Accelerating Change Through Shared Leadership
n What Are Your Major Change Initiatives?

Asperger's Syndrome
n What is Asperger's Syndrome?
n How Parents Can Work With Educators
n A Success Story
Links to External Resources

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Student-Centered Classroom Management Essential for No Child Left Behind

student centered classroomIn the corporate world, two distinct categories of managers' leadership styles were defined in the 1960s as the X-Y Theories of Douglas McGregor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Theory X defined autocratic managers, whose directive, even dictatorial styles were based on the belief that workers are lazy by nature, and need to have the manager watch them closely and crack the whip to make them work. Theory Y defined a more democratic, inclusive style, which was more respectful of employees, and assumed that under the right conditions, workers are self-motivated, enjoy their work for its own sake, and intrinsically desire to do a good job.

These theories are now considered somewhat outdated in the world of business, and newer thinking suggests that many managers are a composite of X and Y, with each theory really encompassing an entire continuum of styles. In looking at the classroom management styles of teachers, I believe that teachers, too, operate at various points along the X/Y continuums. In visiting hundreds of classrooms in the past ten years, I have become convinced that those that more closely align with the Y continuum create better learning conditions for higher student achievement.

A typical scenario
Consider this scenario in an experienced teacher's classroom: It is the first period of the day in a 9th grade English class. The students are subdued (research suggests that adolescent brains do not fully "wake up" until mid-morning). As the class shuffles to their seats, one student shouts out, "Dude! Stop jabbing me in the butt with that pencil!"

There is an outbreak of giggles, and the teacher slams down her books, shouting, "Sam! To the office! Take this and get out of here!" She shoves a paper slip at the student, who loudly tries to explain that his friend, walking behind him with objects protruding from his backpack had unknowingly been bumping him. The teacher is incensed at the interruption as class is just beginning, and berates Sam all the way to the door, where he finally stomps off down the hall.

She turns to the giggling class demanding, "And who's next?" The giggles die down, and as the teacher begins her lesson on Romeo and Juliet, she simply cannot get the class to engage in the discussion.

As the class ends and the students file out, she remarks, "I hate teaching ninth graders. It's like pulling teeth."

An alternative scenario
Imagine that in the room next door, an identical incident occurs. It is the first period of the day in a 9th grade English class with an equally-experienced English teacher. The students are subdued, their brains not fully awake. As the class shuffles to their seats, one student shouts out, "Dude! Stop jabbing me in the butt with that pencil!"

There is an outbreak of giggles, and the teacher shakes her head trying to hide a smile. She wordlessly motions to the student, Sam, to come up to her, and as he approaches with his loud explanations she whispers, "Sh! Sh! Sam, I can hear you!" He immediately drops his voice to mirror hers, and she lets him go on for a few more seconds as she looks past him to the class, shaking her head at those that obviously want to participate in the fracas.

Then she wordlessly puts up her hand and whispers, "How about you sit down now?"

"Oh," is Sam's response, and he makes his way to his seat.

The teacher says, "Who can tell me what part of Romeo and Juliet involved something a little like what just happened here?" Instead of dissolving into chaos, the class is fully engaged, still giggling, with about half the hands waving. The teacher capitalizes on the unexpected opportunity to engage her class of normally half-awake teenage brains.

The first teacher is an obviously extreme example of Theory X. X-style teachers kill engagement. Their own style triggers a fight-or-flight response in their students. The daily, ordinary silly behaviors of children and adolescents are either escalated into needless confrontation when a student feels put on the spot in front of peers (fight), while other students shut down and withdraw out of fear of embarrassment (flight).

I suspect that many Theory X teachers operate out of fear themselves. They fear losing control of their classrooms. Are you more like the X-style teacher, or the Y-style teacher?

The chemistry of Y-style
Let me tell you more about the Y-style teacher. At the front of her room is a poster reading, "Class Rules. Rule #1: Respect." No other rules are listed. Later in the period, when she hears a student whisper, "What a moron," after another student's response, she stops the class.

"I just heard something that violates all of our class rules."

"We only have one rule," objects a student in the front row.

"One rule is all we need. We talked about this at length on the first day of class, and we talked about it again after Thanksgiving break. Allison, I think you owe the class something."

Allison squirms in her seat and tries to object. The teacher simply shakes her head and waits. The silence becomes uncomfortable as everyone looks from the teacher to Allison, and the teacher continues to wait. Finally, Allison blurts out, "Mark, I admire the way you always take a shot at trying to answer the questions."

Mark didn't actually hear Allison's putdown, but he beams at the compliment. The teacher resumes her line of questioning about Romeo and Juliet.

This teacher did not build this relationship with her class in a day. She began the first day of class, explaining her expectations and enlisting the students' thinking about the concept of respect. She asked the students what they expected from her, and from each other. She had them role play situations involving putdowns, with compliments being the required restitution. She allowed no phony compliments, either. Although some of her colleagues consider this kind of time, taken in the beginning of the semester for establishing classroom climate, a waste of instructional minutes, this teacher knows that she more than save this time in the long run - time many of her colleagues will be wasting on needless student behavior problems.

Safety supports engagement
Students in this teacher's classroom feel safe - with the teacher, and with each other. Engagement is high, and research has shown that engaged students learn and achieve at higher levels. It is never too late to move along the continuum toward Y-style classroom management. What will be your next step to move further toward Y-style, or to maintain your Y-style management if you are already there?


  b Making a Difference, One Child at a Time  
  b Not Just Surviving But Thriving
  b Supporting Principals to Create Shared Leadership  
b Making a Difference, One Child at a Time

Structural and Cultural Shifts to Change the Status Quo


High Fidelity, Creative Teaching

b Inspiration for the Next Generation of Leaders
b Essential Program Components: Funding Full Implementation
b Essential Program Components: The Leadership Challenge
b Professional Learning Communities for Schools in Sanctions
b Leadership is a Beach
b Come Back Kids  

All articles posted by permission of the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA)