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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Classroom Management: A Numbers Game?

Classroom management is often cited as the top concern for new teachers.  Managing a classroom full of students comprised of various learning needs, diverse backgrounds, and behavioral challenges is no easy task.

While specific management techniques and methods are necessary, I believe that a teacher’s Individual management philosophy—their mental model of management-precedes actual management methods since it determines their beliefs, viewpoints, assumptions, and decision-making.

As teachers examine their own management paradigm, I think it helps to consider management as matter of percentages—a numbers game.

For instance, based on the Discipline with Dignity model, about 80 percent of students in a given classroom generally follow the rules and do what’s expected of them.  An estimated 15 percent will occasionally challenge or break rules and norms and require attention. The remaining five percent of students can be considered highly disruptive, meaning they will require constant attention and more intense discipline (if you prefer that term) or management.

Of course, this formula can vary based on a classroom’s demographics, grade-level, learning needs, etc., but these percentages can help a teacher mentally configure how he or she will design their management system and allocate resources such as time and attention. For example, a teacher might want to determine overall classroom rules and consequences (what will happen if students break the rules or norms) with these percentages in mind. A strong management plan must address what prevention measures will be used to target the 15 percent of students who will more regularly become disruptive or be off-task. Likewise, the management system must include more creative alternatives for the highly disruptive five percent group, who may not respond to traditional management that works for other students.

My k-12 mentor once told me, at the beginning of each school year, he would mentally divide his classroom into three groups: the A group or students who loved his class and would eagerly follow directions and rules and engage in learning; the B group or students who had potential to become A students but who were on the fence; and the C group or students who, no matter what they teacher did, were not sold on his class.

With this mental model, he worked to “move” the B students to the A group, thus, creating a classroom culture of hard work, cooperation, etc. One of the techniques he used was constantly praising these students for their efforts and being positive with them. Most of his management energies went to this group. While he did not ignore the C students, he was careful not to exhaust himself and dissipate this energy in the process.

No matter what formula a teacher follows, it is likely that a small percentage of students will account for a majority of behavior problems and disruptions to learning. With this notion in mind, it seems wise to properly plan for how this situation will be handled. Where will the teacher devote her attention and energy? What interventions will be used? How will the teacher address severe behavior problems while still managing the rest of the class? These are valid questions.

Keeping the numbers and percentages in mind can help.