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Classroom Management or Leadership?

Dr. Charles Fay

“How do I deal with disruptive behavior in my classroom?” is one of the most common questions I’m asked by teachers. In fact, classroom management has continued to be the biggest concern for most teachers over the past four decades, rivaled only by how to motivate underachieving students.

There are many reasons why good and conscientious teachers continue to struggle with behavior problems in the classroom. The first has to do with the fact that they are seeing ever increasing numbers of students with severe social, emotional and behavioral needs. Most educators agree: Creating a classroom characterized by high achievement and positive discipline is growing more difficult by the day.

I’d like to propose another factor contributing to our classroom behavior management woes: A focus on “management” at the expense of “leadership.”

Most educators received large doses of Skinnerian behavior management theory as they complete their undergraduate and graduate degrees. In essence, we are taught to manage student behavior through the careful application of immediate rewards and consequences. Of course this requires that we have a “behavior management system.”

This approach works well with some students. It backfires horribly with many others.

Is it true that many of the students who display the most disrespect and defiance are the very same who couldn’t care less about the types of rewards or consequences we have in our hip pockets?

What might happen if we placed a greater emphasis on getting to know student on deeper levels and on building solid teacher-student relationships? What might happen if we created school and classroom cultures that fostered the development of problem-solving skills and self-control rather a reliance on adults to manage the system?

What might happen if our school climate met students’ deeper, social, emotional and behavioral needs better than the social media site or app du jour? Would we inspire students toward a higher ideal?

Are you tired of working harder than your students and feeling like a vending machine?

Find more classroom management and leadership strategies in my book Teaching with Love and Logic.

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