deconstructing classroom management

The Basic Concept

Classroom management refers to the way in which the classroom is structured, managed, and maintained by or with the teacher. It is often understood more narrowly in terms of the management and regulation of student behaviour, but optimally goes beyond this to include other aspects of classroom life, such as the organization and maintenance of the physical environment. Operationally, classroom management is usually carried out through a combination of the following elements: social norms; rules, and consequences for breaking rules; positive expectations; role modelling; good pedagogical relationships; positive peer pressure; routines and procedures for doing things; well designed learning activities that interest and engage students, and so on. 

Functional Importance

Effective classroom management is fundamental to teaching and learning. It the classroom is a chaotic and unruly place, then teachers will have a hard time orchestrating learning activities for their students, and students will have a hard time concentrating and benefitting from them. On the other hand, when a classroom is managed efficiently, teachers are able to provide a wide range of learning experiences for their students, and students are able to participate constructively in them, and reap their benefit. 

Classroom management is not purely about maintaining "order" or "control" in the classroom, and those terms are often associated with a particularly punative approach to classroom management. When a teacher is perceived to be strict, and often resorts to yelling or threatening students in order to maintain control, it is often a sign of a more fundamental dysfunction in the way the classroom is being managed. 

Unintended Consequences

Classroom management relates directly to the role of adult authority over children, and this in turn relates to the development students' sense of autonomy, morality, self-regulation, and so on. This aspect of the teacher's role is part of the daily conditioning of students that takes place at school, and when classroom management is dysfunctional, it can be ineffective, or worse, can have a negative developmental effect on students. Several dysfunctional approaches, and their consequences, are mentioned below. 

Authoritarian Classroom Management

Authoritarian teachers are those who aim to control students directly, through top-down and heavy-handed approaches. These are teachers who yell, threaten, intimidate, humiliate, or even physically force their students to comply with their wishes. Other behaviors associated with authoritarian teachers include: regularly criticizing and scolding; showing bad temper; belittling students; bossing them around; denying certain fundamentals, such as not letting the child go to the bathroom; and even physical punishments. This approach can ultimately lead to the following, as students become accustomed to this kind of dysfunctional authority: 
- Conformity, in order not to stand out or become subject to criticism. 
- Dishonesty, in order to dodge criticism or escape punishment. 
- Low self-esteem, due to regular criticism or humiliation.
- Complacency, and low social competence, because the child becomes accustomed to high levels of external control.
- Anger, resentment, and powerlessness, even to the point of rebelliousness or hostility towards authority.

Manipulative Classroom Management

Manipulative classroom management is similar to authoritarian classroom management because it is focused on controlling children using external means. However, rather than intimidation, like the authoritarian approach, manipulative teachers use material and emotional means to control their students. They make extensive use of rewards and punishments, often in the form of bribes like free time or no homework, to get what they want. This approach can be confusing for students, as they are often rewarded for behaviours that should be expected as standard, or punished for the behaviors of one individual in the class. This tends to result in mistrust and unruliness. Manipulative teachers also use emotional control, by demonstrating or witholding praise, attention, acceptance, and so on. Other common strategies of manipulative teachers include: isolating a child; criticizing or humiliating them; arbitrary rewards and punishments; denial of rights and freedoms; and extended lectures designed to make students feel guilty or ashamed. Manipulative approaches like these can lead to: 
- Insecurity, particularly when acceptance and attention are witheld.
- Anxiety, related to wanting rewards and fearing punishments.  
- Resentfulness, because children who are manipulated often feel misunderstood and confused.
- Deviousness, as the children learn to become manipulative themselves--cooperating only for rewards, and acting out when rewards are witheld.
- Lack of self-discipline, because they are motivated by external factors, and do not develop instrinsic mechanisms for managing their own behavior.
- Emotional withdrawal, because they observe adult authority figures as being unreliable sources of attention and acceptance. 

Permissive Classroom Management

At the other end of the spectrum from authoritarian and manipulative approaces, is permissive classroom management. The permissive teacher lacks control in their classroom, and often lacks the respect of the children as well. In some cases this may be because the teacher intentionally allows children the widest possible scope of behavior, favoring an unrestrictive environment, or they may simply want to be “nice.” More commonly, however, they lack the tools to bring their students' conduct into a reasonable range. In all of these cases, chaos tends to prevail. Permissive teachers have a hard time setting limits for behavior in their classrooms, and when they do set limits, their students often ignore them with little or no consequence. The techniques of permissive teachers include: nagging, negotiating, pleading, yielding, self-sacrificing (cleaning up after the students), and sometimes offering rewards in order to gain some degree of cooperation. Oftentimes, permissive teachers ultimately resort to yelling and other authoritative approaches when their students become too unruly. The consequences of permissive approaches can include: 
- Rudeness/ disrespectfulness, since there are no clear limits, and the students do not become habitualized to the norms and conventions of polite behavior.
- Neediness, whining, and dependency, because the teacher often gives in to students unreasonable demands and behaviors.  
- Impulsiveness, because the students become accustomed to a context where anything goes, and there are few limits or constraints on the behavior that is tolerated. 
- Irresponsibleness, because there is very little real expectation on the students to take on personal responsibility.
- Dismissiveness of authority and of any potential consequences for their actions. 

Educative Applications

When a classroom is managed effectively, students stand a real chance of developing a healthy sense of respect, and reasonable expectations about authority, about order, and about the importance of balancing the needs of individuals with the needs of the group. This can have major implications for their development as adults, including their sense of justice, respect for the rule of law, socialization and ability to work with others, and their perspective about various types of authority in the adult world. Consideration should therefore be given to the subtle (or not so subtle) messages sent to students by the way in which their classrooms are managed. For example, when classroom management is maintained through routines, procedures, positive expectations, and healthy norms (as opposed to imposed rules and punishments), the expected behaviors are more likely to become internalized by students, and to carry on outside the classroom environment. When standards and expecations are communicated clearly in advance, along with the reasons for them, or when students are involved in discussing and setting those standards, they are more likely to be perceived as reasonable rather than arbitrarily. When teachers are clear, fair, and transparent in the way they manage their classes, and when learning activities are sufficiently engaging and interesting, good behavior comes naturally to most students, and teachers can focus on more important things than simply maintaining order. 

Matthew Hiebert 2015-10-16