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.

13 Responses

  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.

  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.

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