democratizing classroom management

Democratizing Classroom Management.jpg

Classroom management, including discipline and behavior management, can be seen to represent the role of adult authority over children, and repression, in general. The analogy to the relationship between citizens and their government is obvious, and therefore, it is important that teachers pay careful attention to how they are managing the classroom. The teacher has great responsibility to maintain an environment in the classroom that is conducive to student learning. Letting go of authoritarian control in the classroom does not mean abandoning rules or consequences. Democracies are not lawless free-for-alls. 

In the same way that governments achieve legitimacy based the rational, informed support of citizens, what is important in the school context is that students understand the role that rules and discipline play in creating a context where everyone can live and learn together amicably. Ideally, students should be involved in discussions about classroom management, and even the formulation/ revision of rules and consequences. It is also important to their concepts of justice that they see rules being applied fairly as well as understanding how and why judgments are made. Students should understand the logic and rationale for rules, what ideals they are based on, and how they are formulated, interpreted, and implemented. When they are established thoughtfully and implemented fairly and transparently, discipline systems can be an effective way of raising students' awareness about rights and responsibilities, as well as the political nature of all behavior. 

Ultimately, however, we want to be able to go beyond the idea of rules and consequences. Even if they are fair and transparent, we do not want a police state in our classrooms. What we want is for the underlying values to be understood and internalized. In order to avoid over-emphasizing rules, a good alternative focus would be on the establishment of routines and procedures in the classroom—ways of doing things which make sense, and facilitate the smooth functioning of the classroom, such as raising a hand to ask a question, rather than shouting out, which is disruptive to the lesson. 

Get away from: Rules and punishments

Work Towards: Routines and procedures

Get away from: Reactive approaches like punishments which respond after the fact to negative behaviors

Work Towards: Proactive approaches such as interesting/ engaging lessons which preempt negative behaviors because students are actively interested and involved

Get away from: Punishing students, and especially those not logically connected to their specific situation

Work Towards: Logical consequences such as quiet time for a student who has gotten too excited

Get away from: Focusing on having a silent classroom

Work Towards: Focusing on having a classroom in which all students are engaged in learning

Get away from: Rules imposed by the teacher and not explained to students

Work Towards: Agreements on how to work together, in which students understand the reasons behind rules, and their role in maintaining an environment in which everyone can feel valued and learn effectively

Get away from: Teacher as the sole “enforcer” of rules and agreements in the classroom

Work Towards: Students as jointly responsible for maintaining a classroom which is conducive to learning, including involvement in formulating rules and standards, in exerting positive peer pressure, and perhaps even as members of committees reviewing infractions and determining appropriate responses

First steps: 

At the start of the new semester, rather than telling students the “rules” in “your” classroom, spend some time talking with them about what “agreements” you need to have about behavior in order to protect everyone’s right to learn. 

Think about the routine daily activities in your classroom, and consider what kind of routines you might be able to introduce in order to make those activities run smoothly.

For active learning activities like discussions, develop a cue for your students to quiet down and pay attention, such as raising your hand and counting slowly to see how long it takes them to stop and turn to you. Practice this cue with them and challenge them as a class to do this within five seconds. Avoid talking loudly to be heard overtop of student noise. 

Next time a student misbehaves in the class, talk with them in private afterwards to understand why they misbehaved, and to agree on a way to avoid a repeat of that situation. Think also about what you could have done on your side to prevent it.