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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