Introduction
Tom Kratochwill, PhD, University of Wisconsin

Classroom management, often called classroom discipline, has been a priority for teachers for nearly 40 years, or for as long as there have been opinion surveys of educational priorities. For example, the Gallup Poll designed to assess perceptions of public education (Rose & Gallup, 2006) has consistently cited classroom management/school discipline as a major issue. 

In a 2006 survey of Pre-K through 12th grade teachers conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), teachers identified help with classroom management and instructional skills as their top need. Results from over 2300 responses showed that teachers wanted assistance with classroom management because of their concerns about student safety and their desire for strategies to deal effectively with students’ negative and/or disruptive behaviors.
 
Educators have consistently rated discipline as one of the most serious obstacles to promoting effective teaching.  In addition:

  • classroom management has been cited as one of the most prevalent reasons for job burnout and attrition of first-year teachers;

  • teachers’ concerns over their own safety directly relate to the use of effective classroom management programs.

Students in public schools have also reported that they feel unsafe due to lack of effective disciplinary procedures and potential for violence.

Although there is no agreed-upon definition of classroom management, the framework offered by Evertson and Weinstein (2006) represents a current and widely accepted view. According to Evertson and Weinstein, classroom management has two distinct purposes: “It not only seeks to establish and sustain an orderly environment so students can engage in meaningful academic learning, it also aims to enhance student social and moral growth” (p. 4). The authors identify five specific tasks that show classroom management is a multi-faceted activity. It extends beyond some of the more traditional behavior management techniques frequently recommended to deal with students with disruptive behavior.  Specifically, they note that teachers should do the following:

  • develop caring, supportive relationships with and among students;

  • organize and implement instruction in ways that optimize students’ access to learning;

  • use group management methods that encourage student engagement with academic tasks;

  • promote the development of student social skills and self-regulation; and

  • use appropriate interventions to assist students who have behavior problems.

Teachers concerned with classroom management typically need help with two issues: preventing discipline problems and dealing with current discipline problems. To address these concerns researchers have established several systems. One such system is called positive behavior support (PBS) (Crone & Horner, 2003; Crone, Horner, & Hawken, 2004) and the other is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), which reflects the work of Weissberg and his colleagues affiliated with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) (Weissberg, Kumpfer, & Seligman, 2003). PBS programs typically involve a school-wide structure of support for teachers that adopt evidence-based programs (see Freiberg & Lapointe, 2006), and small group and individualized programs for more serious student discipline concerns (see Robinson & Griesemer, 2006). PBS is typically set up as a multi-level model of intervention. It begins with (1) school-wide systems of support (called universal or primary prevention), (2) small group or more focused interventions (called selected or secondary intervention) for students who have similar problems such as aggression, and (3) individualized interventions (called indicated or tertiary intervention) for students who need very focused and more intense services for problematic and disruptive behavior. Tertiary interventions are typically used with students who have a more severe range of disruptive behaviors. These interventions begin with a functional assessment of the problematic behaviors.

As an example of a system of positive behavior support, a multitiered model might look something like the following: At the universal level, schools establish expectations for behavior; students, staff, and families state these expectations to ensure that they are understood; schools operationalize positive behaviors and teach them to students; teachers have pro-social contacts with students; teachers receive formal training in behavior management; the school establishes a school-wide leadership team; and the school implements a systematic system of recording student behavior to facilitate decision-making regarding students behavior.

At the secondary level of intervention, an evidence-based program such as First Steps to Success (Walker, Stiller, Bolly, Kavanagh, Steverson, & Feil, 1997) can be implemented with groups of students in need of this level of support.  At the tertiary level, schools can establish individualized programs for some students based on an analysis of what function the problematic behavior may be serving for the student. Because most classroom teachers have not been trained in functional assessment of behavior, it is important that they consult with their colleagues who have expertise in this area. Detailed information on establishing systems of positive behavioral support can be obtained from the chapter entitled, “Schooolwide Positive Behavior Support: Building Systems to Develop and Maintain Appropriate Social Behavior”  in the Handbook of Classroom Management  Lewis, Newcomer, Trussell, and Richter (2006). Another resource is a national assistance center (i.e., the Office of Special Education Programs Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports). An example of PBS is presented in the Dos and Don’ts section of this module.

In contrast to PBS, which is based on a multitiered risk model of prevention, SEL focuses on building life skills and social competence. Further information on SEL can be found through several sources (e.g., Devaney, Utne O’Brien, Resnik, Keister, & Weissberg, 2006; Elias, Zins, Weissberg, Frey, Greenberg, Haynes, Kessler, Schwab-Stone, & Shriver, 1997; Zins, Weissberg, Wang, & Walberg, 2004). Web-based information on SEL and reviews of programs based on this model can be found at the Collaborate for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning website.

As an example of establishing social and emotional skills in the classroom, a teacher may hold class meetings or sharing circles where students are encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings about school and community events. These activities promote social interactions and build a sense of community in the classroom.

Dos and don’ts
General recommendations to teachers (dos)

Recommended strategies for developing positive behavior support (PBS) and therefore, preventing behavior problems and dealing with disruptive behavior, involve what is called a multitiered approach. The steps in such an approach are as follows:

At the Primary or Universal Prevention System Level (interventions at this level are applied to all students in the school; approximately 80 percent of students may respond to this level of intervention):

  • create classroom lessons and materials that interest students;

  • ensure that there is a match between student’s skills and classroom instructional level;

  • develop home-school partnerships through which student learning and behavior can be fostered and student needs can be met;

  • teach students the skills they need to meet classroom expectations (self-regulatory skills like time management and study skills like note taking) ;

  • develop a statement explaining the purpose for classroom management;

  • clarify expectations for student behavior;

  • establish procedures for teaching expected (positive) behaviors;

  • establish procedures for discouraging problem behaviors;

  • establish a system for monitoring student progress and keeping records.

At the Secondary or Selected Prevention System Level (after the Primary level of prevention is applied, approximately 10 percent to 20 percent of students will need this additional level of support):

  • institute self-management programs;

  • institute anger management programs;

  • institute conflict resolution programs; 

  • institute mentoring programs; 

  • institute daily check in and check out procedures;

  • institute specialized social skill instruction;

  • institute brief and less-intense functional assessment and support plans (interventions based on the functional analysis of behavior — i.e., an analysis of what seems to motivate the student to behave as he or she does).

  • establish family involvement in all programs.

At the Tertiary or Individual Prevention System Level (approximately 5 percent to 7 percent of students will need this level of support):

  • establish a problem solving team that teachers and others can go to for help; 

  • develop function-based interventions (interventions based on the functional analysis of behavior i.e. an analysis of what seems to motivate the student to behave as he or she does).

Don'ts
  1. Do not use vague rules; 

  2. Do not have rules that you are unwilling to enforce; 

  3. Do not ignore student behaviors that violate school or classroom rules (they will not go away); 

  4. Do not engage in ambiguous or inconsistent treatment of misbehavior; 

  5. Do not use overly harsh or embarrassing punishments or punishments delivered without accompanying support; 

  6. Do not use corporal punishment; 

  7. Avoid out-of-school suspension whenever possible (APA Task Force on Zero Tolerance report

  8. Do not try to solve problems alone if you have serious concerns about a student. Refer to your school psychologist or special education professional.

Why classroom management works

Classroom-management systems (and especially the multitiered system of positive behavior support–PBS) promote an orderly learning environment for students. They enhance students’ academic skills and competencies, as well as their social and emotional development. Effective classroom management principles appear to work across a number of subject areas and grade levels (Brophy, 2006; Lewis, et al., 2006). Effective classroom-management systems work best when three basic principles are embedded (Brophy, pp. 39-40):

  1. emphasize student expectations for behavior and learning rather than focusing only on problematic behavior and discipline problems; 

  2. support the learning environment by promoting active learning and student involvement and not just compliance with rules; 

  3. identify to your students the behaviors that are an integral part of the instructional agenda, more specifically:

    1. what behaviors are required for goals of the learning activities to be reached;

    2. what does a particular learning activity imply about student roles, and

    3. how will the teacher prepare students to enact these roles successfully.

To these important recommendations, we would add that a support system (such as PBS) needs to be established so that different levels of problematic behavior can be addressed.

For whom does classroom management work?

Classroom management systems will be effective in the majority of classrooms, although there may be some variations when taking into account different subject areas and contextual factors. Classroom management strategies are most effective if they include:

  • organized instruction to optimize student learning; 

  • lessons in group management; 

  • development of student social skills and self-regulation; 

  • customized interventions to assist with specific student behavior problems; and 

  • a multi-tiered system of management

Effective classroom management must be aligned with instructional goals and activities. Brophy (2006) noted that when teachers identify what good student behavior looks like, they can work backwards from desired outcomes to determine which management systems will be most effective. Examples of these behavioral outcomes include arriving in class and being in one’s seat on time, being prepared for a lesson, paying attention, volunteering information and responding to questions, as well as completing assignments. Accepted behaviors may vary for different classroom organizational systems (whole class, small group, or individual tutoring). Classroom management strategies may need to be adapted for unique contexts and environments that emerge in typical classrooms.

Many of the most effective classroom management procedures, especially those targeting the most disruptive student behaviors, involve behavior modification and applied behavior analysis. Research has repeatedly shown these procedures to be effective across all ages and all grades. They are also effective with a wide range of problematic behavior in both regular and special education classroom settings. The procedures typically involve the use of positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and time out interventions. These types of interventions can be used in each levels of PBS (positive behavioral support) system and customized for students with the most disruptive behavior. Questions regarding the application of these procedures should be addressed to colleagues who have the most experience with these interventions, such as school psychologists or special education teachers.

FAQs
Do certain classroom management systems cause problems or have unanticipated effects?

Classroom management systems may cause problematic consequences when administered incorrectly. Mistakes made in classroom management (e.g., reinforcing disruptive behavior by attending only to the inappropriate behavior and not appropriate behavior) can lead to loss of respect and cooperation on the part of students, increased misbehavior and students’ perception that the teacher is not in control of the classroom.

Do classroom management systems work for all students?

When applied correctly, effective classroom management principles can work across all subject areas and all developmental levels (Brophy, 2006). They can be expected to promote students’ self-regulation, reduce the incidence of misbehavior and increase student productivity.

What criteria should be applied to evaluate classroom management systems?

Classroom management systems should be evaluated by their ability to promote self-regulation of behavior, reduce the incidence of misbehavior, and maximize student productivity. In multi-tiered models like Positive Behavior Support (PBS), established progress-monitoring systems help make decisions about the level of support that a student needs.

How should a student management system be set up?

The best model for establishing an individual, classroom, or school-wide system of managing student behavior is a multi-tiered approach. Such an approach involves primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of managing student behavior problems.

When should classroom management systems be started? 

Research suggests that beginning-of-the-year activities are extremely important for effective classroom management systems. Within the first few days and weeks of the start of a school year an effective classroom management system should be fully in place. However, an individual program for disruptive behavior can be established at any time.

How long should classroom management systems remain in place?

Classroom management systems should be established at the beginning of the year so that expectations for students are in place early. Once they are established, classroom management systems should be applied throughout the year and across the grades so that students receive constant and consistent messages about classroom expectations, rules, and procedures. This strategy will ensure positive student behavior is supported and reinforced throughout the year.

Why are classroom management systems effective in managing student behavior and learning?

Research indicates that classroom management systems are effective in managing student behavior and learning because they sustain an orderly learning environment for students, enhance students’ academic skills and competencies and further social and emotional development.

Where can I get more information? 

The Handbook of Classroom Management: Research, Practice, and Contemporary Issues, edited by Carolyn Evertson and Carol S. Weinstein and published by Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates (2006), is a major resource in the field. This volume provides a comprehensive overview of issues surrounding classroom management research and practice. Another useful resource is one produced by the Institute of Education Sciences, titled Reducing Behavior Problems in the Elementary School Classroom (2008).

Who can I contact in my school for assistance?

If you work in a public school, your school psychologist is the best person to contact. He/she has training in classroom management procedures and evidence-based programs, and can help you implement a multi-tiered model of services. You can also contact your school counselor and building principal for assistance.

Developmental differences

Although the majority of classroom management research has focused on elementary school classrooms, with little research devoted to secondary levels, the basic principles in the literature and this document can be applied across all grade levels (Brophy, 2006).

At the secondary level, some teacher responsibility for classroom management is shifted to administrators who may invoke disciplinary sanctions or procedures (see our earlier recommendations and cautions in this regard). In terms of further developmental differences, an important dimension of classroom management is starting out on the “right foot.” In seminal work in this area, Emmer, Evertson, and Anderson (1980) conducted a study in 28 third grade classrooms and found that effective classroom managers consistently demonstrated three behaviors:

  1. conveying purposefulness (teachers maximize the use of available time for instruction to emphasize student learning and not just classroom behavior);

  2. teaching students appropriate conduct (effective teachers were clear about what they expected and what they would not tolerate); and

  3. maintaining students’ attention (effective teachers continuously monitored students for confusion and inattention and were sensitive to student concerns; Brophy, 2006, p. 31).

Evertson and Emmer (1982a) reported similar results but with a few unique findings. Junior high/middle school teachers reported that they did not spend as much time teaching students to follow rules and procedures. Nevertheless, they needed to communicate expectations related to engaging in and completing work assignments. The authors listed the following characteristics of effective classroom managers at the junior high school level (Evertson & Emmer, 1982b):

  • Instructing students in rules and procedures. Effective classroom managers described rules completely and systematically instilled the rules and procedures;

  • Monitoring student compliance with rules. The best classroom managers monitored compliance and consistently intervened to correct inappropriate behavior. They were also more likely to mention rules and describe desirable behavior as part of their feedback;

  • Communicating information. The best classroom managers were better at presenting information, directions and objectives.

Organizing instruction. Effective classroom teachers were highly organized and transitions between activities were conducted efficiently. They maximized student attention and task engagement.  Subsequent research has supported this finding at both elementary (Freiberg, 1999; Freiberg, Stein, & Huang, 1995) and secondary levels (D. Gottfredson, G. Gottfredson, & Hybl, 1993).

Where can teachers get more information

Bear, G. G., & Watkins, J. M.  (2006).  Developing self-discipline.  In G. G. Bear & K. M. Minke (Eds.), Children’s needs III: Development, prevention, and intervention (pp. 29-44).  Washington, DC:  APA/NASP.

Crone, D. H., & Horner, R. H. (2003). Building positive behavior support systems in schools: Functional behavioral assessment. New York: Guilford.

Crone, D. H., Horner, R. H., & Hawken, L. S. (2004). Responding to behavior problems in schools: The behavior education program. New York: Guilford.

Freiberg, H. J., & Lapointe, J. M. (2006). Research-based programs for preventing and solving discipline problems. In C. Evertson and C. S. Weinstein (Eds.). Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 735-786). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Lewis, T. J., Newcomer, L. L., Trussell, R., & Richter, M. (2006) Schooolwide positive behavior support: Building systems to develop and maintain appropriate social behavior. In C. M. Evertson & C. S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 833-854).  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 

References

Bear, G. G., & Watkins, J. M.  (2006).  Developing self-discipline.  In G. G. Bear & K. M. Minke (Eds.), Children’s needs III: Development, prevention, and intervention (pp. 29-44).  Washington, DC:  APA/NASP.

Brophy, J.  (2006).  History of research on classroom management.  In C. M. Evertson & C. S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management:  Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 17-43).  Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Brophy, J., & Evertson, C.  (1978).  Context variables in teaching.  Educational Psychologist, 12, 310-316.

Crone, D. H., & Horner, R. H. (2003). Building positive behavior support systems in schools: Functional behavioral assessment. New York: Guilford.

Crone, D. H., Horner, R. H., & Hawken, L. S. (2004). Responding to behavior problems in schools: The behavior education program. New York: Guilford.

Emmer, E., Evertson, C., & Anderson, L.  (1980).  Effective classroom management at the beginning of the school year.  Elementary School Journal, 80, 219-231.

Emmer, E. T., & Gerwels, M. C.  (2006).  Classroom management in middle and high school classrooms.  In C. M. Evertson & C. S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 407-438.  Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Evertson, C., & Emmer, E.  (1982a).  Effective management at the beginning of the school year in junior high classes.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 74, 485-498.

Evertson, C., & Emmer, E.  (1982b).  Preventive classroom management.  In D. Duke (Ed.), Helping teachers manage classrooms (pp. 2-31).  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Evertson, C. M., & Weinstein, C. S.  (2006).  Classroom management as a field of inquiry.  In C. M. Evertson & C. S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 3-16).  Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Freiberg, H. J.  (1999).  Contingency management and cooperative discipline: From tourists to citizens in the classrooms.  In H. J. Freiberg (Ed.), Beyond behaviorism: Changing the classroom management paradigm (pp. 75-97).  Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Freiberg, H. J., Stein, T., & Huang, S.  (1995).  Effects of a classroom management intervention on student achievement in inner-city elementary schools.  Educational Research and Evaluation: An International Journal on Theory and Practice, 1, 36-66.

Freiberg, H. J., & Lapointe, J. M. (2006). Research-based programs for preventing and solving discipline problems. In C. Evertson and C. S. Weinstein (Eds.). Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 735-786). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gettinger, M.  (1988).  Methods of proactive classroom management.  School Psychology Review, 17, 227-242.

Gettinger, M., & Kohler, K.  (2006).  Process-outcome approaches to classroom management and effective teaching.  In C. M. Evertson & C. S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management:  Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 73-96).  Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gottfredson, D., Gottfredson, G., & Hybl, L.  (1993).  Managing adolescent behavior: A multiyear multischool study.  American Educational Research Journal, 30, 179-215.

Kounin, J. S.  (1970).  Discipline and group management in classrooms.  New York:  Holt, Reinhardt & Winston.

Lewis, T. J., Newcomer, L. L., Trussell, R., & Richter, M. (2006) Schooolwide positive behavior support: Building systems to develop and maintain appropriate social behavior. In C. M. Evertson & C. S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 833-854).  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Pianta, R. C.  (2006).  Classroom management and relationships between children and teachers: Implications for research and practice.  In C. M. Evertson & C. S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 685-710).  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reeve, J.  (2006)  Extrinsic rewards and inner motivation.  In C. M. Evertson & C. S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 645-664).  Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Robinson, S. L., & Griesemer, S. M. R. (2006) Helping individual students with problem behavior. In C. M. Evertson & C. S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management:  Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 787-802).  Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Rose, L. C., & Gallup, A. M. (2006). The 38th annual Phi Delta Kappa/ Gallup Poll of the public's attitudes toward the public schools, Phi Delta Kappan, 88,41-56.

Soodak, L. C, & McCarthy, M. R.  (2006).  Classroom management in inclusive settings.  In C. M. Evertson & C. S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management:  Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 461-490).  Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.