Making the Right Choices: Authentic Classroom Management

By Thornton, Holly | AMLE Magazine, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Making the Right Choices: Authentic Classroom Management


Thornton, Holly, AMLE Magazine


What does classroom management mean to you? Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)? Token economies? Some other form of rewards and punishments?

Classroom management often focuses on changing students' behavior, keeping them on task, and limiting the number of distractions in the classroom. However, management options include far more than this reactive stance. Active approaches focus on the needs of the students and, in the case of middle schools, the needs of young adolescent learners.

Young adolescents need to belong, to find their identities, to develop competency, and to expand their cognitive abilities to move from concrete and egocentric perspectives to abstract, socially just ones. Authentic proactive management not only meets the needs of young adolescents, it also cultivates decision-making and problem-solving skills to make the classroom a positive community focused on learning.

Authentic proactive classroom management is not about addressing problems once they occur, but rather cultivating an atmosphere in the classroom that focuses on learning, meeting student needs, and developing student engagement and motivation. Within this definition, management is not a separate activity, a prepackaged approach, or even a series of strategies. Rather, it is a way of thinking about teaching and learning by building on foundational relationships with young adolescents.

Building Foundations

The foundation for this approach to management lies within the teacher's philosophy. The teacher should ask, "What are my learning goals? What do I want students to be like when they leave my classroom and enter the world beyond school? How can I cultivate skills and dispositions that will enable them to become harmonious members of a productive community?"

If the teacher's learning goals are to have students become critical thinkers who analyze situations, solve problems, and create new understandings, then classroom management must foster these goals. The locus of control does not lie with the teacher, but with the decisions students learn to make. This type of approach meets the young adolescent's needs to make decisions, have power, and engage in positive social interactions with peers and teachers.

When classroom management is grounded in the teacher's philosophy, it becomes an organic part of the learning experience versus an outside mandate. A philosophy that embraces middle level practices and beliefs can guide the teacher toward developing a positive learning environment for and with their young adolescent students.

External vs Internal Motivation

Let's examine the difference between a proactive approach to classroom management and a reactive approach. Even if a reactive approach seeks to reward positive behaviors rather than punish misbehaviors, it still tends to occur after the fact and focuses on consequences-and consequences are often equated with punishments in such a model.

Even if the consequences are rewards for positive behaviors, the management model still relies on changing behavior through external motivation, including reinforcement and consequence- what B. F. Skinner called operant conditioning.

But young adolescents have the ability to reason, to make moral decisions. In fact, middle school is the time to work on developing moral skills and decision making with students, to focus on doing the right thing for the right reasons, which is foundational to authentic classroom management.

Authentic approaches to class management focus on student choice and ownership. Meeting student needs rather than coercing them to perform well will increase student satisfaction and excitement for learning and reduce classroom management problems.

As William Glasser suggests, the only person you can control is yourself and people engage in behavior choices to meet fundamental needs. These include four fundamental psychological needs: belonging (connecting/ love), power (significance/ competence), freedom (autonomy/ justice), and fun (satisfaction/ meaningful learning). …

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