Tony Gurr

Are we on the right “track” with CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT? [Part TWO]…

In Classroom Teaching, Our Schools on 04/04/2011 at 5:52 pm

When we hear some of the “horror stories” about classroom management, we could be forgiven for believing that every classroom looks something like this:

In truth, most classes are nothing like this…but if they do exist, it probably has more to do with the layout of the room and the fact that the teacher is “rooted” to her chair – than the kids!

Yes, it’s true we all have the odd student or group of students from “hell” – but it’s important to remember that most of these kids are not “bad” per se (they simply “do” some “bad things”).

…And, mostly because we, as teachers, have not done something “right”.

That’s right! Kids learn the “rules of the classroom gamefrom teachers, they take their lead from what their teachers have “learned” them over their school careers – and most of this happens on an unconscious level.

For example, teachers often complain that all kids want to know is “what is on the exam”. The problem is that it is largely teachers who have “created” this type of approach to learning and study – parents, too. But then, we need to ask who also taught the parents?

It’s exactly the same with classroom management.

As I hinted in Part One of this post, teachers who equate classroom management with “discipline” are more likely to rely on a “bag of tricks approach” to running their classrooms – and these tricks are more likely to be similar to the following:

  • The adoption of “overly-strict” approaches to interactions with students
  • The use of “scare-tactics” and forms of “cruel-and-unusual punishment
  • The “abdication of responsibility” and processes of “passing-the-buck” to HoDs or principals

Now, I do not know about you – but when I was a “kid”, it was teachers that loved these “techniques” who did not “learn” me very much at all (in fact, I can hardly remember their names)!

I remember (and respect) the ones who took a real interest in me, who engaged me, who recognised my achievements and challenged me to live up to my potential (I even remember – over 30 years later – some of things they actually “learned” me)….

The “disciplinarians”, in contrast (and as I learned as a young teacher), were also more likely to be “grumpy“, not pull their weight in a team and suffer from stress, premature aging and illness – even run the risk of “karoushi“!

On the other side of the coin are teachers who opt to pull “the ABCD’s” from their “bag of tricks” – a set of techniques that do little more than:

  • Amuse
  • Bribe
  • Comfort
  • Distract

And, by doing so, these teachers end up doing little more than “teach” their students even more “bad habits” – bad habits that reach over from the realm of formal education into “real life”.

Nearly all teachers work with a “bag of tricks” – and not all of these are “evil”.

The problem is that these tricks are usually based on one-off or stand-alone techniques, many of them are “reactive” and most of them tend to be in response to bad behaviour or discipline issues.

The thing is that not all teachers are created equally. I have met many great teachers who simply do not seem to have very many classroom management problems at all – and it does not seem to matter how big or small their classes are or how many “trouble-causers” they have in the room. They seem to be able to manage any class the school might throw at them – many of them even ask for the most difficult groups and the lowest-achieving classes.

Apart from being some of the most optimistic teachers I have met – they all seem to understand the golden rules of effective classroom management:

These are the “real heroes” of the profession and they recognise that it is the value you add to a student that is importantnot the “credit” you cream off from students with natural talent or a stack of family-based advantages. These teachers often get really cool Hollywood “film deals”but there are more of them than you would imagine!

We need to remember that “discipline” is not “classroom management” – we step into “discipline mode” when (and only when) classroom management systems have “failed” to produce the results we want.

The key word here is “system” or “procedure” – systems and procedures that proactively prevent challenges with behaviour and keep the focus on getting-things-done (and by “things” we mean “learning”)!

This “difference” is the whole basis for Harry K. Wong’s observation that:

Effective teachers MANAGE their classrooms. Ineffective teachers DISCIPLINE their classrooms.

The lack of attention to creating these systems and procedures prompted Fred Jones (Tools for Teaching) to note that:

No one enters the teaching profession wanting to “nag” and “criticise”, but many teachers end up doing so every day

The “secret”, it would appear – is that if a teacher wants to break the vicious cycle of “nag & criticise” and move away from a discipline-driven approach to classroom management, s/he needs to focus on developing procedures that help him/her deal with the day-to-day challenges they face with their students


Tomorrow, in the final part of this “trilogy”, we will:

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    to read everthing at one place.

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