks and rich environments, and include opportunities for reflection and application.

Management Versus Discipline

Video and Journal by an American teacher

We all know that discipline is good, particularly self-discipline.  In our opinion, the best kind  of discipline is self-discipline. We have often seen, however, that teachers (particularly new ones) resort to harsher discipline for students who are un-engaged and misbehaving. 

Here are four factors that often contribute to out-of-control classrooms: 

  • The teacher does not know the subject
  • The teacher does not care
  • The teacher is not organized
  • The teacher has not provided an effective learning environment and structure

Problems arise when teachers fall into the four traps listed above.  The information we are providing in this section focuses on this last area: the effective learning environment and structure. Research shows that "discipline" is the primary concern of beginning teachers and an ongoing issue that creates "burn out" for maturing teachers. Teachers who are successful in classroom management do the following:

  • Create an inclusive classroom in order to prevent unnecessary conflict and reduce physical and emotional violence.
  • Engage in hands-on, experiential activities focused on prevention and intervention.
  • Re-commit to the process and joy of stimulating young minds and building positive long-term relationships with learners.
  • Discover strategies to "create a space for listening" to increase students' sense of belonging and connection.
  • Help students re-evaluate their behaviors in relation to their own goals.
  • Understand the importance of conveying high expectations.
  • Develop skills for welcoming and sending positive invitations.
  • Develop appropriate rules, procedures, and routines for the classroom.
  • Develop a model discipline plan appropriate for the age of their students and one that is aligned with their educational philosophy.
  • Develop strategies for implementing the model discipline plan.

Why Do Students Misbehave?

Behavior problems are caused by many factors.  What you see in the classroom can be limited to three areas.  You can recognize them when you see them:

Fear: We are referring to fear of the material, of the teacher, of fellow students. Students express it in various ways; it is up to the teacher to read the signs. A climate of fear can be created. This includes a fear of being struck, embarrassed, and/or excluded. Our responses are simple: children should never be hit, under any circumstances. They should also never be belittled or treated with lack of respect.

Flight: The students you do not remember, or the ones who seem quiet in class, are often the ones who suffer the most in social situations. They know how to hide or leave difficult situations. We often refer to this behavior as "flight" because it describes students who tend to remove themselves from the interactions in the classroom. In other words, they "flee" the classroom environment because they feel uncomfortable in it. Since students cannot physically remove themselves from what is happening in the classroom (with the exception of serious behavioral problems where students - especially older ones - get up and leave during class or skip classes), they often employ strategies that allow them to reduce their presence in the classroom. Some students pretend that they are absorbed in taking notes or working on a problem in their notebook to avoid being called upon and participate in class, for example. They do not understand the material or have no interest in what is being taught/discussed, and instead of asking a question the way an engaged student would, they stay silent and will often pretend that they are doing work because they know that the teacher is less likely to ask them a question if they appear to be on task. Some students, when asked if they understand the material, will state that they do, when in fact all they are doing is deflecting attention from themselves, hoping that the teacher will move on to someone else.

Students who find classroom situations stressful (because they do not have any friends in the class, or because they just have no interest in being there, or because they are exceptionally shy) are quite likely to blame themselves for all their shortcomings, which causes even more disengagement from the class, their peers, and the teacher.So, the role of the teacher in regards to classroom management must also extend to identifying such students and creating the kind of learning environment where they will be encouraged to participate and to "risk" engagement and learning. All too often, teachers tend to assume that students who appear to be working or who stay quiet are one less problem to worry about - often, the opposite is true. A good teacher will ensure that all students participate and feel comfortable asking questions, seeking clarification, admitting that they do not understand, and interacting with their peers and the teacher.

Fight: Disruptive students intimidate their teachers. Their behavior may be confrontational or aggressive. They are often attacked themselves, either at home or in their community, and this is often all that they know. They may withdraw from classroom interactions or, more commonly, may be openly hostile to the teacher or their peers - this is their way of asserting control. Often, the reaction of the teacher - whether anger or punishment - makes the situation worse.

Common Behaviors and What You Can Do

  • Boredom: Students who are bored will frequently look around the room. The source of their boredom is that the work is too easy or too hard, or it lacks relevance. To help the situation, position yourself where you can see most students. Learn how and why this is taking place; re-envision or revise the assignment.
  • Frustration: If students are frustrated, it is often because the work is too difficult or because they can do it easily. They usually are silent and make no contribution. To remedy this, you can move about the work area, create groups of students with different abilities, give praise or support, ask questions you believe struggling students are afraid to ask.
  • Low Self-Esteem: The origin of low self-esteem is many past failures. You'll notice students shut down. To help, ask good questions, support individual students, and spend extra time with students.

Behaviors and Limits from Day One

Here are some simple yet effective management techniques to establish on the first day of class:

  • Device for Getting the Class to Pay Attention:  Teach your students a hand clapping pattern or some other visual or auditory aid that will let them know that you need silence and eyes on you. Practice it to make sure they know it. Use it frequently on the first day of school and thereafter. Also, take the time to explain to the students why it is important to have this technique in place - how and why it will help all of you stay focused on learning.
  • Establish the Importance of Listening: Teach your students the "Say Back" game. It's simple; after you or any student has spoken, ask the class: "Raise your hand if you can now say back what I just said (or what your classmate has just said)". Note the percentage of hands in the air and simply say to your students, "I notice that approximately 60% of your hands are raised. Our goal during the course of the year is to get to 100% - maybe not every time, but close to it. We're learning how to listen when others are speaking."

This simple strategy will increase the students' awareness of how often and how deeply they are listening to you or others when speaking. It does it in a way that does not put any one person on the spot to have to actually say back what was said. However, it does let the class know that you're all working towards deep listening no matter who is speaking. It also gives students the confidence to know that when they speak, their voice will be heard. This is tremendously important for creating an environment in which students can feel safe to share their thoughts.

  • Establish a Theme for Desired Behavior: Just as we discussed the value of theme-based learning, there can also be theme-based classroom management. If you say to the students that in addition to listening to one another, we care for one another, then you have established care as a theme or behavioral expectation. When a student is disruptive you can ask them, "Are you showing care for what we're doing?" Or, if a student misuses resources (i.e. leaves the cap off the marker or pens so that the pen dries out), you can ask the student: "Are you showing care for the tools we use in the classroom?" It's a gentle way of enforcing what you value in your classroom: care for one another, care for the classroom environment, and care for your resources.

The Rest of the Year:  Firm, Fair, and Friendly

Effective classroom management can be summed up in three words: firm, fair, and friendly. Keep these in mind.

  • Firmness implies strength, organization, resilience, and leadership, rather than rigidity.
  • Fairness implies equal respect for all kinds of learners and learning styles.
  • Friendliness implies a readiness and joy of learning and association with knowledge, engagement with the process, and appreciation of each other.

Lesson Plans are Scaffolds

Another important tool that ensures successful classroom management is effective lesson planning and scaffolding of curriculum material so that students are engaged and challenged in class. Students who feel engaged and motivated are much less likely to be disruptive or to stop paying attention - if we take the time to ensure that they are motivated, students will want to actively participate.

Scaffolding is a term that one would normally associate with buildings - the structure outside that allows workers to move around and construct the building. It is also a way of providing these same workers with materials so that ropes and ladders can haul building materials to higher and higher levels. Without a proper scaffold, the building can become faulty, subject to collapse from its own weight or from a natural disaster. In short, the building will not last.

We must think about education in the same way. For lessons we teach, we must create a scaffold - a set of steps, a structure, a set of tasks and expectations, a way of determining if we are on the right track, and if the structure is sound and strong. This requires that we feed that structure with the materials and resources we need. In designing a lesson, we should think about a scaffold.

Is the project motivating? Will students want to climb that ladder?

  1. Can the students see what this building will look like? Are the directions clear so that students can imagine that they will be able to climb that scaffold? Teachers should provide a model of what the project should look like, just as a builder creates a model from the design. The example model should not be too ambitious or impressive so that students do not feel that they could not accomplish something similar themselves.
  2. Will students know where to find answers? Will they have to rely only on the teacher, or can they rely on themselves, textbooks, each other, the Internet, or outside experts?
  3. Will the scaffold design ensure some level of success? If the students are putting so much work into the project they should feel confident and competent about their efforts. Otherwise, students will be greatly disappointed. In other words, have you designed this project so that students will finish it knowing more than when they started? Will students be able to show their results with pride? Will their "building" look like the model you presented?
  4. Will students be able to accomplish this task within a reasonable amount of time? They might feel failure if they are not able to see the results on a regular basis, day by day.
  5. Will students also learn how to learn? Will students gain new skills as a result of this project - skills that they can apply to new problem-solving situations?

If you plan your lessons effectively and take into account the importance of scaffolding, you work to ensure student buy-in and motivation, which will, in turn, minimize classroom management problems. In short, students who see value and meaning in classroom work stay focused and engaged.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource. fred. (2008, June 13). Education for the New Millennium. Retrieved May 04, 2010, from TWB Courseware Web site. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.