Is the term ‘classroom management’ outdated?

Is it time to let go of the traditional way we think about managing our classrooms?In the last few years, there’s been a growing amount of push back in the fringes of the educational community against the term “classroom management.”  In fact, some of the edubloggers that I most admire and respect have more or less dropped the term from their vocabulary, and their viewpoint is increasingly spreading into mainstream conversations.

For example, Pernille Ripp has mentioned that she’s no longer referring to ‘managing’ student behavior as we don’t need to ‘manage’ people, we manage tasks. People? We need to guide, lead, and inspire them.

You control animals and manage tasks, not children.  How about guiding or leading them instead? Language matters because it changes your own mindset.  I don’t do classroom management, we instead have classroom routines and expectations.  The power of words is immense.

Over the past few months, John T. Spencer has concluded that classroom management and classroom leadership both have a place, and that pitting them against one another is a false dichotomy. However, he generally prefers to think about leading rather than managing his classroom, and seems to focus most of his energy there:

I don’t want to manage a group. I want to lead students. Managers maintain the status quo, using whatever possible to keep kids compliant. Focussing on outward behaviors, they miss the human element.

Leaders, however, work in nuance and paradox. They serve humbly but also speak boldly. They understand that change happens relationally through trust. True, a leader will articulate rules, but the goal is to help a child develop a philosophical and ethical understanding behind behaviors.

Leadership is messy. It takes longer. It is often more confusing, more painful and more counterintuitive than management. However, ultimately I want to be a leader rather than a manager.

I agree with Pernille and John, and the power of words IS immense. I like the idea of ‘leading a classroom’ rather than managing it. And I want to make sure the type of teaching I advocate for is truly meeting the needs of kids and not just based on the way things have always been done.

The problem for me is that my website and book both have the words ‘classroom management’ in them. Waivering from that phrase kind of turns everything on its head, doesn’t it?

I’ve thought a lot about this issue for a long time. Asking tough questions usually results in answers that lead to even more tough questions, and I’m okay with that. Sometimes the solution is just to think and ask, and not worry so much about finding the “right” answer.

For now, I think the best solution for me is to own the term “classroom management” and redefine it for myself. Sometimes it’s not the word that needs to be updated, but its definition. The kind of classroom management that I believe in is:

  • Not synonymous with behavior management, but includes every element of classroom life, from organizing and maintaining a warm, inviting classroom to planning engaging lessons that get kids actively involved.
  • Not a one-size-fits-all “system”, but an intuitive approach that empowers teachers to follow their own unique style of relating to students and running the daily tasks of a classroom.
  • Not about controlling kids, but teaching kids how to exercise self-control.
  • Not overvaluing compliance or forcing kids to behave, but showing them how to think critically about the choices they make and administering logical consequences as needed.
  • Not a teacher-centered classroom, but a classroom community in which students understand the importance of their actions and decisions.

Is everything I’ve written on this site 100% consistent with this philosophy? No, probably not. The educational community has changed rapidly in the last few years, and my personal teaching philosophy continues to change as it always has. I’ve sometimes given advice that I think made sense a few years back, but that I would explain differently now. And that’s probably the only thing that will always hold true–that my  outlook on teaching will continually change.

I’m also thinking about how behavior management does not equal discipline, and discipline does not equal punishment. But that’s a subject for another post. Right now, I’m still grappling with the realization that I’m a classroom management blogger who is rethinking the term ‘classroom management’. And that’s enough to ponder for one day.

What does classroom management mean to you? What needs to change, the term or its definition (or is it fine the way it is)?

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Subscribe via email for blog updates, exclusive tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Karen October 29, 2012 at 6:47 am

Wow, some interesting thoughts here. I like the overall idea, but I still need to manage my classroom. When I say that, I’m not just talking about student behaviour, but about the overall way that the classroom operates. It covers things like noise levels, and respect for students and teachers, but it also includes having places for things, and systems for returning papers and getting equipment out and away. Teachers have to be good managers, especially good time managers, if we are to help our students learn all they need to know.

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2 Angela Watson October 29, 2012 at 9:16 am

That makes sense to me, Karen. I love your point about being good time managers–that’s so integral and I’ve focused so much of my energy on writing about it, and yet I didn’t mention it in my definition of classroom management! Consider this my first revision. :-)

When you work in a job in which you are responsible for getting 30 little people to a cafeteria at EXACTLY 11:27 (and not a minute sooner or later) and instructional periods are short and precious, time management can make an enormous difference in teacher effectiveness. I’m definitely going to think (and probably write) on that some more.

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3 Angela Watson October 29, 2012 at 9:19 am

FYI to anyone who’s reading this: I’m in NYC right now and likely to lose power/internet for awhile. Please continue your discussions and I’ll chime in again as soon as I’m able! Didn’t want anyone to think their comments were being ignored.

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4 mel October 29, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Thanks for your honesty in wrestling with the label “classroom management.” As a beginning teacher, I have been among those uncomfortable with the idea of managing people. Instead, I have a Pinterest board dedicated to “Classroom Optimization.” It may never catch on with other people, but choosing these words helps me also be deliberate about choosing strategies and systems that are in sync with my beliefs. For the same reason, I refer to myself as a “learning leader,” rather than a teacher. “Teacher” is still a valid term, but choosing my own self-description constantly reconnects me to my values.

I wish you and all your many NYC neighbours well as Hurricane Sandy bears down on you!

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5 Gina October 29, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Hi! I think your vision of “classroom management” is very similar to my own. It’s constantly changing as I reflect on what my philosophy is, and how best to implement it in every aspect of my classroom. I actually wrote a post about this very subject:

http://play-basedclassroom.blogspot.com/2011/04/how-to-control-classroom-environment.html

I agree, you have to stop trying to “control” the children, and focus more on self-control techniques. Thanks for the read!

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6 Shibahn Landry October 29, 2012 at 11:21 pm

I agree with you in that management is so much more than just student behavior. I really do think that management is the concerning the whole environment of the classroom and what goes on inside it. The bullet points you hit above are exactly how I feel. There is no one size fits all. It’s more than just student behavior. How I manage the classroom overall, helps me with students who have difficult behaviors and hit helps influence them to bring them around to a more positive area. I’ve seen it happen. Not easy. But it works. :) Yes our viewpoints on this will change as time goes on. But to me, if it doesn’t, we’re doing our students a huge disfavor. They change all the time. So we must do the same.

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