Classroom Management - Beyond Discipline What is most remarkable about the


What is most remarkable about the assortment of discipline on the market today is the number of fundamental assumptions they seem to share. Some may advocate the use of carrots rather than sticks; some may refer to punishments as “logical consequences”. But virtually all take for granted that the teacher must be in control of the classroom, and that what we need are strategies to get students to comply with the adults expectations.

In this path-breaking book entitled Beyond Discipline” by Alfie Kohn calls these premises into question and with them the very idea of “classroom management”. He questions the assumption that problems in the classroom are always the fault of students who don’t do what they are told, suggesting that we might instead reconsider what they have been told to do so – or to learn. He shows how a fundamentally cynical view of children lies beneath the assumption that we must tell them exactly how we expect them to behave and then offer “positive reinforcement” when they obey. Suppose a student does something hurtful or mean. Immediately we make a choice about how to construe what has happened and what ought to be done: Option 1: “He has done something bad, now something bad must be done to him”. Option 2: “We have a problem here; how are we going to solve it together'”. The first response is so familiar to us that we sometimes lose sight of the fact that it isn’t the only possibility. What’s more, even if we do realize that the first choice isn’t the only one, it can be hard to abandon something that keeps us comfortably in control. The second way of viewing misbehavior is animated not so much by an idealistic vision as by rock-bottom pragmatism. That option represents the only hope of helping children grow into decent adults. We may not know exactly what to do when kids are disruptive or disrespectful or otherwise disagreeable, but in order to do any good, our point of departure should always be this: How can we work with students to solve this problem' How can we turn this into a chance to help them learn' When a student has done something truly offensive or even dangerous, thinking in these terms is more challenging. But that doesn’t mean we should react in the conventional way; it just means that we should try harder than ever to resist that impulse. It takes courage not to punish and as, Lilian Katz observes at the beginning of this chapter, it takes effort to look at misbehavior as an opportunity to teach.

It’s hard to work with a student to solve a problem unless the two of you already have a relationship on which to build. As a general rule, it’s important for students to trust their teacher, to know she respects them and to feel safe in speaking their minds with her. If a caring relationship with each student is a prerequisite for solving problems or resolving conflicts effectively, it is not the only one. Also required is a certain set of skills. The teacher may need to help students learn to listen carefully, calm themselves, generate suggestions, imagine someone else’s point of view, and so on. Ideally, children should have the chance to work on these skills from the time they are very young. Like us, they need guidance and practice to get better. And it’s important to keep in mind that if a student seems unresponsive when asked to take some responsibility for undoing the damage he did, the reason may have less to do with his attitude than with his lack of experience in figuring out what to do.

The adults role in dealing with an unpleasant situation begins with the need to diagnose what has happened and why. Punishments and rewards are unproductive in part because they ignore the underlying reasons for a given behavior. If you have a relationship with a child built on trust and respect, you can gently ask her to speculate about why she hurt someone else’s feelings, or why she keeps coming to class late. For a variety of reasons, however, such prompting may not be enough, and you will sometimes need to play detective and try to figure out what is going on-or how to interpret what the child is telling you.

I have already argued for expanding the role that students play in making decisions. One of many reasons this makes sense is that fewer problems are likely to occur in such an environment. But when problem happen anyway, it is just as critical that we maximize student involvement in deciding how to resolve them. Our immediate response – to individual studentsshould be, “What do you think we can do to solve this problem'” Once again, involving students is not just a nice thing to do; it’s far more likely to lead to a meaningful, lasting solution than having the teacher decide unilaterally what must be done.