In the early 80’s when my teaching career began, the term “classroom management” was widely used to describe the multitude of things teachers do to minimize disruptions and maximize learning. I learned to increase my effectiveness through trial-n-error as almost no time was spent discussing and practicing the variables that mattered. Courses designed specifically to support student teachers with “management” did not exist; the conversations were about the subjects and the “how” of teaching.
During the early 90’s, as a school psychologist, I was called in when individual students were communicating displeasure about their situation by acting out, physically and/or verbally. They had “behavior problems” in need of “fixing”. Classroom management was the cure. A rigid behavior system that included appropriate consequences was the focus. I have been a primary author of thousands of individualized behavior plans, and yet I could see the forest behind the trees.
The forest was problematic.
To help solve the real problem, I had to set my eyes on a larger concept that included not only the humans in a classroom and school, but also the physical environment itself. I reject the term classroom management and have adopted a more appropriate, supportive and prescriptive notion
The culture of the classroom teaches
Ron Ritchhart, Principle Investigator for the Cultures of Thinking Project at Harvard Graduate School of Education, believes there are 8 cultural forces that define our classrooms:
- Routines and structures
- Relationships and interactions
- Physical environment
These cultural forces exist at all times. The argument is that we should intentionally design the culture with the students so that what we value and believe around teaching and learning is immediately evident. The culture does, indeed, teach. Some important questions to ask:
- Who holds the power for decision-making? Students, teacher or both?
- Have we anticipated variability in advance, offering options for students to engage with new content, master the concepts and show understanding?
- Does thinking and learning trump work completion and grades?
- Are there consistent routines in place to help students think and engage in meaningful conversations?
- Does the physical environment provide options for seating? Is there adequate natural light and ventilation?
- Have we created an inclusive, interdependent tribal community where we learn from one another?
- Do we take time to thoughtfully solve conflict together, as it arises? Do we help ensure equitable resolution?
- Do we show that we value understanding by taking the time to adequately explore topics?
- Do we avoid unhealthy competition, shaming, blaming and other interactions that are defeating?
- Is there plenty of opportunity for time spent solving real problems? Do all students experience mastery?
- Do we have lists of teacher-generated rules or have students identified norms for how we will be together?
Students in thriving, engaging classroom communities do not need to be managed.