Now before I explain…a little disclaimer. This is not about “control” – it’s about creating “conditions.” The word management seems to have fallen so far out of favor that it feels necessary to use “air quotes” each time we say the word. There also seems to be a never-ending semantically anchored debate that labors to move to actually discussing effective practices when we continue to say, I don’t manage kids (insert air quotes). Managing situations and learning environments – at least from where I sit – is not at all about trying to control every single move a student makes or stifle creativity. For me, managing a class means creating the optimum conditions in which students can learn.
Classrooms are effectively managed when there is predictability around expectations, routines, and relationships.
Predictability of EXPECTATIONS: Students have to know what is expected of them; how they are expected to interact with their peers and with the teacher in the classroom. They have to understand how to listen attentively, how to respect both themselves and others within the room, how to respect the learning environment, etc. The consistent interplay between teacher and students establishes a predictability that brings comfort to students; that what is expected of me is not a mystery but clearly established and agreed upon.
Predictability of ROUTINE: There is a rhythm to effective teaching – it’s the rhythm of how we do learning. Predictable routines – how to access assistance, how to re-organize for group work, how to submit completed assignments, how to respond to feedback – create learning conditions that students can depend upon day in, day out. In turn, anxiety around routines is reduced which reciprocally raises student confidence and removes yet another obstacle toward the expectation of eventual success.
Predictability of RELATIONSHIPS: For me, most important. The relationships we develop with students need to be predictable in that there is no doubt that we are on their side and will do whatever it takes to help then succeed. It also means that the relationships between the students is also predictable; that the classroom is a safe place to learn, take risks, make mistakes, and recover free from personal or emotional harm. All that we do – assess, instruct, grade, report – should not jeopardize our relationships with our students. Everything our students do should not jeopardize their relationships with each other.
The optimal environment in which to learn is one that is predictable enough to provide the necessary parameters without stifling individuality and/or creativity. It’s a balance – a balance that when struck is the sweet spot of teaching that allows learning to sit front-and-center.