September 1, 2012
Online Journal - Creating the Right Environment for Learning
Dennis Marshall, General Vice-President/Director of Education, SDACC, Oshawa, ON

He quickly made his way to the classroom in response to the distress call from the classroom teacher. What he saw when he arrived at the classroom was disconcerting.   Students were milling around doing their own thing with no regard to the teacher, and completely ignoring the assignment on the chalkboard.  The noise of moving chairs, arguing students, and meaningless chatter was deafening.  Unable to control her class, the distraught teacher sat at her desk with her head buried in her hands.   
 
The confusion turned into silence immediately as the voice of the vice principal filled the room.  All eyes turned towards him with expectation.   In the silence of the classroom the teacher raised her head and began complaining about her misbehaving students, pointing her finger at the instigators.  This did not go uncontested as the identified students made their feelings known.   Raising his hand to calm the disgruntled students, the vice principal said in a commanding voice:  “This is a classroom, not a market! How can any learning take place here?”  
 
Characteristics of a Good Classroom Environment
 
Robert Marzano, in his book, What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action commented that “… a classroom that is chaotic as a result of poor management not only doesn’t enhance achievement, it might even inhibit it.”[i]  Marzano identifies four characteristics of effective classroom management, which is the focus of this article.
 
Randy McCleary states that classroom management is the methods and strategies an educator uses to maintain a classroom environment that is conducive to student success and learning.[ii]  This definition puts control of the classroom in the teacher’s hand.  She must come up with methods and strategies, including rules and procedures, to effectively manage her class.
Robert J. Marzano, having reviewed extensively recent research on classroom management, determined that the ‘methods and strategies’ mentioned above embody four key characteristics: 1) establishing and enforcing rules and procedures, 2) carrying out disciplinary action, 3) maintaining effective teacher and student relationships, and 4) maintaining an appropriate mental set for management.[iii]  
 
Rules and Procedures
 
Good classroom management begins by establishing appropriate rules and procedures covering every area of classroom management, from taking attendance to class dismissal.   These rules and procedures should be developed with the help of students, and once agreed upon should be consistently enforced.  It makes no sense to have rules and procedures for classroom governance but not enforce them consistently.   
 
Executing Disciplinary Actions
 
This is probably the most divisive characteristic in classroom management, for some have argued that disciplinary actions against recalcitrant children are counterproductive for student achievement.  But sifting through the pros and cons, Marzano shows that research strongly supports a balanced approach to discipline that employs a variety of techniques.[iv]
 
Teacher and Student Relationships
 
Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of classroom management, and certainly the key ingredient in developing loyalty and fostering student achievement, is the relationship a teacher develops with her students.  Students are more inclined to adhere to rules, procedures and disciplinary actions out of love and respect for their teacher.  And this can only take place when there is a good relationship established between the teacher and her students. 
 
This relationship can be cultivated by the teacher being sensitive to the needs of students; by understanding their disposition and appreciating their uniqueness.  According to Marzano, it is bad pedagogy to treat all students the same without regards to their peculiar characteristics, particularly in situations involving behavior problems.”[v]
 
Having an Appropriate Mental Set
 
Maintaining an appropriate mental set is the final characteristic.  There are two aspects to consider:  withitness and emotional objectivity.  Withitness is being aware of what is going on in your classroom at all times.  This awareness enables the teacher to nip any infractions taking place in the initial stages rather than at their terminal stage when the situation has gotten out of hand. Emotional objectivity is keeping your emotions in check:  “It simply means carrying out the various aspects of classroom management without becoming emotionally involved or personalizing students’ actions.”[vi]
 
Conclusion
 
 A well-prepared and delivered lesson falling on the ears of disengaged students in a chaotic classroom environment, as the one described above, is counterproductive.  It is like throwing pearls before swine.  The classroom environment must be right for teaching and learning. It should be  governed by appropriate rules and procedures, proper disciplinary action, good relationships between teacher and students, and with the teacher maintaining an appropriate mental set. 
 
For Action Steps on the four characteristics of effective classroom management, see Marzano, pp. 95-105.


[i]Robert J. Marzano, What Works in Schools: Translating research into action, The Association of Supervision and Curriculum (ASCD), 2003, p.88.
[ii]Randy McCleary, Classroom Management Definition, http://www.ehow.com/about_5438989_classroom-management-definition.html
[iii]Marzano, p. 88
[iv]Marzano, pp. 90-91
[v]Marzano, p.91
[vi]Marzano,, pp.94-95.