Managing the classroom

One of the greatest challenges for beginning teachers is creating an environment focused on learning and teaching. It is more than managing the behaviour of students - it involves creating an optimal classroom environment where learning and teaching can take place effectively.

Image: A teacher managing the classroom. Many factors contribute to an effective classroom learning environment, including the interrelated and interdependent elements of structure, instruction and discipline.

Creating an effective classroom learning environment

Many factors impact on the learning environment including:

  • putting routines in place
  • interacting with students
  • negotiating rules with students
  • ensuring the rules are consistently and fairly carried out
  • arranging classroom furniture.

There are three areas that provide a useful set of organisers when considering the range of factors that influence the creation of an effective classroom learning environment: structure, instruction and discipline.

Structure refers to organisational practices, routines, and procedures that form a platform for daily activities. Structure involves such concrete issues as how desks are arranged and influences such abstract concerns as group dynamics.

Effective structure evolves with time and needs to be flexible and responsive to learner's needs. Flexibility allows for changes that will improve the learning climate. Examples include establishing routines for all daily tasks and needs and orchestrating smooth transitions and continuity of momentum throughout the day.

Instruction refers to the delivery of content using the knowledge of students, how they learn, the subject content and how to teach it. When students are engaged in their lessons, disruptions are minimal.

Conversely, monotonous, dull lessons create boredom, which in turn leads students to seek out distractions.

Effective teachers are enthusiastic, they know their curriculum, they take their student's needs and interests into account when planning, and they use a variety of teaching methods. Examples include striking a balance between variety and challenge in student activities, and increasing student engagement in learning and making good use of every instructional moment.

Discipline refers to the approaches and strategies teachers use to guide and promote constructive student behaviour. Discipline is as immediate as correcting misbehaviour and as far-reaching as developing a trusting relationship.

Discipline involves more than simply reacting to misbehaviour and punishing recalcitrant students - discipline is proactive and educational.

Effective disciplinary practices teach students how to manage their feelings, behave appropriately, and respect other's rights. Examples include heightening the awareness of all actions and activities in the classroom using consistent, proactive disciplinary practices, and anticipating potential problems to limit disruptions and resolve minor disruptions before they become major problems.

Henley asserts that focusing on a combination of structure, instruction, discipline has a dynamic effect on the learning environment. Everything that transpires in a classroom - moment to moment, day to day, and week to week - is influenced by the teacher's approach to these 3 areas.

Proactive Teaching

In order to teach well, teachers must establish an environment that is both productive and harmonious. And to do this, teachers need to be proactive.

Proactive teachers

Proactive teachers accept responsibility for their student's successes and their student's failures. They:

  • take a solution-oriented approach. Proactive teachers find solutions - they recognise that while there are often explanations for student's difficulties, they do not use these explanations as excuses.
  • adopt a can-do attitude. Proactive teachers have a strong belief in their students, do not give up on them and maintain a 'no-excuses' attitude toward their learning.
  • make wise choices. Proactive teachers make wise choices about the use of structure, instruction and discipline in ways that facilitate learning.
  • acknowledge the needs and rights and expectations of students. Proactive teachers acknowledge the students' basic needs, including survival, belonging, power, fun, and freedom. They establish optimal learning environments and expect high standards of behaviour.
  • acknowledge teacher needs and rights and expectations. Proactive teachers acknowledge that a teacher needs the full attention of each student and that they have the right to establish optimal learning environments. They expect behaviour that contributes to optimal student growth.

  • Henley, M. (2009). Introduction to Proactive Classroom Management. Classroom Management: A Proactive Approach. Upper Saddle River: Pearson.
  • Canter, L. (1996). Assertive Discipline. Seal Beach, CA: Canter and Associates.

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