One of the most important, and yet most stressful, issues that teachers must endure on a day-to-day basis is that of classroom management. Unfortunately for the teacher, it is a multifaceted concept that in order to be effective requires as much attention in the classroom as teaching itself. This paper will discuss several key aspects of classroom management in detail. It will also discuss the struggle that preservice and new teachers experience with respect to classroom management, as this is a crucial skill that most teachers have difficulty with at some point in their careers. There are several models that are used to guide teachers toward effective classroom management, and several of these will be introduced. In addition, the development of a classroom management plan that is based on these models and deciding upon which classroom rules to implement will be discussed too. Each of the issues discussed herein are, by some, considered to be of utmost importance to preservice teachers who will enter the field with little or no experience in the field of classroom management.
What is Classroom Management?
Classroom management is the daily control over students’ behaviour and learning, including, to a limited degree, discipline. Additionally, it refers to those activities of teachers that create a positive classroom environment within which effective teaching and learning can take place (Martin et al. 2000) Management refers to how teachers structure their learning environments to minimize or prevent student behavioural problems. Discipline, on the other hand, refers to the methods used by a teacher following a behavioural incident involving a student. Classroom management is primarily prevention-oriented, structured in such a way that students are discouraged from being involved in misbehaviour. Discipline is control-oriented, and though necessary when behaviour is inappropriate, it can be abused by the individual in control of the classroom (Parkay et al. 2005).
The key to good classroom management is the use of techniques that encourage students to cooperate and become involved in activities, thus preventing problems in the classroom from occurring before they happen. Reliable classroom management techniques are based on following five important guidelines that are used to establish an effective learning environment: 1. creation of a caring classroom, 2. having an organized environment, 3. effective use of cooperative learning groups, 4. presentation of authentic learning tasks (i.e. not assigning busy work), and 5. maximization of student learning through effective time-management (Parkay et al. 2005). Since classroom management is multifaceted, it encompasses other issues as well. These guidelines fall under the three aspects of classroom management which include, learning managerial skills and instructional methods that tend to prevent discipline problems, learning how to cope with spontaneous management problems and learning how to solve managerial problems. Being proficient in only one of these aspects is not good enough, and will often set the teacher up for management failure and stress (Steere 1988). This all leads to the notion that motivated, involved, and successful students are less likely to present behavioural problems in the classroom than those who are unmotivated and failing (Martin et al. 2000)
It only takes a few misbehaving students to impede the learning of many other students, more than a few can make education nearly impossible for others. This is why schools are becoming more insistent that students are accountable for their actions, because the few disruptive students will not be allowed to affect the learning of the others (Steere 1988). Using techniques based on classroom management models teachers can limit the amount of disruption in their classes and thus allow, and possibly even increase the amount of, learning to take place.
As previously mentioned, classroom management is prevention-oriented, and so teachers need always need to have a plan and a vast understanding of life in a classroom. Students often play close attention to detail, and can easily distinguish a prepared teacher from one whom is under prepared. Teachers need to be organized and confident in their ability to teach all students in the classroom using task-oriented methods that discourage (or limit) misbehaviour (Parkay et al. 2005). Another preventative measure that is not widely found in the literature is respect. A teacher, who is respectful of his / her students, will quite likely receive the same respect in return, which, in turn, can serve as a preventative measure in itself (Delaney pers. comm.). The student-teacher relationship is the focal point of teaching, and thus also at centre of classroom management with respect to managing and organization (Richardson and Fallona 2001).
Student Teachers and Classroom Management
Classroom management is a skill that the majority of preservice teachers and other teachers too, for that matter, feel they are lacking (Sanderson 2004). According to Richardson and Fallona (2001), most teachers see class discipline as the most serious obstacle they have to overcome when they first enter the classroom. To add insult to injury, most teacher-education programs do not have specific courses for informing new teachers of the techniques they should be familiar with for effective classroom management. Although teacher educators maintain that material is taught in the program material, student teachers continue to suggest that classroom management is the least talked about topic (Sanderson 2004). Teacher education textbooks typically approach classroom management as selection of skills or strategies that can be employed to control students’ actions in the classroom, rather than a practical description of strategies that can be applied to a real classroom environment (Richardson and Fallona 2001).
Even here at Memorial University many preservice teachers have indicated that they feel classroom management will be the most taxing feat when they go out into their internships. Though courses touch lightly on the subject, attention should be focussed on the creation of effective classroom management courses (Sanderson 2004). These courses should focus on preventative planning, the models of classroom management and, ultimately, the creation and implementation of classroom management plans. This would alleviate the stress that preservice teachers endure when they first enter a classroom not knowing what to expect.
Models of Classroom Management
Throughout this paper, there has been mention of the models of classroom management. These models are complex approaches to classroom management and instruction, each with its own set of principles and applications. The principles were developed from logical, moral, and empirical analyses of student behaviour and experience. The models themselves serve primarily to guide the thoughts and actions of classroom teachers in such a way that promotes student learning in various ways (Martin et al. 2000).
The first of these models is the ‘communication approach’, which concentrates on the communication that takes place in a classroom between students and the teacher. This communication is what allows teachers to understand students’ motivations, desires, beliefs, and experiences. It also allows students to draw their own conclusions about the teacher. Teaching strategies within this model are based on the idea that learning and student development can be encouraged through respectful forms of teacher communication with the students (Martin et al. 2000).
This model works on the basis that if students sense that they are valued, respected, and taken seriously as people with valid experiences and rights to self-expression, then there will be more classroom involvement and less class disruption. For example, a little respect can go a long way in terms of student-teacher (and even student-administrator) relationships. There is a school here, in St. John’s, that has an entire school policy based on “…mutual respect and community responsibility so that all students achieve their personal goals” (Gonzaga High Mission Statement.). The teaching strategies and classroom management tactics used in this school are seemingly effective, as the school has little in the way of discipline problems and is among the top schools, academically, in the city.
A second model is the ‘democratic approach’ which endeavours to give teachers the skilled needed to understand the motives and goals of their students, to change these motives as necessary, to protect the welfare for each student as well as the class as a whole. In using these skills, the teacher is able to facilitate classroom behaviours that are socially and academically productive (Marin et al. 2000). In this context of this model, the students are allowed by the teacher to be involved in the decision-making processes with respect to the classroom environment, rules and procedures. Students are given increased responsibility, and are taught how to manage freedom responsibly. Glasser, a well-known psychiatrist encourages teachers to develop quality classrooms by implementing democratic values in their classrooms (Martin et al. 2000; Parkay et al. 2005). This model suggests that behavioural and management problems are the result of students not being able to create a quality classroom environment of their choice. It is important to note that teachers should act as leaders, and provide guidance to the students and not perform the role of a ‘dictator’ (Parkay et al. 2005).
The third classroom management model, ‘group management approaches’, or cooperative learning, is especially effective, and is strongly emphasized in current teacher education programs. Students learn to work effectively in small groups, and work to motivate each other in order to complete tasks. The students soon learn that cooperative efforts of their groups result in mutual benefit of all members. Research suggests that cooperative learning methods in higher achievement and greater productivity, more caring, supportive and committed relationships in the classroom, and increased social competence and self-esteem (Fox 2001; Parkay et al. 2005).
If teachers can develop effective methods of presenting information to students in a way that is motivating to them, classroom behaviour problems can be significantly reduced. In this type of environment, teacher “with-it-ness”, or knowledge of what is going on in the classroom is particularly important. When the teacher demonstrates knowledge of what is going on there is a noted increase in students’ work ethic, and a decrease in disruptive behaviour (Martin et al. 2000).
The ‘behaviour modification’ model suggests that teachers can change sculpt student learning by using various methods of enforcement. It is the most researched and perhaps most controversial model of classroom management (Martin et al. 2000). According to Parkay and his colleagues (2005) this model is built on the perception, that students’ behaviour is learned, and those behaviours that are rewarded will tend to increase and those that are discouraged will tend to decrease. This negative and positive reinforcement takes place when the behaviour results in a consequence that makes that behaviour more or less likely to reoccur in the future (Martin et al. 2000). For the teacher, this begins with the presentation of stimuli in the form of new material. Students’ behaviours are closely monitored and the appropriate behaviours are immediately reinforced according (Parkay et al. 2005).
An example of a school-wide approach is the assertive discipline system, which proved a means of dealing with behaviour issues at the time that it occurs. It does so through a plan that makes the student responsible for his / her actions and the resulting consequences. This model is structured to give teachers more control in handling disruptive students (Steere 1988; Martin et al. 2000; Parkay et al. 2005). When dealing with students the teacher must: consistently enforce the rules of the classroom, make appropriate eye contact, face the students when talking to them, give instructions in a clear and concise manner without rhetoric, and don’t make threats unless they can be followed through each time a rule is violated. All classroom rules should be clearly stated at the beginning of the school year so that all students are aware of but them and the consequences resulting from a violation. There should be no more than four observable and enforceable rules, and students should receive both positive and negative consequences are a result of good and bad behaviour, respectively (Steere 1988; Parkay et al. 2005).
Creating a Classroom Management Plan
Each of the aforementioned models (as well as those that were not discussed), are equally important in developing a classroom management plan. Having overview knowledge of several of these models presents a basis for analyzing one’s own beliefs about classroom management theories and functions as a foundation for one’s own classroom management system (Steer 1988; Marin et al. 2000 ).
Each writer believes that his or her model, when used in its pure form is the only correct one for managing classroom behaviour. Fortunately, teachers are not bound to one model or the other, and can choose one that suits their classroom or school. By modifying managerial procedures and even selecting from different models, a model that is specific to the needs of a particular classroom can be created (Steere 1988).
Since classes are dynamic and unpredictable, regardless of the management model, new and experienced teachers can, at times, find that their strategies are ineffective. Students can exhibit any number of varying behaviours, so the strategies used effectively in one class may not work for a different group of students in all situations. Therefore, teachers, as professionals, should be familiar with sever classroom management model alternatives, as well as the consequences resulting from putting these alternate methods to use. The teacher is responsible for choosing the model that is appropriate for a given situation. Additionally, the selected models should be representative of the teacher’s personality and instructional methods; students will be able to see through a model that is inappropriately used, and the classroom situation could become worse (Steere 1988).
There are three recommendations that new teachers should consider when they are developing a classroom management plan. First, implement a known model as the basis for that which is being created; always have a plan of action when entering the classroom. Next, the model should be modified to suit the teacher’s style, and to the point where it is free of inconsistencies. Make sure rules can be fairly and consistently Applied. Lastly, the new model can be made more complete by adding preventative measures and corrective techniques (Steere 1998; Martin et al. 2000).
In our current society that is so culturally diverse, teachers are often at the forefront of interaction with students of different racial or ethnic backgrounds. When teachers are creating a model of classroom management, they need to acknowledge the cultural and behavioural differences among students of different backgrounds. This idea of framing the management plan around the diverse culture of the class is called culturally responsive classroom management (CRCM). In implementing a CRCM teachers must take time to learn about the students’ family backgrounds, cultural norms for personal relationships and the ways that their culture treat time and space. This information can then be used to demonstrate open-ness and willingness to learn. Once teachers reflect their biases and values, and reflect on these, it will change how the students are affected, and in essence their behaviour (Weinstein et al. 2003).
Classroom Rules and Consequences
Classroom rules are written to teach students appropriate adult behaviours that can be followed regardless of where they are. Research suggests that students are better able to conform to a common management theme within a school rather than a set of different themes (i.e. each teacher using a different model). This was self-evident in the example of the St. John’s school that has essentially adapted a single model within the school.
If there is a common set of rules defined by all the teachers in the school and students fully understand what teachers expect of them, they are more likely adhere to and follow the rules. This is also true of classes where the students are able to work with the teacher to create the rules for a classroom. This creates a common vision between the students and the teachers. In classrooms where there the rules have not been indicated to the students there tends to be a broad range of behaviours as students test the teacher to determine his / her expectations by trial and error. To prevent this from happening teachers should highlight the rules at the earliest opportunity so they are aware of the expected behaviour is (McEwan 2000).
McEwan (2000) suggests that elementary and secondary schools should base their rules on the legal frameworks that are in place in their jurisdictions. That is, create rules with students’ rights to due process in mind. There are entitled to know what the rules are, and be governed by what is fair an equitable. Rules should result in students becoming ethical people by developing moral meaning, rather than people who just follow rules.
In terms of consequences resulting from ‘breaking the rules’, there is a much longer list of what teachers should not do than what they should do when students are misbehaving. Students typically do not respond well to teachers who are heavy-handed and belittle them because of their actions. The teacher should be firm, but not discourteous to the students. A soft reprimand is known to have a similar effect as a praise, resulting in an improvement in behaviour. There is often a noted drop in achievement that correlates to teachers’ yelling, scolding, insulting, or criticizing of students. Punishing an entire class for the misbehaviour of a few students will only result in discontent from those students who were behaving. Effective classroom managers punish students less and were more supportive and reassuring to those students who were disruptive. Public displays of correction are also not appropriate. Doing so may cause students to retaliate or even become aggressive, and in this instance, the student(s) should be consulted outside of the classroom where other students cannot form opinions (Steere 1988; Spitalli 2004).
Using profanity toward students, using schoolwork as a form punishment, lowering grades as punishment, teaching through coercion (i.e. memorization of insignificant rules), asking students to repeat foul language, and sending students to the office for minor infractions are also among the things that teachers should not do when students are misbehaving (Spitalli 2004). Again, the list of what should be done is considerably shorter, but be firm, fair and consistent when enforcing rules and disciplining students sums it up nicely.
In conclusion, it is evident that classroom management is broad topic that encompasses an abundance of information. It is essential to understand that classroom management is the maintenance and control of an effective learning environment, but also with the added aspect of influencing students’ behaviour. Equally important, to new teachers in particular, is knowing that there are different models of classroom management from which to draw theories and strategies that can be used create ones own models in the classroom. Encouraging preservice teachers to take courses (where available) or research the subject can improve their knowledge of the subject, and provide a starting point for effective classroom management.
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