Why Classroom Management? Time for another metaphor?


In preparation for the TESOL France Colloquium, in which I talk about Classroom Management, I decided to reflect a bit on the term and why I don’t like it 🙂

A quick and lazy search on Google using the term Classroom Management will yield among other googley-garbage results a wikipedia entry on the topic, which if I am even more simplistic and a bit more critical defines it as ‘running a lesson without disruption’ and ‘keeping thing under control and as planned’. It also says it is linked to motivation, discipline and respect.

I know where your language should go, follow me!

The management of motivation: it is in my experience one of the most difficult things on Earth. I think teachers in general are not prepared to do it in a way that is person-centered based; meaning, to provide conditions for intrinsic motivation to grow. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is quite easy. Use control, force, bribery, blackmail, sense of humor, circus techniques, reverse psychology, whatever. I just think that these gimmicks don’t last long. You either create stimulus-dependent learners or else… — But there ARE ways to do it, a mix of both -in and -ex*.

The management of discipline: easy! Take the army, for example: uniforms, strict timetable, controlled and limited space, rigid hierarchy, among other things. Not too difficult for schools and teachers to adopt a similar style (I’ve heard some already do!).

The management of respect: I don’t know about this. For me, respect is bottom-up; highly unmanageable if top-down. If imposed I think it is actually discipline, like the above.

There’s a lot more to classroom management than the above, evidently, and a whole lot more than a simplistic wikipedia entry. But in essence, why do we use the word management? This word is deeply associated with control and supervision. And it’s hard not to think of business when hearing it. If we run a lesson, like a business, will we get better results? Maybe… If we control what everyone is doing, will we achieve the outcomes? That is what the term suggests. Just look at other TEFL jargon: monitor, drill, lesson aim, target language, etc.

If the concept of management is appropriate, how much does it contribute to achieve what is proposed at the outset? That is, language learning. I’ll let you answer this one.

Yesterday, I got a link to a blog on Twitter, whose author proposes leadership instead of management. I don’t think it is leadership either.

What is it then? And why a word is so important?

  • My answer to the first question at this moment has been: Ecology (although I’m not fully convinced yet).
  • To the second: when we don’t have ALL the hard data (most of the times) that tells us precisely what to do, we turn to metaphors. Metaphors are indispensable when trying to make sense of learning and teaching, and I think they should be revised as times go by and management is too last century. Just saying…

Next, I will try to articulate what I mean by ecology (just to clarify, it’s not about garbage recycling and eco-friendly cars).

Links of interest:

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13 Responses to Why Classroom Management? Time for another metaphor?

  1. Fiona says:

    To be honest, as a teacher trainer for YL teachers, ‘management’ often has a lot more to do with ‘manage’ in the sense of ‘cope’! So in that context “classroom management” is more on a par with ‘coping with kids’, a skill your average 2o-something trainee has little experience of and often thinks that it means ‘if in doubt, shout’. But I agree, it’s a horrible term. I don’t like the word ‘leadership’ either, but then I’m a dogmer and an Illich fan, so community is more my way of teaching – unless with kids, I suppose. But ‘leadership’ still doesn’t ring true – we’re learning, not marching. Kids don’t perceive of a teacher as a leader – teachers are sources of information, security and someone to talk to, share with, though not as a friend, as a role model of sorts. That’s what they SHOULD be, anyway. Teachers should bring a subject to life, show passion, not ‘leadership’. I reckon.
    Personally, I call it dynamics… which is as bad, but hey.
    The thing is, it (“classroom management”) does cover a whole load of areas, including routines, shout-avoidance techniques, seamless activity changeover, and general chaos minimalisation, as well as ‘variety as the spice of engagement if not life’. Things that help the passion come through, the learning take place with a minimum amount of irrelevant hooha. What label fits all that? … Hm.

    • I kinda like ‘dynamics’, Fiona.

      1. a. (used with a sing. verb) The branch of mechanics that is concerned with the effects of forces on the motion of a body or system of bodies, especially of forces that do not originate within the system itself.
      b. (used with a pl. verb) The forces and motions that characterize a system: The dynamics of ocean waves are complex.
      2. (used with a pl. verb) The social, intellectual, or moral forces that produce activity and change in a given sphere: The dynamics of international trade have influenced our business decisions on this matter.
      source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (emphasis added)

  2. Fiona says:

    Yes, I’d vote for classroom dynamics – sounds much better!

  3. Fiona says:

    Wow, that confused me for a moment! But on a Sunday and just after lunch, anything can confuse me. Two Fionas…. the first one being me, Mauchline, the second one Fiona Price. 😀

  4. Hello, Willy,
    And here we go again, classroom management, uh?
    I have already shared with you my point of view against the use of the term “classroom management” not only for the same reasons you stated above. But mostly because it sounds a bit too structured to my ears. It seems that when a teacher enters their classroom they act like they’re about to close a deal. Not what it is supposed to be. Although the TEFL jargon may possible resemble that of a managerial, many ought to be revisited and I thank you for bringing that up.
    At first I was inclined to agree with Fiona but then the term “dynamics” got me thinking for a while. Is that what we aim in class? If “dynamics” is a “force that produces activity and change” where does this force come from? Who holds it? Who controls it? Again, I’m a bit too skeptical about the term.
    I was wondering if what we have been looking for is something that without both parts never would be possible to achieve the same results. So, the idea of “synergy” came to my mind. When teacher and students are in “synergy” the functioning of the classroom happens more naturally and when both work together they produce a result that would not be obtainable by any of them if they worked independently.

    I’m not good at metaphors, but that’s how I see the functioning of the 21st century classroom, a process shared by both agents – teachers and students.

    Bruno Andrade

  5. Hi Bruno

    thanks for dropping by!

    The force in dynamics comes form everywhere, everyone can hold it, and everyone, I think, should control it in one way or another. In fact, I believe this is what already happens; even if the teacher “controls” the content and sequence of events, s/he cannot control learning.

    Just remembered an interesting definition by Larsen-Freeman & Cameron (2008), “teaching is managing the dynamics of learning”. It is by paying attention to action and language and what they afford and constraint in our specific contexts that we take the first steps in decision-making regarding materials, content, interaction, etc, which are never static – they’re dynamic, and that’s why the word ‘dynamics’ appeal to me.

    I could like synergy if it hasn’t been adopted as the most overused corporate jargon in 2010. In Brazil at least, sinergia, and according to my ear. Anyway, to mean roughly the same thing and more I’d rather use ’emergence’.

    I wrote about Emergence in a Dogme background here: http://authenticteaching.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/dogme-challenge-2-emergence/

  6. Pingback: #TESOLfr made me think thrice | A journée in language

  7. “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet;”

    To be honest, I don’t really think most trainees take the jargon to extremes and focus on what the individual parts of the words mean or imply unless they’re given no explanation whatsoever. We, however, need the terminology to make sure we’re at least speaking of the same things, right? Isn’t this one of the benefits that the word “Dogme” has brought to the game? Many teachers had already been doing things that way – one of the texts at Scott’s website, for instance, is from the 1980’s. What the name did was provide some validation and a way forward to many teachers. It helped teachers unite and start looking at things from the same starting point.

    I also agree that the words may resemble business, but these things usually explained in addition to being named? Having read the post and the comments, yes, dynamics sounds like a very good option, but we’re still worried about the roles of the teacher in a lesson to make sure the outcome of the lesson is the one that is expected – that there’s learning taking place.

    If we were to use the terminology loosely, then I could see that we’d end up having problems. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, regardless of the terminology we use, we’ll always run the risk of people misinterpreting or taking things to extreme. As long as we worry about teaching and learning and teaching for learning, and as long as we don’t equate teaching to learning, we can name it management, dynamics, ecology… in a way or another, the teacher does have to don these hats in the classroom.

    Good points raised, Willy! Great comments as well!


  8. Interesting post and comments.
    Many terms are less than perfect in the sense they don’t necessarily exactly capture the ‘whole’ of the process the term attempts to describe.
    It’s interesting that in this post and the subsequent comments many of the qualities of good classroom learning are mentioned: dynamics, synergy, ecology -ie classroom climtate and no one would deny that these ingredients should be present in the classroom.
    It might be helpful to think of ‘management’ as the ‘handling’ of all the different processes that make up classroom learning, not just in terms of ‘coping’ or ‘control’ but also in terms of ‘arranging’, ‘directing’, ‘encouraging’, ‘suggesting’, ‘planning’ and so on for the multitude of interactions that go on in a succesful classroom.
    All teachers need to be both ‘managers’ and ‘leaders’ in the widest sense: managers take action and leaders take responsibility.
    Whatever name we give to it, there seems to be a consensus in the post and the comments about what we all consider to be the factors that contribute to successful learning in class. It’s encouraging that we may not know what to call it but we all recognize it as good when we see it.

  9. something I’ve just read on Wikipedia (and am pasting here):

    Confucius believed that social disorder often stemmed from failure to perceive, understand, and deal with reality. Fundamentally, then, social disorder can stem from the failure to call things by their proper names, and his solution to this was Zhèngmíng (Chinese: [正名]; pinyin: zhèngmíng; literally “rectification of terms”).
    He gave an explanation of zhengming to one of his disciples.

    Zi-lu said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?”

    he Master replied, “What is necessary to rectify names.”

    “So! indeed!” said Zi-lu. “You are wide off the mark! Why must there be such rectification?”

    The Master said, “How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve.
    If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.
    If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.
    When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish.
    When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded.
    When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.

    Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.”
    (Analects XIII, 3, tr. Legge)

    Xun Zi chapter (22) “On the Rectification of Names” claims the ancient sage-kings chose names (Chinese: [名]; pinyin: míng) that directly corresponded with actualities (Chinese: [實]; pinyin: shí), but later generations confused terminology, coined new nomenclature, and thus could no longer distinguish right from wrong.

  10. Hello, I am Earl Mckernan and I am an ESL Instructor. I am most impressed by the info provided by the author. Great work!!!

  11. Barney says:

    It’s an interesting strand of conversation and I can really see the advantages of some of the other terms.

    Personally, I’ve increasingly used the terms classroom interaction and classroom relationships instead of management.

    I guess the former is an expansion on its original meaning but has the advantages of seeming more neutral and with more two way interaction than ‘management’. It works for me as an umbrella term for the logistical elements of the lesson.

    The second is more touchy feely and the one I use for those parts of classroom management which are more about behaviour or personalities.

  12. Bren Brennan Bren Brennan says:

    Scott Thornbury is doing a webinar next Sat, Dec 17th on ‘Teacher as class manager”.

    I think you better have words! 🙂
    Here’s his abstract….

    Scott Thornbury (iTDi Academic Director) – ‘Teacher as manager’

    A key role that teachers play – and one of the first things they have to learn – is how to manage classes. This involves everything from organizing different groupings (pairs, small groups, etc), setting up and monitoring activities, distributing materials and handling any technological aids. But there is another sense in which teachers are managers: they manage learning (Allwright 2005). That is, they create learning opportunities by, for example, maximizing the amount of interaction that takes place, or ensuring that texts are comprehended. Finally, there is a third sense in which they are managers, and this is the way that they manage language. Managing language involves such skills as highlighting the meaning of new vocabulary, scaffolding and shaping learners’ utterances, and providing feedback on error. So, any program of teacher development needs to target these managerial skills, without which the best materials and lesson plans in the world will fail to take off: managing learners, managing learning, and managing language.

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