Managing the Classroom Through Positive Relationships and Reinforcement
By Rachel Fuhrman
Classroom management is an aspect of teaching that every teacher must master, yet it is not something that can be explicitly taught in isolation outside of an actual classroom. Classroom management encompasses the actions that a teacher carries out to ensure that a lesson runs efficiently without disruptive behaviors. During my first few years of teaching, I found classroom management to be particularly challenging and saw the same sentiment echoed by other young teachers. Fortunately, I have found a number of strategies that have allowed me to manage my classroom more successfully and develop meaningful relationships with my students while doing so. Managing a classroom successfully is rooted in the ability to make students want to be in the classroom and learn through showing them they are respected, valued, and cared for. Furthermore, classroom management, including giving consequences and appropriately shutting down problem behaviors, can be used to display a sense of deep caring for students. When teachers can combine this multitude of skills to show students that the teacher is both in control, and genuinely invested in students’ success, teachers can begin to create efficient and supportive learning environments.
The first pillar of classroom management is to establish that every student is respected, valued, and cared for regardless of previous educational experience or attainment. These previous experiences inform a student’s unique perspective in the classroom. While these perspectives are what ultimately create a flourishing classroom, they may lead to problem behaviors due to distrust for the education system and authority figures if not properly addressed (Patrikakou, 2008). A teacher must therefore establish that this classroom, regardless of past experiences, is a place for every student. A teacher can begin this process by employing culturally responsive teaching practices such as including culturally relevant content, providing opportunities for students to discuss their unique backgrounds, and allowing families to be involved in the learning process. Providing these opportunities for students to see themselves in the content ensures that they see themselves as valued pieces of not only the classroom, but the world (Patrikakou, 2008).
Once students recognize that the classroom is a place that their individuality is appreciated, teachers must continue to show that each student is a valued member of the learning community that is both capable of and bound for success. To communicate these high expectations clearly, teachers can design their classrooms around their students’ success. Displaying work is a way for teachers to physically show their pride in their students’ achievements (Boyton, 2005). This helps to build a classroom environment in which students can actually see their successes and know that they are capable of continuing that success. Another technique teachers can use to establish a positive classroom environment and show confidence in the abilities of all students is through engaging every student in class, regardless of student ability (Johnson, 2018). If a teacher only calls on the highest performing students, the rest of the class will quickly realize that the teacher does not expect them to do well and those students will begin to fulfill that expectation by checking out of class (Boyton, 2005). Showing all students that your high expectations apply to them will encourage them to meet those expectations and actively participate.
When the classroom environment is encouraging and inclusive, students are more likely to want to be there and be engaged. However, it is inevitable that some students will still fall below expectations behaviorally and teachers must address and correct this quickly and efficiently as to not lose control of the entire classroom at the hand of a small group of students (Lemov, 2000). This is where a warm/strict demeanor becomes paramount as a teacher needs to be able to redirect negative behaviors in a way that does not make students feel victimized, while ensuring that the teacher does not show frustration (Lemov, 2000). I have found that addressing misbehavior by positively narrating those around the student, renaming the high expectations for the entire class, and then giving specific redirection to the necessary students is a cycle that works to manage the majority of behaviors in my classroom. Positive narration allows me to assume the best in my students and give those who are not meeting expectations the chance to fix it without personal consequence. Once the majority of students are on track, I can then individually address any student who is still off task. This allows me to provide a redirection in a more private setting by walking over to the student and using proximity or a nonverbal before whispering to the student that they need to fix something and, if necessary, issuing a consequence (Lemov, 2000). Providing more private redirection allows me to main a positive relationship with the student as I am not making them the center of attention for something negative while showing that they cannot fall below my expectations. Furthermore, when a student has received some sort of negative consequences for their behavior, it is important that the teacher follows up with that student to maintain the relationship and give both parties a chance to explain the way in which that behavior affected the learning environment (Boyton, 2005). I prioritize these conversations after class so that both the student and I have had time to consider our actions and reactions in the moment and be in the appropriate mental space to create a plan for adjusting the behavior in the future.
While this system has proved successful in many instances, there have been a few where it has not and my emotional constancy has slipped; I have resorted to becoming angry or upset instead of calmly addressing the situation. Emotional constancy is a crucial piece of classroom management, both for showing students who is in control, but moreover for maintaining relationships with students in which they know that it is their behavior that I do not like, not them as individuals (Lemov, 2000). In order to create a positive classroom environment, I know that I need to remain calm regardless of the situation and continue to uphold my expectations while moving the class forward. Teachers who suffer similarly and resort to anger or sadness in the classroom must work to develop strategies to manage their emotions in order to maintain that positive classroom environment. Furthermore, teachers must maintain that the classroom is a positive space by showing that every day is a clean slate for the students so that no matter what has happened in the past, each student is welcome and wanted in the classroom each day (Boyton, 2005). This helps to build and maintain relationships as students know that their teachers believe in their ability to be better and that they will be given every chance to show that going forward.
While I still have room to grow as an educator, I believe that my strategy for managing the classroom through positive relationships and redirections has provided my students the opportunity to engage in meaningful learning. Consequences may continue to be necessary to address the fraction of students for which this approach does not work, but consequences are certainly not the only option nor should they be the first option. Teachers can use a positive classroom environment, based high expectations combined with positive student teacher relationships to create a thriving classroom in which students feel successful and celebrated.
Rachel Fuhrman is currently a sixth-grade math teacher in Harlem, New York. She recently earned her Master of Science in Education Studies from the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. She is passionate about improving educational equity and strives to serve traditionally underserved communities. Additionally, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Urban Education in the future in order to further identify avenues through which to support all students in achieving at the highest levels.
Boyton M. (2005). Developing Positive Teacher Student Relationships. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/105124/chapters/Developing_Positive_Teacher-Student_Relations.aspx
Costa, A. L., & Kallick, B. (2000). Describing 16 Habits of Mind. Retrieved from http://www.habitsofmind.org/sites/default/files/16HOM2.pdf
Johnson, B. (2018, October 10). Working to Grow Students’ Trust and Respect. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/working-grow-students-trust-and-respect
Lemov, D. (2010). Teach like a champion: 49 techniques that put students on the path to college. (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Patrikakou, E. (2008). The Power of Parent Involvement: Evidence, Ideas, and Tools for Student Success. Retrieved from http://www.centerii.org/techassist/solutionfinding/resources/PowerParInvolve.pdf
[BC1]Somewhere in this paragraph, could you define classroom management for the readers such as parents who might not be as familiar with what it is?