By Denise Fawcett Facey
In virtually every teacher education program, classroom management is a major emphasis. While it encompasses the order and structure for how everything is done in a classroom, the part that everyone seems to focus on is controlling students’ behavior. After all, the thinking goes, if you don’t control your classroom, you can’t teach. However, have you considered what that traditional view of classroom management really means? Here’s the general goal:
- Straight rows of seated students
- A quiet room, with students working silently
- Students completing highly structured, explicitly defined assignments
- Unquestioning obedience to a list of rules
- Foregoing group work and partnerships to maintain order
You get the gist. Overall, order is the primary goal, and compliant students are a major objective. But here’s the thing: This focus on regimentation might effectively provide teachers control and compliance, but it also takes the joy, creativity and individuality out of learning. What you have left is a quiet room, which likely reflects both boredom and apathy. That’s not exactly a recipe for active, innovative learning.
On the other hand, perhaps quiet and compliance are precisely what you want. You have a lesson plan to complete, and all this collaboration and creativity often lead to noisy, messy classrooms. And you certainly don’t want that, do you? If this sounds perfect to you, I invite you to consider what learning really means.
Real learning entails noise and, quite often, mess. Both are byproducts of discovery, innovation and just plain engaged learning. In fact, without the first two, you are hard pressed to develop the others.
Moreover, here’s another fact: a compliant child is not a thinking child. Sure, an understanding of each teacher’s parameters as well as the benefits derived from working within them is essential to a productive learning environment. However, creating a highly regimented environment in which every step is predetermined and predictable, leaves students without any room for higher-order thinking — analysis, synthesis, evaluation, creativity. Equally bad, it’s simply not fun. And, yes, fun is a key to learning. It’s what propels lifelong learning.
So what’s the solution? Consider creating a classroom in which students learn to manage their own individual behaviors, working within a common construct. Rather than a long list of rules and regulations, for instance, a basic agreement to respect one another covers virtually all negative behaviors usually seen in class just as an agreement to put forth one’s best effort boosts academics. Together, those two rules incorporated practically any classroom eventuality.
Then, to keep students cognizant of what it means to demonstrate respect for others, social and emotional learning (SEL) makes a difference. The character development that SEL represents is the real replacement for classroom management. And while we’re at it, the tenets of restorative justice — its emphasis on repairing a relationship harmed by one person’s actions toward another, rather than on punishment for that behavior — go a long way towards fostering self-analysis and self-awareness that benefit both behavior and academics.
When you use SEL and restorative justice, you really don’t need to focus on discipline and punishment. Instead, you can focus on learning, which makes learning and teaching so much more productive and enjoyable.