Classroom management styles can be described as either proactive or reactive, according to Alene H. Harris, Peabody College, Vanderbilt University. Management which focuses on discipline and on intervention strategies to deal with misbehavior are termed reactive. The emphasis in such classrooms is on consequences that punish students for misbehavior and reward them for good behavior.
In the proactive approach, on the other hand, classroom management is considered a cultural socialization process. Teachers who use this social system approach convey to students, through direct instruction, modeling, and successful experience, the “going-to-school” skills necessary for a positive classroom climate. Consequences for behavior are part of this socialization process, but are not the key issues. The principle focus, instead, is not on the individual, but on the group and the goal is to prevent problems from developing. To be effective, this form of clasroom management must be an ongoing process in which teachers and students continually seek to define and understand expectations and goals.
Harris summarizes the work of Jacob Kounin and Carolyn Evertson, whose research in regular classrooms describes proactive management in action. Kounin studied the way teachers using proactive methods were able to prevent misbehavior from occurring and the way they contained it when it did occur. Effective managers, Kounin concluded, prevented problems by exhibiting with-it-ness (the ability to communicate in awareness of student behavior), smoothness (the ability to move in and out of activities smoothly without losing time in transition), and momentum (the ability to sustain a good lesson pace without digressions or sudden starts and stops).
The more effective managers also used group alerting techniques, such as randomly calling on a student to clarify something or to answer a question in order to keep all students attentive during a group lesson, and individual accountability techniques, such as circulating around the room looking at student work.
Evertson studied how teachers set the stage for proactive management from the very beginning of school. She identified five characteristics of effective management that closely correspond to those described by Kounin:
1. Classroom procedures and student expectations were planned in precise detail.
2. These procedures and expectations were systematically taught to students from the first day of school and constituted an important part of the curriculum during the first several weeks of the school year. Frequent opportunities were provided to practice and to receive feedback.
3. Students’ work and behavior were monitored closely; teachers kept all students in view at all times and dealt with problems quickly.
4. Students’ engagements in tasks and success on assignments was increased by designing lesson plans that took into account students’ attention spans and skill levels.
5. Essential steps in complex tasks were explained clearly so that students understood directions and expectations for all tasks.
Evertson demonstrated that when these five management techniques were used in classroom management training, teachers had fewer students who interrupted or were inattentive, disruptive, or off-task, and more students who successfully completed assignments and improved academically. In helping other teachers to learn to use proactive management, Evertson recommends that rules should be limited to no more than six, and that these should address students’ interaction with others, with time, with space, and with materials (e.g., Respect others’ rights and property. Be in your seat with all needed materials when bell rings.) These rules should always apply and never change.
The best proactive rules, she states, are understandable, do-able, manageable, positive, and stated behaviorally. Importantly, Evertson points out that goals should not be confused with or stated as rules (e.g., Follow all directions correctly the first time they are given.) because goals may not be within the capabilities of all students. Attempting to enforce a goal as a rule, Evertson states, is one of the most common sources of frustration in a classroom.
In addition to these few never-changing rules, any number of procedures can be established to create an efficient classroom. Rules and procedures should be posted conspicuously, but they must also be taught and made explicit by demonstration. The cycle of explanation, rehearsal, feedback, and reteaching is ongoing, especially in the first few weeks. Explanations, like any effective lesson, must include definitions, rationale, demonstration, step-by-step instruction and cues. Teachers often fail to teach cues because many students pick up procedural or behavioral cues without direct teaching, and also because many teachers are unaware of the cues they use. However, there are students who need direct teaching of cues.
Evertson’s research suggests that interventions and consequences should involve the least possible amount of teacher time and effort, unpleasant tone, or disruption to learning. The aim of the proactive classroom is to gain compliance through the least intrusive strategy, enabling teachers to achieve all their goals for students, including academic achievement, physical/psychological/emotional safety, high self-esteem, and good social skills. Communication is key and most often can best be achieved in a one-on-one private conference. When a problem arises, the teacher must clearly state his/her perception of the problem as well as his/her concerns (regardless of whether the student should already know these).
Next, the student should be allowed to express his/her feelings and perceptions regarding the problem. In this manner, problems can be solved constructively in mutually acceptable ways. Evertson believes it is important for the teacher to take into account the reason the student is behaving in a certain way. Three possibilities exist that call for corrective consequences: the student doesn’t know how to behave correctly and must be taught; the student does not know when to behave in a certain way and must learn the teacher’s cue to signal that behavior; or the student knows when and how but forgets or is not always aware of misbehavior, in which case the student must be taught to monitor his/her own behavior. These possibilities must be considered before assuming that a student has deliberately misbehaved.
Some classroom management techniques are ineffectual or potentially harmful, especially to minority students, reports Herbert Grossman, San Jose State University. The management techniques which have been used successfully with middle class, EuroAmerican students are not always as effective with the Hispanic, African American, and Southeast Asian groups that are becoming a much larger segment of our population. Cultural differences may mean that while a child’s behavior is acceptable at home, it may be unacceptable at school. Such cultural differences may lead students to react in unanticipated ways to behavior-management techniques. Cultural sensitivity can help educators avoid many classroom management problems.
A culture’s behavioral norms influence the ways in which children of that culture respond to particular classroom management techniques. These norms dictate whether children function better under cooperative or competitive situations, whether they respond better to impersonal or personal rewards, whether they are present or future oriented, whether they are accustomed to formal or informal relationships with adults. These norms may also determine whether children believe they have the right to disagree with elders, whether they are accustomed to public criticism or praise, or prefer private feedback, and whether they are allowed to behave with high levels of noise and activity. Awareness of these differences can help teachers design management programs that students will understand and that, therefore, will have a better chance of success.
Many research studies indicate that teachers are unaware of subtle differences in their behavior toward groups of children. Teachers sometimes interact less often or in less positive ways with minority children or children from poor homes. Or, conversely, praise minority students more frequently than other students. When this praise is undeserved, it is viewed negatively by students. Although unintentional, these kinds of prejudicial treatment can increase the number of behavior problems in the classroom.
Although it is often overlooked, “teacher thinking”, decision making, and behavior in the area of discipline and management are all strongly influenced by teachers’ emotional reactions,” asserts Edmund T. Emmer, Educational Psychology Professor, University of Texas at Austin. The emotion aroused in teachers by students very often determines how teachers react when students do not cooperate or are uninvolved, disruptive, or defiant. For example, if a child is perceived as failing because of lack of ability, the teacher’s reaction is likely to be very different that if the failure is attributed to lack of effort. In the first instance, the teacher might be more likely to offer help or support, whereas the reaction to a child who seems not to be trying may be dominated by anger. However, the student in either situation is likely to need help and support, and is more likely to respond positively if he receives it.
Emmer concludes that classroom situations trigger emotional responses because of the stress teachers feel from multiple competing demands, the unpredictability of student behavior, and the public nature of the classroom setting.
Praise is not universally effective in eliciting desired behavior, and should be used selectively, warns Robert T. Tauber, Pennsylvania State University. When praise is considered a personal evaluation, it can create anxiety about living up to the praiseworthy image. Students feel more comfortable being praised for something specific they did. Secondly, praising someone who does not feel praiseworthy can be ineffective, Tauber writes, and may lead to distrust. If praise is seen as an attempt to “make them feel better” rather than as a reward they deserve, it can reinforce the negative feelings they have about themselves. Third, praise can backfire with students who are well aware of their achievements and may view praise as an attempt to control them.
Tauber states that giving encouragement, recognizing effort and improvement, and showing appreciation to students are ways of being positive that do not have the potential negative effects of non-specific praise. Giving students personal attention and listening to them are usually more effective than frequent,
“Proactive Classroom Management: Several Ounces of Prevention,” “Multicultural Classroom Management,” “Once More With Feeling: Teacher Emotion and the Discipline and Managaement Functions,” Contemporary Education, 62-3, pp. 149-173, 194-202.
Published in ERN January/February 1992 Volume 5 Number 1