When I lead blended learning workshops or coach teachers implementing blended learning, I get a lot of questions about classroom management. I’ve never liked the idea that as teachers it is our job to “manage” students, but it wasn’t until I was reading research about human motivation for my doctoral program that I understood why I was feeling such a knee-jerk reaction when I heard the phrase “classroom management.”

On some primal level, I know that I don’t like to be managed myself. When I enter an environment where I have no control, I immediately shut down. I’ve sat through several professional development training sessions in which I was instructed to put my phone away, told when the bathroom breaks would be, and directed to complete specific tasks in a certain way. I don’t enjoy that experience, and now I know why.

Human beings desire autonomy, or freedom from external control, and the ability to make their own decisions. Researchers have isolated autonomy as a basic human need. When humans are given autonomy, especially in a learning environment, it yields higher levels of interest, engagement, and motivation. Teachers who are autonomy supportive “offer their students choices, give them informative feedback and allow them the space to decide for themselves how they want to learn (Hofferber, Eckes & Wilde, 2014, p.178). It turns out that students in an autonomy-supportive environment learn and retain more, earn better marks, demonstrate higher levels of learning endurance, and enjoy learning more (Grolnick & Ryan, 1987; Miserando, 1996; Bätz, Beck, Kramer, Niestradt, & Wilde, 2009).

By contrast, teachers who tend to be more controlling do not allow learners to make key decisions about what and how they learn. These teachers tend to provide “explicit instructions for how tasks are to be performed…proposing solutions, giving students few or no choices, and put them under pressure to perform in prespecified ways” (Hofferber, Eckes & Wilde, 2014, p.178). In this type of learning environment, punishments and rewards are used to motivate students to do specific tasks. These extrinsic motivators do not inspire deep learning and can function to harm intrinsic motivation. The goal in a controlled learning environment is compliance. Teachers attempt to achieve compliance by managing students. Managing students implies that the teacher possesses the power in the classroom.

Instead of managing students, our goal should be to motivate them. The irony is that the very thing many teachers fear (lack of control) may be the very thing that motivates students to lean into the learning happening in the classroom. The more choices students get to make about when, how, and what they learn, the more likely they are to be excited about learning and stick with challenging tasks.

Blended learning models require a fundamental shift in control in the classroom from teacher to learner. Ideally, these models blend online and offline learning to place students at the center of the learning happening in the classroom. For this to happen, teachers must architect lessons that invite students to be active agents in the learning process. Students must feel their basic need for autonomy is prioritized in the learning environment and valued by the teacher.

Bätz, K., Beck, L., Kramer, L., Niestradt, J. & Wilde, M. (2009). Wie beeinflusst Schülermitbestimmung im Biologieunterricht intrinsische Motivation und Wissenserwerb? Zeitschrift für Didaktik der Naturwissenschaften, 15, 307–323.

Grolnick, W. S. & Ryan, R. M. (1987). Autonomy in Children’s Learning: An Experimental and Individual Difference Investigation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(5), 890-898.

Hofferber, N., Eckes, A., & Wilde, M. (2014). Effects of Autonomy Supportive vs. Controlling Teachers’ Behavior on Students’ Achievements. European Journal of Educational Research, 3(4), 177-184.

Miserando, M. (1996). Children who do well in school: Individual differences in perceived competence and autonomy in above-average children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 203-214.

39 Responses

    • As the article states, it is more powerful to motivate students. While it can be a little challenging at times to find ways to motivate students when it comes to certain topics, that just makes sense. If we excite students about the learning, they will be more willing participants and take ownership. Another way to provide ownership that is also mentioned in the article is to allow student autonomy. I have always found that when students can make choices in their learning, they are happier to participate.

  1. I am more of a free spirit teacher. My main rules are keep your phone out of sight and keep working until you are finished with the classroom assignments. The phone piece is the hardest for my high school students.

    • Wow! It would drive me crazy for students to be allowed to have phones at school or out during school. I’m glad there are strong teachers like you Martha that enjoys older children. I do not after age 5 because I cannot tolerate the disrespect and rudeness with.

  2. This is good stuff! There are many teachers who talk so much, while the student just sit there unengaged. They have no input so learning stop and become distant because they feel excluded made to fee that they are not part of the process. Some teachers lecture and requires attention, these folk need to come to realize they lost their audience some 30 minutes ago. It is imperative that we invite student engagement so that learning become a continuous dialog among students and the instructor.

  3. I plan to be more vigilant in the classroom and spend more of my time focusing on motivating my students to be the best at what they do rather than sending so much time on management. I do realize that management is important. however there are other skills that are important as well.

    • We all learn and process information on different levels. Like you Mrs. Almalaki, I plan to be vigilant in the classroom. I’d like to first find out what their interests are on the first day and assist in building positive relationships in the classroom.

  4. Amazing… I found this blog to be beneficial and it will definitely inform my instruction going forward. I was taught as a new teacher, 11 years ago, that control and classroom management were the greatest assets to effectively teaching. Now, there is a paramount shift in mindset for teaching & learning to motivate learners and this yields a greater value due to increased choice resulting in students retaining more, which I am committed to get on board with quickly.

  5. This is an awesome perspective for inviting both teachers and learners to enjoy the art of teaching and learning! It makes so much sense as it aligns with my belief about “managing” procedures and processes, and “leading” teachers and students through such facilitated elements with methods of guidance, feedback, and support. I agree blended learning models require a fundamental shift in control in the classroom from teacher to learner, I’m all in. I can’t wait to begin sharing this concept for designing our academic summer camp opportunities. Many thanks for your insight!! It was a great read!!

  6. I liked the comment on shifting to motivate rather than manage will lead to students freedom in their own learning.

  7. My biggest take away from this blog is the reminder that people like autonomy. As teachers, we need to constantly remind ourselves that students are also people. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. I think of autonomy and flexibility. Students taken ownership and working at their pace. This requires teachers to “release” some of the “power” to their students and trust that they will work towards the goal. It is also important for teachers plan rigorous activities and keep away from this being just “busy” work.

  9. I think of autonomy and flexibility. This requires teachers to “release” some of the “power” to their students and trust that they will work towards the goal. It is also important for teachers plan rigorous activities and keep away from this being just “busy” work. A lot of great ideas to plan moving forward.

  10. I think the struggle for me would be identifying in a classroom of this sort the rigor. Are the assignments rigorous enough for the targeted students? This of course would have to be managed by the teacher. The standards would have to be ever present in the creation of the assignments. It would be challenging to keep up with this specific type of rigor. I would have to know the standards as well and be able to identify what type of rigor that is needed. If rigor is not present then the teacher will need guidance in order to provide it I would assume this because it wasn’t present initially. Working alone as an administrator I don’t see where I would get the time to make this happen.

  11. I think of autonomy and flexibility. Teachers must “release” some of the “power” to their students and trust that they will work. Rigorous activities are important and keep away from “busy” work. My take away from this is lots of ideals moving forward for the year.

  12. I think this is really good information, I think this will help me grow as a teacher. I believe everything will change even to the time students report to school, and its a benefit for them to take control of their education.

  13. I was wondering which is more effective, carrot and stick strategy or students as active agents in the learning process who map their own learning. You’re 100% correct! When something comes from within, it becomes an urge to students.

  14. There is definitely a balance in managing vs. motivating students. Students must be active agents while being autonomus and completely engaged in the classroom. The teachers ability to make sure students are on task, while managing the classroom is key to the learning environment.

    • Fostering student motivation is a difficult but necessary aspect of teaching. I think after COVID, it is more difficult for students (and some teachers) to get motivated.

  15. Managing different from motivating. My students love choice and always focus more on tasks they have designed. IT is very important to engaging students every day.

  16. Students absolutely thrive off of choice. Management can also be a choice too. For example, behavior related choices. Do the right thing or the wrong thing, but the choice is yours.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *