Building Positive Relationships: The Three Areas of Classroom Management

The other morning I was going through a brainstorming session, wondering what to write about next. I have been doing a lot of writing about observation lately, and because I use observation for so many different aspects of the classroom I began to think about it in terms of classroom management. And then I began to think about the big picture of classroom management.

Let me first just say that I hate the term “classroom management”. I only use it because that is the going term these days within the education community for how to get the class to accomplish what you want to accomplish with the least amount of behavior problems possible. I prefer the term “Building Positive Relationships” because that is what I do. I don’t necessarily manage. I hate feeling like I am “managing” the classroom. The children don’t seem to appreciate it that much either.

So what do I do? Well, a few years ago I realized that there are several elements that are involved in dictating a child’s behavior. These elements work together to define the atmosphere of the classroom, which helps define the behavior of the children in it.

1. The Teacher

The teacher is probably the biggest factor influencing the behavior in the classroom. The way that the teacher reacts to behavior, how she/he conducts lessons, and how she/he interacts with the children sets the tone of the classroom. If the teacher is very overbearing and likes to micro-manage children, this will affect the mood and tone much differently than if she/he is more easy-going and flexible in the classroom.

How the teacher views children is usually evident by how they handle these different aspects of the classroom. In workshops and in talking to colleagues, I strongly encourage teachers to take a step back and really think about how they view individual children, as well as their class as a group. The attitudes that we feel about the children manifest themselves in our actions and reactions in the classroom, and impact the tone and mood of the class.

2. The Child

We all know that children come into the classroom with their own temperaments, their own baggage, and their own way of wanting to do things. Kids are kids. Kids like to move around, question everything, and experiment with life. These are things that we need to remember when we think about behavior in the classroom. I am actually working on a workshop right now that talks about the nature of children and how we view them. Want to see what I have so far?



It really is another post for another time, but it outlines different aspect of not just children, but people. All people have these different needs or qualities about them, and we need to remember that children have them, too. These different needs and qualities enter the classroom with the child, and every child has differences in the degree and kind of these needs and qualities. The mix that results is different in every classroom, and teachers need to be aware and structure the environment and atmosphere accordingly.

3. The Environment

I mentioned in a previous post that I do not view the classroom environment as a static entity. This does not mean that I move desks or tables around once a week – although that does help. The exploratory items in the classroom – from the manipulatives to the art selections to the blocks are ever changing and evolving to fit the interests and needs of the children in the classroom. This helps keep the calm as children explore new things (although the first few minutes of excitement over new items is kind of crazy) and keeps the children engaged. Playing or working with the same items over and over again in the same ways can get boring – we all know that – so we should change things up in the classroom, or provide new ways to experiment with old items.

These three areas can always be broken down into smaller elements, such as how the different areas of the classroom can be arranged so as to stimulate curiosity and excitement, or how to react when a child does X, Y, or Z. This post is intended to be an outline to get teachers thinking about the big picture and how it all works together. Sometimes I think that it is important to step back and remember the big pictures in the classroom, and reflect on our place in that big picture.

I Am Not That Jaded Yet

So in my last post I commented that I was going to try to use my very small amount of influence to make a change in the new center. I think back on that comment now and wonder when it was that I became such an idealist. As I walked the halls in the morning looking for whatever busy work I could find before I had to attach myself to a classroom (usually involving cleaning or maintenance), I would listen to one teacher putting her children through their paces (“Letters,”…””A,B,C,D…,” “Numbers to 30,” “1,2,3,4…”) It sounded so robotic and so…boring. I would listen to another teacher use every threat imaginable to get her children to be quiet. By the end of the day I was ready to scream and pull my hair out because there seemed to be no respect for the children and no concern about what would be fun or exciting for them in terms of day-to-day activities. No one was discovering new, exciting ways to teach the children the things that they needed to know. No one was discovering new ways to spark creativity, or invite curiosity, or help with discovery. Instead it felt like the expectation was for the children to do exactly what they were told to do exactly when they were told to do it, and never mind what the children might want or need to do.

Yes, I could have stayed and tried to see what kind of a difference I could make, but when the general atmosphere of a place is that of oppression, and when there seem to be no sparks of anything else throughout a building, one becomes afraid that they will be swallowed up by that atmosphere rather than capable of changing it. I refuse to let myself become jaded to the point where I do not marvel at the capabilities of the children in my care, I do not do everything I can to make their learning experience fun and exciting, and I do not do everything in my power to teach them the social skills they need rather than try to create mindless, obedient robots.

I left that center and transferred to an entirely different center, one that celebrates creativity, open-ended activities, and respect to children. I have only been at the new center for two weeks, but the atmosphere is like a breath of fresh air after where I was before.