Take the Manage Out of Classroom Management

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.

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6 Responses to Take the Manage Out of Classroom Management

  1. Pingback: Sharing Diigo Links and Resources (weekly) | Another EducatorAl Blog

  2. I always find your blog very interesting. Thanks for the share.

  3. Julie Bates says:

    This is really good food for thought. I am going to work hard to let go more in 2019.

  4. Jennifer Locklear says:

    Do you have a middle school model for student directed learning? Thank you!

  5. Martha Roach says:

    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.

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