Classroom management is a tricky subject. It’s even trickier when attempting to give learners more voice and choice in a learner-centered classroom.
How can a teacher control the classroom without taking autonomy and freedom away from learners? This is a question I’ve kept coming back to this school year.
After listening to Jennifer Gonzalez‘s Cult of Pedagogy Podcast episodes 48 and 80, in which she interviews classroom management guru Michael Linsin, creator of Smart Classroom Management, I was inspired to write a post about my thoughts on classroom management in a learner-centered classroom.
In those podcast episodes, Michael brought up a way of looking at classroom management that’s helped me reconcile this apparent rift between classroom constraints and learner choice. To paraphrase, he notes that if we think of classroom rules as the lines that define a box, within that box is learner freedom to choose what they do and how they do it. The rules should not eliminate learner freedom, but create boundaries that allow them to productively explore and experiment.
Learners should have more freedom in school, but that doesn’t mean the lines that cannot be crossed should be less clearly defined.
If the classroom rules and procedures are the lines, and the space inside is learner choice, the key to classroom management in a learner-centered classroom is to augment the size of the box (i.e. give learners more freedom). This does not mean we should eliminate or downplay the importance of rules in general. The balancing act is giving learners an expanded sense of freedom while still clearly defining the parameters for what constitutes acceptable classroom behaviors. Learners should have more freedom in school, but that doesn’t mean the lines that cannot be crossed should be less clearly defined.
In order for learners to succeed with the freedom granted in any learner-centered situation (like a PBL unit, for example), they need to have a thorough understanding of what is and is not okay, especially since many of them won’t be used to that level of freedom. As the teachers, the pedagogical experts in the room, it’s our jobs to draw those lines where needed, and also realize which rules are arbitrary, unnecessary, or even detrimental to student autonomy.
As I continue to reflect on and update my classroom management plan, I’ll write follow-up posts outlining expectation setting in a learner-centered classroom. Until then, please share if you have had any success stories or difficulties, either in the comments or on Twitter!