Last time we discussed some of the theory behind classroom management. It was discussed with the understanding that it has come to mean various things to multiple people, but is best understood, for our purposes, as a way of fostering a generally organized environment, free of confusion, so learning can take place. In this second installment of ‘…Mayhem…’ we’ll look at some specific elements of classroom management: rules, procedures, directives, and my favorite, discourse. As always, if you feel the need to skip ahead, disagree, or deconstruct anything please feel free to do so. This is about conversation.
Rules state the behavioral expectation of the class, school, etc. Rules are often predetermined by administration, an individual teacher, Harry Wong, and sometimes the students themselves. Ultimately, the teacher determines the rules, and how they are enforced. Regardless of which rules are posted, you determine how the class is runs, at least on a behavioral level. Rules succeed and fail for many reasons. There success and failure has a great effect on classroom and school-wide outcomes, behaviorally and academically. Rules often fail because there are too many, they’re arbitrary, they’re stated in such a way that they guarantee failure, or they’re unenforceable (this is not meant to be exhaustive). Rules should be a general list of do’s, rather than an exhaustive list of don’t’s. When rules can be combined, they should. When they can be left more open for interpretation and/or discussion, they should. Clearly this will not suffice for a highly authoritarian classroom. Open rules require constant dialogue between teacher and student. The law will not be maintained by the posterboard labeled rules; rather, they will maintained through open discussion. Of course, there must be rules, so here’s an example. Instead of the faithful, “Don’t fight”, “Don’t cuss”, “Don’t spit”, “Don’t litter”, etc., try “Respect all people in classroom (school, etc.), and respect the classroom environment.” It’s positively stated; that is, it tells students what to do, rather than what not to do, and it’s easy to remember. Such a rule will require discussion, which should probably be ongoing. But, the rule will stand. It makes sense, it’s not arbitrary, and the students can see how it applies to them in multiple places— in and out of the classroom.
If you have to dictate a student’s every move and behavior, then there is a deeper problem. So rules shouldn’t dictate every behavior. Maybe they should set the mood.
Procedures, as many of us know, dictate the way things are run. These differ from rules because they deal with the day to day operating of a classroom. They cover things such as, turning in papers, entering and exiting the room, whether or not students must raise their hands to speak, and so forth. Procedures should be clear and they should be consistently enforced; that is, of you want a consistently run classroom. The enforcement can be as simple as requiring the students to comply with said procedure before continuing. If you want hands raised, do not answer a question if the student has not raised his or her hand. If you don’t give in, they’ll eventually get the point, or be ignored. Procedures need to be set at the beginning. They need to be clear. They need to be consistently enforced. Quality procedures can eliminate wasted time, confusion, and potential disruptions. They can pave the way to a smoothly run classroom.
Procedures fail when they’re not consistently followed. They are the guidelines for how a class operates. They also should be simple, and very clear. Students can take part in their development if you so choose. And, they can be amended. If they are ineffective, fix it. There only purpose is to make the class run smoothly. Like rules, the power is not in the posterboard, but in their constant use.
Directives, Discourse, and other Communication
Finally, directives. Directives and communication are the most important of all the classroom management tools, or whatever they’re called. We’ll tackle directives first. Directives are the explicit directions you, the teacher, gives a student. They should be clear, and let the learner know exactly what you mean. For instance, if you want a student to sit in their desk, tell him, “Sit in your desk”. Be direct and clear. Don’t continue with more directives until the first one is met with compliance. This goes back to the old concept of mean what you say. It builds trust through consistency. If you don’t care if the student sits or not, don’t give the directive. A clear message prevents confusion. Confusion equals chaos, and from there the dominoes tumble.
Directives should only be used for non-negotiables. They deliver your clear expectations as a teacher and set the groundwork for learners’ success. So, they’re important. Directives can be given verbally or in written form, like directions on a test. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being clear and non-ambiguous. What directives don’t deal with should be left to discourse.
Discourse is the lifeblood of any non-authoritarian classroom. It’s a requirement for successful democracy on small and large scales. So, it should go without saying that we should concern ourselves with developing opportunities to participate actively in democratically functioning organizations, institutions, and activities. This does not mean that we just vote on rules at the beginning of the year, or vote on homework or none; rather, it should be a commitment to engaging learners constantly in dialogue that leads to the formation of knowledge and understanding. It means they’re generating questions and answers, rather than having them deposited by an all knowing teacher. Discourse should not be limited to the academic realms. It should extend through every aspect of the the learning experience—academic, social, behavioral, etc. Discourse is a generalizeable skill that, when integrated into our daily lives, will affect the way we reason, behave, and interact with the world around us. It is an invaluable tool for empowerment for teachers and students. As we are looking at classroom management, discourse seeks to eliminate the need for external enforcers of behavior and rules. Discourse involves the entire group in a living discussion. The class becomes theirs. With an active action oriented discourse learners and teachers alike will witness the transformation of rhetoric and dialogue into action and culture. There is much, much more to say about discourse, but this should suffice for now.
Rules, Procedures, Directives and Discourse— the greatest of these being discourse— all shape the way a class functions and to what extent learning takes place. The educator has the choice to what extent any of these elements are implemented. These elements can be as rigid or flexible as you decide. I submit, the way these factors are implemented has the power to deeply affect a learners’ understanding of democracy and their consciousness as a whole. Choose wisely. Be reflective. Be critical. I implore you to teach and learn with human beings, rather than control and train robots. Cheers.