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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D candidate at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree...
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A Different, “Looser” Look at Classroom Management

I know what you’re thinking when you read this blog title: What? Loosen up? My students are not focusing, not listening, getting out of their seats—I need to tighten up!

But stay with me. I’d like to share a different perspective, one that involves how we view students’ behavior and interactions in the classroom.

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel with a group of student teachers to Costa Rica for a study abroad program. The itinerary included spending time in public and private schools. We observed the teachers and had the chance to engage students in various activities. We then debriefed about our experiences. One consistent theme across the group was this idea that the Costa Rican teachers seemed lax in their management; they allowed more socializing, more calling out, more talking while they were teaching. Students also were not heavily supervised during recesses and walking the halls, as I have seen them in U.S. schools. It seemed the teachers trusted them more with being responsible.

Obviously, the culture should be considered. In Costa Rica, the students are generally more talkative, more social, and more affectionate. This seems ingrained in them. But the teachers also had a different way of dealing with students. They didn’t raise their voice but rather joked and talked with the students, not at them. They didn’t seem to have strict management systems that enforced consequences (though, I’m sure that exists to some extent). Students were provided more breaks and chances to talk—to be kids- and get their energy out, for instance, in the primary grades. When it came time to teach, the students miraculously settled down and got to the business of learning.

When I questioned a second-grade teacher about her management philosophy, she said that the school believed in project-based, collaborative group learning—that when students were allowed to socialize during learning, they learned more.

Of course, I only visited a few schools, so I have a limited view. Also, I’m not suggesting that U.S. teachers drop everything and adopt this countries’ education practices. In fact, I believe that, in many cases, educational methods from other countries simply do not transfer over well due to culture, social-economics, and demographic differences. Some reading this blog could also argue that Costa Rica continues to trail behind us in education, based on reports such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

But the experience did make me—and the student teachers-reexamine our views of classroom management. Perhaps we could experiment in our own classrooms with more relationship-based management, with providing students with more spaces and opportunities to be children, to allow them to release energy so they can focus when we are teaching. Dare I say that we might even allow them more opportunities to be independent and take on more responsibility.

Maybe by loosening up the reins (maybe just a tad), we might, in fact, get better results.