Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What's Wrong with "Managing" a Classroom?

I've participated in a couple of Twitterchats in the last week or so about the first days of school, and I've had a lot of ideas percolating with no time to blog about them. Lots of ideas about classroom management were floated in those chats (I may have another post or two coming, as time permits) and I'm thinking a lot about classroom management as my own new school year is impending.

But then I came across this gem from my Twitterfriend, Dan Krutka:

Educators, as you think about your new academic year, as you plan the learning activities and lesson plans and design units, as you work with your students...think about this! What is the goal of education, after all? Your answer to this question says a lot about your personal philosophy of education, and it's bound to come out in your teaching practice.

On this point, I'm with Sir Ken Robinson, who says, "People can spend an awful lot of time discussing education without ever discussing learning." (You can watch a great video of Sir Ken talking more about this.) Because to me, the point of education is learning.

And if the point of education is learning, perhaps "managing" a classroom isn't the key. (Management has such a top-down, foisted-upon connotation, doesn't it?) What if, instead of seeking well-managed classrooms, schools and teachers and administrators instead aimed for making learning irresistible?*

I wonder what might happen if--instead of focusing so intently on managing student behavior--teachers would seek to get students deeply engaged in learning? Maybe they wouldn't have to "manage" the classroom at all? Would students learn more? Would they run crazy around the room? Would the classroom be a noisier place, but one filled with the joy and wonder of discovery, making connections, and authentic engagement?

Certainly this might look different at different grade levels. Kindergartners are not the same as middle schoolers, who are not the same as graduate students; each group--even every individual!--has their unique characteristics. But it seems to me that even changing the basic way in which we think about how teachers provide leadership in the classroom (manager vs. guide) will have some influence on the "moves" the teacher uses. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

Hopefully this isn't your classroom. But if it is, it's probably because you're the teacher sitting behind the desk rather than actively getting involved with the learning process.
Image from allthingslearning


*I love this phrase "making learning irresitible," but it's not mine; it belongs to Tim Tyson. Check out Heidi Hayes Jacobs' excellent book, Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, which features a chapter by Dr. Tyson with this title, and explains what they are doing at his school to try and make this the reality.)


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Dan. I appreciate your comment that got the ball rolling...

  2. Dave,
    I'm with you. I'm all for student choice, which I think helps the level of student engagement in the room. I re-did our classroom blog this summer, and added a page that explains this to parents, as I know other teachers think I have no "classroom management" when they walk by the room. (Too bad they don't come INTO the room and see the learning happening...) Here's the page I made for parents: Should I add more?? Do you think they'll "get it?" It hurts to walk by other rooms where students are sitting in rows watching the teacher talk up front. Makes me glad to have my mess. :-) Thanks for this post for a reminder for the start of the year!

    1. Joy, I think this is a brilliant idea! Parents need to know what you're up to. We have so much cultural baggage in the way we think about doing school that things out of the norm (kids sitting placidly in straight rows while the teacher holds forth--ugh!) seem to require some explanation. I think your page is well-crafted, and give great rationale for not just what you're doing, but also *why* you're choosing to do it that way. Bravo!

      It's a shame, really, that we have to explain ourselves this way. But I've been there too--I was "that guy" when I was a middle school science teacher...the noisy classroom, the kids all over the room, projects under way all over the place... Man, I miss that! :-)